Town Halls ♦ Women's Clubs ♦ Dinner Clubs

All Town Hall/Women’s Clubs lecture series are not created equal. Here are a few random thoughts for your consideration as you try and put together your next line-up of speakers:

  • Establish an overall “tone” for the season. By that, I mean do you want to go more in the direction of entertaining, lighter speakers as opposed to more academic, information oriented. Many groups lean heavily to one side or the other of this spectrum while many other groups tend to try and find a balance. The key factor has to be what you feel would appeal mostly to the group you are trying to attract. Is your potential audience retired, working, blue collar, professional, middle aged, elderly, etc.?
  • Use the track record of existing groups, which we would be happy to provide, to make an examination of what programs have been most successful and most well attended. Obviously, this only makes sense if you are trying to attract a similar audience. If you are attempting to be an alternative, different sort of series you would have to rely more on your instincts until you establish your own track record.
  • Use the services of a bureau, it is well worth it. In one phone call you literally have hundreds of programs at your fingertips. This also gives you an opportunity to ask what programs have gone over well in other communities. Additionally, any agent at any bureau with a few years experience should also be able to walk you through your own committee’s “wish list” and let you know who does and who does not do speaking engagements. A bureau should also be willing to use their extensive network of connections to track down possible speakers that you may be interested in, even if that individual is not a regular on the lecture circuit. A speaker booked by a bureau also comes with a built in insurance policy, so to speak. Should some unforeseeable situation arise where a speaker has to cancel, again, the bureau that booked that individual should be able to quickly put together a list of alternative ideas of equal stature to the canceling speaker.
  • Many bureaus offer similar rosters. Indeed, due to the cooperation that now exists in the lecture industry, all bureaus offer their exclusives to each other. Consequently, you can get any active speaker through any bureau at the same fee. So, pick a bureau to work with that you feel is responsive to your questions, is knowledgeable in their recommendations and is honest and straightforward in all aspects of your relationship. Basically, this boils down to “who are you the most comfortable with?”
  • All new planning committees have to go through a two-tiered form of “sticker shock.” Initially, the names that are proposed are of such celebrity that they are either not interested in public speaking, or they do speak but their fees are deep into five figures (and in some cases, believe it or not, six figures). That is tier number one. The second fact of life that new committees must learn is that speakers with a modicum of name recognition can easily command fees of at least $10,000.
  • The converse side of the high fees are the relative unknowns, I call them sleepers. People who have fees well below $5000. Many of these programs end up being those that the majority of the audience would agree were the best of the season. Unfortunately, you cannot generate excitement for a series by booking only sleepers. That is why the selection of the one or two “big names” is so important. You have to be comfortable that the person being booked is someone who would be of interest to your target audience and would also fit in with your group philosophy – entertain, educate, inform, challenge, or whatever.
  • As a general rule, the bigger name speakers require first class travel expenses, often times for two people. Most all non-celebrity speakers agree to coach class airfare for one. They just need to be asked. I will ask.
  • Most speakers want a full house as badly as you do. To that end, don’t hesitate to see if they will do an advance interview with a local newspaper or radio station to help promote the event.
  • Establish a working budget for the series as well as making a determination of how many programs you want to have. If you are going to have four or five programs you may want to designate as much as 80% of your budget on two programs and the remaining 20% can be split between the last two or three, again “the sleepers.”
  • The farther into the future you are able to plan the more likely you will be to get your first choice of dates. Also, most speakers will accept dates well into the future at their current fees. The downside of this strategy is with people from the entertainment industry. If someone gets a big movie role, a sitcom or a stage play, they may invoke a cancel clause. Again, this is where the help of an experienced bureau and agent can offer guidance. Who to have the most faith in and who to avoid.