This Transcript is From Episode 24 Of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/24
Transcript Of Guest Interview Only
Tom: Folks I'm on the line with Sarah Lang. Sarah, how are you today?
Sarah: I'm well, thank you. How are you?
Tom: I'm doing great. Welcome to the Savvy Event Planner Podcast. Good to have you here.
Sarah: It's good to be here.
Tom: Can I get you to share a little bit of your background with our listeners, so they have an idea of what you've done and how you became involved in event planning and the industry?
Sarah: Absolutely. Well, currently I work at Ticketleap, and we are a DIY event creator platform. My background before that is that I've worked in startups for a number of years, and from that I've planned numerous events for the startup community. So everything from 10 people in a room, drinking beer and talking about where the future of the internet should be, to planning large scale events with hundreds of people there to come hear big names speakers.
Tom: Can you tell us a couple of the larger events that you planned?
Sarah: Sure. Most of my experience is startup related, and the startups are an industry that we love talking about ourselves. So they are everything from BarCamp -which is an unconference, so you don't have a set agenda before you start; It's a very intimidating type of event to plan before you get used to that idea – to TEDx style events where you bring in a bunch of inspiring speakers to an audience that is very speaker-savvy and engaged and is ready to learn.
Tom: I've got find out more about this unconference. How do you plan something with no agenda?
Sarah: Well, it's like high stress. With any event you always have that fear of, “Will anyone show up to my birthday party”, that kind of thing. It goes back to like when everyone is eight years old and sends out their first birthday invites. So for a BarCamp style event, you have to trust in the community and know that they're just as excited about an event like this as you are. So getting the attendees to commit to coming, and then knowing that they are going to want to offer up interesting topics and panels for people to talk about.
Tom: Let me get this straight. When they get there, they develop the panels and everything right on the spot?
Sarah: Yes. So it's basically like an event where all of the event planning happens in the first hour of the event. So if you are an attendee, you show up and you say, “Hey, I know a lot about XYZ,” you put it on a post it note, and stick it on a board, and people will say, “That's sound great. I wanna hear about that.” And depending on how many people offer a topic, you either set the agenda from there or weed some out and then set an agenda.
Tom: That totally blows me away. Because I have never heard of one of these style of events before, as long as I've been in this business.
Sarah: Oh, my goodness. I'm teaching you something. This is awesome. Yeah, they work very well for a niche community. So anything like a startup community or even within a company it's a great way to learn about you fellow employees. It's like we often don't recognize all of the cool things that employees have going on outside of the office. So an unconference of any style is a great opportunity to learn about those things.
Tom: That's so very, very cool. So today we've got you here to talk about keynotes. And great keynotes for the event are something that every planner wants to have. They want to be able to draw their attendees with a name. Let's talk about… so you've mentioned you do work with TED events, TEDx?
Sarah: TEDx events, yes.
Tom: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do with them?
Sarah: Absolutely. So I have planned several of these events, and I think when you're starting out, your instinct is to say like, “Who is the biggest name we can get?” So I know we bounced around the idea of like, “Can we get J. K. Rowling the author of “Harry Potter” to come and speak?” We're just thinking big. And I think something that worked out very, very well for us and that our audience was hungry for, was to realize that there are incredibly smart people all around us, and if you can find a keynote speaker that not everybody in the audience has already heard of, it feels a little bit risky, but it also helps them feel like they're discovering this person with you. So they come to your event, and they hear somebody who's smart and interesting that they haven't heard of before or they haven't seen yet on a bestseller list, and they come away from the experience, I think feeling more of a bond with that speaker.
Tom: So how do you locate a speaker who is maybe on the threshold of breaking big, something that your audience can discover?
Sarah: Yes. Obviously, it's a little bit more work, but to balance that out, it's hopefully a little bit less money that you have to spend as well. So there is good and bad there. I think investigating if you pick at several industries that you might be interested in hearing from someone about, you can then go into a more niche publications. Whether that's investigating what blogs are saying is the latest and greatest in healthcare, or investigating who's really on the cutting edge of cool art installations. Whatever the topic may be, it's more work but it's also pretty easy to find those hidden gems.
