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June 30, 2014

What Event Speakers Wish Planners Knew: Branding, Professionalism and Partnerships

Lesley Everett

At the recent World Meetings Forum in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, two distinct speakers shared insights on creating a personal brand and figuring out a personal path, respectively. Both Lesley Everett and Karen Jacobsen have made their careers speaking at conferences and events, and are leaders in major industry associations: Jacobsen is the incoming president of the National Speakers Association’s New York City chapter, and Everett is president of the Global Speakers Federation for 2013-2014. After their presentations, IMR caught up with them to find out about the world of professional speakers, what planners can learn from speakers and what speakers wish event planners knew.

Jacobsen is known as the “GPS Girl.” Her speaking voice is in more than 100 million GPS units all over the world. With that in mind, she created her own brand, which she describes as an “empowerment” brand. “I help people learn how to recalculate in business and life, and navigate change,” she said. 

Everett, meanwhile, has developed a personal brand called Walking Tall. “I have a keynote that’s wrapped around the whole concept of personal branding in business,” she said. “It’s really about the people, behavioral elements of the corporate brand, and the risks to businesses today, and that includes the meeting industry of not aligning people behavior with the overall corporate brand messaging.”

Personal Branding (or, What Planners Can Learn from Speakers)

The skills a professional speaker needs to acquire for success can also apply to professional event planners, Everett said, especially when it comes to personal branding. “As a speaker, your personal brand is absolutely everything,” she explained. “[It’s] the reputation you build. And I’d say that what people say about you behind your back is your brand. And in the speaker world, there is nothing more important than what people say about you behind your back: your colleagues, your clients. All of this in your business, you have to manage that brand effectively, consciously and consistently, and that means online as well.” 

Managing a brand requires authenticity and consistency, Jacobsen added. At the National Speakers Association, she said, members talk about the four Es: “Expertise, Ethics, Eloquence and Enterprise,” which she calls “the four most important principles to live and work by as a professional speaker.”  

Professional Associations & Accreditation

So why should an event planner look to the Association when selecting speakers? Membership is restricted to professional speakers, not aspiring speakers. “The National Speakers Association has speaking communities around the world, extraordinarily unique in their support for one another,” she said. “The entire feeling among speaking colleagues is how can we help each other. How can we make the profession rise so that everybody’s experience, including the event planner’s experience and the client’s experience is elevated.  And the sharing of information freely is a key part of this particular Association.” 

Karen Jacobsen

The Global Speakers Confederation is represented in 11 member countries, Everett said. “So we can learn from each other. If I need to speak in Mexico, for example, I could give somebody a call, a member...who may live in Mexico or happens to have a contact there to say, ‘What do I need to know?’ or any part of the world...Somebody’s always done something already that you’re trying to do, and they have absolutely no hesitation in helping you out and giving you the best support and knowledge and advice that they can possibly give you.”

To guarantee professionalism from their speakers, event planners should be sure the speaker is a Certified Speaking Professional, Everett added. This certification lets the program planner know that the speaker is proficient and specialized. “There’s quite a stringent criteria” for certification, she added. “It means that they have a good, successful business, as well as the skills to speak.” For international events, planners should be sure the speaker is designated a CSP Global. “These speakers have to demonstrate a high degree of expertise on the international stage, and an appreciation for cultures and working in different environments around the world. So those are really good indicators to the meeting planners industry that that speaker has what they need.”  

Jacobsen agreed. “It is a very small community,” she said of speakers. “It’s almost certain that, through the material on that speaker’s website or companies that they’ve worked with or other colleagues that they have in the profession, they could easily get a personal OK that this person really does rock on the stage and is as easy to work with offstage as they are onstage.” 

Reliability, she added, is held in “very high priority” among speakers. “If people don’t like the way you were offstage, then they’re not going to recommend you,” Everett said. “No matter how great a speaker is, if I know that they’re difficult to work with, I’m not going to recommend them, because that’s my reputation on the line as well.” 

What Speakers Wish Planners Knew

Beyond the personal branding, the marketing, the associations and the personnel, speakers are messengers, Jacobsen said, who are looking to help people in some way. “We can all lose sight of that at times—the speakers, the event planners, the clients—but that is why we are here,” she said, “whether we are discussing  a very serious professional or academic or corporate message, or whether we are telling an emotional story and helping people to deal with change. That is the piece that links us all as human beings.” 

Everett agreed. “We don’t like being treated as a commodity,” she added. “We like working in partnership with the meeting planners...We like to be respected. We put an awful lot of effort into planning the talks and making sure it’s painless for the audience.” Planners and speakers should look to build a proper partnership, she added, so that no one is treated as just another cost of doing business. Like anyone else involved in bringing the event together, speakers want to be seen as “a real, true part of the conference that can really add the value.” 

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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