There are so many incredible experts out there. If you need to find a speaker for events, there are all sorts of business professionals, social media gurus, cyber security professionals, and other people who can provide information and advice for your members.
But their expertise might be a bigger investment than most chambers have budgeted for. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a healthy budget but it’s the end of the year and you’re running low.
How do you find a speaker for an event? Here’s where to start:
Even if you can find a low-cost speaker, you don’t want low quality. So you might be concerned about who you’re getting if you are lucky enough to find someone who’s affordable.
But don’t worry.
If you need a speaker and you don’t have much to go on financially, we have some budget-friendly tips for you.
First, before you start it’s important to make a few decisions that will help you decide what type of speaker is best.
- Do your research on what problems your audience needs assistance in solving. Align your programming with those challenges.
- Decide if those challenges are extremely complicated and thus require an expert or if your audience needs to learn basics before you bring in any level of complication.
- Think about your local resources and members. You may be sitting on a gold mine of speaker wealth. More about that in the next section.
15 Tips for Finding a Great Speaker on a Small Budget
The number one rule you need to keep in mind if you’re looking for a good speaker on a small budget is there is a big difference between affordable and free. Affordable means you’re paying them something for their time even if it’s not what they make when speaking to corporate audiences or their clients. Affordable also means you’re likely doing some sort of negotiation or they’re offering to give the chamber a deep discount. Make sure you communicate your appreciation for that.
On the other hand, if you’re going to ask someone to give of their time with absolutely no compensation, avoid telling them you can give them “exposure.” While that may be true, it might not be a lot or the right kind of exposure. Plus, it can be offensive and may cause them to think “I can’t pay my mortgage with exposure.”
Keep in mind people are even paying interns these days. Very few individuals outside of volunteers work for nothing. When you ask someone to speak to your members for free, it’s not just the presentation.
When you ask them to speak for free, you’re not compensating them for:
- Years of building expertise
- Time spent on prepping for or researching your group
- Customizing or building the PowerPoint presentation
- Travel (even if it’s just time in the car across town)
- The time they actually spend giving the presentation and talking to your members afterwards
If it’s an hour presentation, they’re missing out on an couple of hours of billable time plus some.
Not that you should feel shy about asking someone to donate their time. As a chamber professional, that’s common practice. But
How to Ask Someone to Speak for Free
If you’re going to approach someone to speak for free, think about how you talk to a potential sponsor. You don’t go to them and ask them to give up whatever cost, service, or item they’re going to donate without giving them value in return. Instead, you present them with information that helps them consider the
Tell a potential (free) speaker:
- Who your demographic is with as many details as you can. You likely don’t know every aspect of the speaker’s business. Giving them demographic information may make the opportunity much more appealing to them if their business does business with your chamber’s demo.
- Any additional benefits you can offer them such as a free membership, exclusive opportunity, advertising, etc.
- What amount of selling they can do. Can they pitch a book at the end, hand out business cards, invite your audience to download something or attend an event at their business? Be clear what is acceptable and what isn’t. You don’t want someone coming for free assuming this is a live commercial for their business. That will turn your audience off quickly and anger the speaker who’s giving up their time.
Now that you know how to approach someone to volunteer their professional services, it’s time to know where you can find low-cost or free speakers. Remember, creative is the name of the game here. Professional, full-time speakers who only speak for a living are generally less about to work with more “creative” solutions, but not always. Still, this article is about finding creative solutions for speakers when you have a small, or nonexistent, budget.
Ready to start to find a speaker for your chamber?
Of course, you are!
- Your Local University. There are tons of experts there. Don’t stop at professors. There are grad students, assistant profs, deans, technology experts, and a host of others. Some profs may have expertise or interests in other areas outside of what they teach. A hobbyist (even a professor hobbyist) may be less expensive than a professional.
- LinkedIn. Peruse your contacts. First, look for professional speakers. See if there’s anyone in your contacts that speaks on a topic your members are interested in. Next, do a keyword search based on subject areas of interest. For instance, if you’re looking for information on cybersecurity for small business, search on cybersecurity. You may have many contacts who know about that subject but aren’t listing themselves as professional speakers. Approach them about it. If they lack the confidence to present, consider hosting a panel discussion among several cybersecurity professionals or add someone with knowledge on a complementary topic to the discussion.
- Pitch Request. Ask them to pitch you. Tell the audience what you’re looking for and invite the community to approach you with their ideas. If there’s no fee in the budget, state that upfront but again, give them the demographic information that would help them decide if it’s worth their time to volunteer to speak.
- Toastmasters. Toastmasters teaches people how to address a room and communicate effectively so it’s the perfect place to look for willing speakers.
- Professional Associations. If you have a subject of interest, there is probably an association for that. If you’re lucky, there’s a local chapter with members who are willing to talk about your subject area of interest.
- Local Bloggers. Contact local bloggers. You never know when they’re ready to get out from behind the screen.
- Facebook Groups. Search Facebook groups and see if there’s a group around your subject area of interest. You can also take a quick peek at groups on LinkedIn.
- MeetUp. MeetUp is an online platform that brings people of similar interests together by advertising local activities and clubs around those interests. Search Meetup.com to find a group that talks about your subject matter of interest and contact the organizer.
- Member Database. Check out your member database and see if anyone works in your area of interest.
- Nonprofits. Local nonprofits may be skilled in your area of interest, especially if you think in a broad context. For example, maybe you want to host a lunch and learn about how hosting events can improve business. Instead of looking for a marketer or an event planner, you could look for a company or nonprofit that recently hosted a successful event and ask them to talk about their experience and what they learned.
- Speakers Bureaus. This is often going to be your biggest investment option (yet efficient) route. There are plenty of speaker organizations that can help match you and your budget with the right talent. These agencies often receive a cut of the speaker fee so many speakers charge higher rates when commissioned through one.
- Member Referrals. Ask your member who they want to hear from. Maybe they can make the introduction.
- Library Events. Check out activities at your library or local community centers. They may be able to put you in touch with people who are doing presentations for them. Often you’ll find authors, historians, and service providers hosting special talks.
- Chamber Pros. Talk to other chamber pros. You can call them up and introduce yourself or contact them directly through the Chamber Professionals Community/Facebook Group. As of this writing, there are over 7,000 people in this active Facebook Group with at least one thing in common–they love to help.
- Quora. If you’ve never checked out the question and answer forum Quora, you need to run there NOW. Go to Quora.com and you’ll find everything you never knew you wanted to know. But set a timer. You could spend a lot of time down that rabbit hole. Look for nearby people talking about subjects you’re interested in. Reach out to them to see if they would be willing to share their expertise.
A Few Final Tips for Saving Money on Speakers
- Contact a professional speaker directly. Going through an agency may limit their ability to discount their services.
- Ask around to see if anyone has a personal connection with the type of speaker you’re looking for. Friends often do friends favors.
- Some speakers may not fit into your budget. But you might be able to talk them into sending a personalized, recorded video presentation (the greeting/intro would be personalized, the presentation will likely be something they already have).
- If you want a speaker who’s far away but you
don’thave a travel budget, try to piggyback off of a session they’re already doing in town. For instance, if the speaker is coming in to talk to a local business see if they have time to speak with your audience. The other business is covering travel expenses and you and your members are benefitting.
Just because you have a limited budget, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on learning and finding good speakers. Use these ideas to find inexpensive or volunteer presenters. Just know that if you’re asking them to volunteer their services, you want to look for ways to help them in return. But that shouldn’t be hard. Building mutually beneficial relationships is what chambers do best.