Clients became cost conscious. Corporate environments were forced to pull back. Technology altered the landscape, too.
Just as with most all other business ventures, the professional speaking industry certainly felt the effects of the recent national economic downturn.
That could all be turning for the better, though, says Stacy Tetschner, CEO of the National Speakers Association – a Tempe-based member-driven organization aimed at developing and growing the business of public and professional speaking.
According to Tetschner, many of the organization’s members have reported a better first quarter than they have seen in three years.
A recent survey of meeting planners, buyers and hotel suppliers conducted by American Express Meetings & Events seems to support that trend, indicating that 80 percent of businesses or organizations in the North America market are expected to increase or maintain the number of professional meetings they hold. That is good news for those hired to speak at meetings.
“It got pretty bad,” Tetschner said. “A number of speakers had to leave the business.”
The association, which operates out of its Tempe headquarters located at 1500 S. Priest Drive, includes some four dozen chapters throughout the country. NSA lost 20 percent of its members over the past four years, Tetschner said. To create value for members and to attract new ones during the downturn, the organization offered free webinars, sent more e-newsletters and published a book featuring its members.
A number of speakers who have survived the bumps are anticipating a much better 2012. On a stopover at Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport, Texas-based speaker Linda Swindling recently said she had collected as much money in the first two-and-a-half months of the year as she did at the halfway point in 2011.
“Clients were in wait-and-see mode,” said Swindling, “now they’re saying, ‘let’s do it.’”
The worst is over, according to the next president of the Arizona chapter of NSA, Susan Ratliff.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” Ratliff said. “I am hearing from other speakers that they’re working, and they’re enthusiastic about what’s to come.”
Bureaus that book speakers have also noticed an uptick in business.
“We’re almost frantically fielding requests,” said Andrea Gold, president of Gold Stars Speakers Bureau in Tucson. “I still think things are not quite normal, but they have definitely drastically improved over the past few years.”
Speakers who provide more content than motivation are the ones who are being booked more, according to several industry experts.
“Opportunities are booming,” said Tempe-based Vickie Sullivan, a market strategist for professional speakers. “But content and message are more important than ever.”
Content trumps humor and motivation, according to Ratliff, because it offers clients more value for the dollar.
“Speakers who can also educate and entertain go to the top of the list,” Ratliff said. “Keynoters may need to put in more content or provide an additional workshop.”
Gold, whose customers range from corporations and trade associations to government agencies, said content-rich speakers are telling her their phones are ringing off the hook. Popular topics are marketing, sales and social media.
“Clients are still being cost-conscious,” Gold said. “But we’re booking speakers at fees from about $5,000 up to the six figures.”
Presenters and industry observers said fees have not yet climbed to pre-recession levels. Another sign that all is not normal yet is that bookings are occuring much closer to the event.
“Speakers used to know a year out,” Tetschner said. “Now it can be 90 days, six months at the most. It’s hard to run a business only knowing what your revenue is for the next 90 days.”
Local companies and those organizations considering coming to the Grand Canyon State for destination meetings can save airfare costs by using speakers who live here, according to Les Taylor, president of NSA-Arizona.
“We have a treasure trove of well-known speakers,” said Taylor, a former Tempe assistant police chief and a 25-year speaker on leadership development. “We have a lot to offer — the breadth of areas of expertise is as deep as the batting order.”
In addition to putting speakers back to work, holding more meetings will help the national economy as a whole, according to Tetschner.
“The meeting industry is the eighth largest in the U.S. That’s a big impact with conventions, catering, hotel rooms, taxi drivers, and so on,” Tetschner noted. “As we like to say, ‘meetings mean business for everyone.’”