Tom: When you're looking at a speaker in that niche, when you're going into maybe someone that maybe the audience doesn't know, how can you ensure that the speaker is going to have the chops, for lack of a better word, that when they get on the stage, when they get behind the podium, when they take and pick up the mic, that they're going to be able to relay their message and grab your audience, and make sure that the keynote is solid?
Sarah: Yes. That is important really for any keynote speaker, but definitely if it's someone with slightly less experience, you do have to vet those speakers. So not just emailing back and forth, but hopping on the phone with them, and maybe even doing a video Skype if they're not in a local area beforehand saying, “Do you wanna just run your presentation by me before we go through this live?” And you can practice with them beforehand, you can talk about it if it's somebody that isn't a professional keynote speaker, who does this 30 plus times a month. I think they're more open to saying like, “Yeah, actually I would like some help. Maybe I don't quite have this”, so walking through it with them is really key.
Tom: When you're couching somebody along this line, if you've got somebody, let's say, who doesn't have the experience, are there any tips you have that are event planners? Because we're planning events, we're not able to couch somebody. So what ideas would be able to share with a keynote who maybe needs that extra room for that extra experience?
Sarah: If you think that they are going to be able to get there, you can always say – as most people will have somebody that they can turn to for marketing or PR whether it's within the company that they're currently at, or often people have a PR firm on retainer – and say, “You know what? We're really interested in you speaking at this event. We know you don't normally do this. Do you mind talking to your marketing department? Do you mind talking to your PR team and getting tips from them?” But really the most helpful thing you can do, if you don't have the time to go through it yourself, is say, “You know what? Just get in front of a video camera, even if it's your brother or a significant other holding up their iPhone and filming you, and film yourself giving this talk, and go from there.” Because people are very quick to pick up on their shortcomings when they actually see themselves on camera doing it.
Tom: Well, I can definitely relate to that. In fact, that's one of the things that I advise a lot of the people in my art do , is watch themselves over and over on video, because the more you see yourself, the more you start nitpicking and finding the problem areas with a presentation.
Sarah: Oh, yeah. I remember the first time I saw myself on video, I just wondered, “Why do I look so angry all the time?” I had no idea that I looked so angry.
Tom: I find that hard to believe.
Sarah: Oh, thank you. Thank you. I have practiced quite a bit.
Tom: So do you offer speeches yourself?
Sarah: No, not normally outside of this startup community. I think that anything that I would be well versed enough to speak about is usually community and marketing focused for startups, but we do see all kinds of keynote speakers through Ticketleap.
Tom: When we're talking about booking a speaker, you mentioned in the notes prior to, that you should always go on for coffee, or hop on a call and watch previous videos of the speaker. Are previous videos that important when you are picking out somebody like this? I mean, event planners don't have a lot of time, what do you want to see if you're considering a speaker? Do you need the whole speech or are you willing to watch excerpts? What do you like to see?
Sarah: I think usually within about five minutes, you can get a really good feel if somebody is right for your audience. So you're planning the event, you know who will be there, you will know pretty quickly if that person will resonate with your audience. And sometimes it's not so much what the person is saying, but it's how they're saying it. So the healthcare industry, for example, is pretty indicative of what I mean by this. Often you will have a doctor or somebody researching the most interesting thing happening in healthcare right now, but they're so used to speaking to other people that are at their academic level, when they go to speak to layman's audience, they don't know how to translate what they're finding out and what they're researching into just regular conversation. So those types of things are something to look out for.
Tom: Well, that makes a lot of sense. In fact, back in episode 14 I talked with Andy Sacks who is a presenter for trade shows and also does some keynote speaking, and he mentioned that it's often not the content, but the emotion that the speaker elicits that people are going to remember a year down the road.
Sarah: Absolutely. And you see people in the other industries do this in the opposite way. So there are people that are professional speakers and write these books that really I don't think I would have any interest in reading, but I hear them speak and they're so passionate and they get the audience so engaged with what they're saying that I would listen to them speak sometimes even three or four times before I was like, “Okay. Well, that's good. I know what person is saying now.”
Tom: So now let me ask you that, since we're based on that, we were talking about trying to find a speaker who maybe isn't known by your audience, and possibly avoiding somebody that is constantly at events, how many events would your speaker have to appear at before you go, “Really. Maybe we going to move on to somebody else even though they're popular?” What're your thoughts?
Sarah: Absolutely. There are people that will come and speak to your audience over and over again, and you can see they've put in work to create a new deck and a new topic, and they have those people back all the time. But then there're people that have one or two “go to” speeches, and they give those two speeches, and if you book them for another event with the same audience, the audience starts to think, “Hey, I think I heard this person speak at some event last year, and I think they said the exact same thing.” And there is nothing absolutely wrong with that, of course, if you are putting in all of the work to create a power point deck and memorize that speech and everything, you should give it as many times as you can. But you don't want your audience to feel like they've already heard this content before.
Tom: Now, one of the things you've mentioned in your notes, and I thought this definitely stands out, the event planners are accountable for every part of the event so if the keynote sucks, it's on them and not the speaker. Is that true? Because from the other end of it, as a presenter myself, every once in a while when the event doesn't go as planned, if something isn't set up right, and I talked about that back in episode six of the podcast, where if you don't stage the presentation right, your audience is going to lose focus. They're not going to be engaged, no matter what the speaker does. And sometimes, and I have had this happen, where they'll say… they don't say, “Well, the sound sucked,” or, “The lighting wasn't right,” they say, “That speaker wasn't any good.” So talk to me about your thoughts on the side of the planner, as compared to the presenter.
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely I think your audience will walk away from situations like that and say, “Oh, I didn't like that keynote speaker,” but as the event planner, I think I was meaning you're going to feel accountable for that. You'll know whether the lighting was awful, you will know whether there was a problem with the audio visual equipment. So any part of that, I think it really does come back to you. And it comes back to your ability to say like, “How can we make sure that doesn't happen again?” Or, “How do we make sure that we're booking the right person this group of people?”
Tom: Okay. I think that's extremely important. And I would to just add the note that if you're planning a speaker and you read the technical writer, and you can't match that, it's just like getting a surgeon and saying, “We need to do brain surgery, but all we have is this kitchen knife,” it doesn't work. You need to make sure that people have what they need.
Sarah: That's really funny. My husband is a neurosurgeon, and he'd probably say, “Oh, I can for sure do it with a kitchen knife. Don't worry, I got this.”
Tom: Oh, sweet. Sweet. Okay. I will make sure my medical insurance is paid up before I take him up on that though.
Sarah: Good point. Yeah.
Tom: So when an event planner is going to be talking to a speaker, let's talk a little bit about speaker's fees, if you would.
Sarah: Absolutely. I know everyone's first thought is, “How can I pay less on speaker fees?” But, if you're the event planner and you're paying, no matter how much, it's going to be a significant amount for speaker fees. I feel like nothing kills the excitement of your speaker more than just trying to bargain them down on their fees. You want them to be excited and motivated about speaking at your event. So if you bargain too hard on that fee and they start having to worry about, “Okay, well is this really worth it? Should I be investing as much time into this?” You're not giving them the best opportunity to shine that you could be. So I always say, if somebody says that's what their speaker fee is, you should respect that and pay it. And I don't know if this is the most popular opinion, but it's my opinion and I think that it works out really well in the long run. If you're looking at how much you're spending on food or something else, it's worth it.
Tom: Well, I guarantee you it's a popular opinion when–
Sarah: For speakers.
Tom: For the speakers, yeah. But I agree with you a hundred percent. The program is a major part of what you're doing. It's a major part of what people are going to remember. And if you don't invest in that program and make sure that it's good, it reflects on your event.
Sarah: Yes. And if your audience goes to a number of events each year, they will remember the quality of the speaker, if they don't go to a number of events every year, they will still want that experience. So either way, if your audience is very speaker savvy or they're kind of new to the experience of hearing a keynote speaker, they want the best speaker and they want that speaker to bring their A game. So either way, I think it's really important.
Tom: Now, let's say a speaker is out of budget for the event planner and they just don't have it, are there any other methods they could use to perhaps get the speaker without haggling over prices? What kind of tips can you give us in reference to that?
Sarah: Yes. I did put this in my notes, and it's like my one asterisks on the “don't bargain on speaker fees.” If somebody has a book out and they're trying to sell copies of their book, and you'll often see this on their speaker page, they'll say, “If you buy a certain number of books, I will come and speak at your event for free.” So that's the one side note or footnote to bargaining on speaker fees. And I've mentioned this to people before, and they say, “Why would I wanna buy five hundred or a thousand copies of this persons book”, or however the audience is. And my response to that is always if you're not interested in buying their book, why do you want to book them to speak to your audience? They should go very well together. So I think that's a great opportunity to also give your audience something to take home, and something to like, “I really love that speaker. I want to follow up more on that topic or subject.” They have the book right there. They can read the whole thing.
Tom: That's an excellent way also, if the speaker is out of budget to combine your perhaps gift budget with your speaking budget to bring in the speaker that you really want.
Sarah: Absolutely, that's a great point.
Tom: So, Sarah, are there any other thoughts that event planners should have when they're trying to pick out a keynote for their event?
Sarah: I think the last thing that I will say is just to be flexible. As an event planner, I think it feels really good to micromanage every detail, and most event planners will tell you, “You need to, so things don't go wrong. You don't want the Wi-Fi to not work. You don't want people to get there and have no way to check in or anything like that.” But when it comes to keynote speakers, they'll have their own way of doing things and they probably will have told you ahead of time, either in their writer or verbally, and you should respect those. So if they aren't quite what you want or envision in your event, you should work with them to make sure your event is still great and wonderful in every way, but accommodates the speaker as well.
Tom: Now, Sarah, I'm going to take you in a slightly different direction; we've talked about the speakers. As an event planner yourself, somebody who's put together different things and as somebody who attend events, has there ever been an event you've attended, where it just really stood out in your mind? Can you think of something and then maybe share with us exactly why it was so special?
Sarah: Oh sure, let's see. I went to an event in probably 2006, I think, and it stood out to me in my mind because none of the speakers were polished. They just were very passionate about what they were speaking on. So this was an event, I think it was maybe held at Stanford, so are at this beautiful campus where everybody is talking about big things, and I went to hear people talk about the future communities and when I say communities I mean online communities. This was as Twitter was almost launching and Facebook was happening, and it was this room full of people and speakers that were just saying like, “Here is what I'm passionate about. Here's what I'm doing.” And it was amazing. I remember that event, and I refer to it all the time, even 10 years later.
Tom: And it was what, the passion of the speakers or…?
Sarah: Yeah. And just fact that most of them were experts in their industry, but not experts at speaking. And I think that sometimes we have to give our audience enough credit to recognize like, “This is a smart person. This isn't a person that speaks all the time, but I'm willing to listen to them because I will learn something from them.”
Tom: Excellent. Now, are there any last thoughts on event planning that you would like to share with our audience today?
Sarah: Sure. Don't afraid to be weird. So you were just mentioning before we got started here about your wife planning a parking lot picnic, just like thinking outside the box and I know that is a tired expression, but the more you can do that creates a shared experience for your audience, and one that they'll think, “Oh, you've never done that before, and I interacted with other people, and it was new and different.” I think the better.
Tom: Excellent, excellent advice. Sarah, if somebody wanted to get in touch with to find out more about your tips on speakers and get more information on the advice you can share, how can they reach out to you?
Sarah: I'm always available by email, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we have more resources on our website as well, ticketleap.com.
Tom: Okay, excellent. And we will have, of course, the links to all that in the show notes. Sarah, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with me today. It was fun. Thank you so much.
Sarah: Thank you for having me. It was fun. I had a great time.