5 Questions to Ask When Booking a Non-Professional Event Speaker

By Brad Plumb, CMP, March 21, 2014

There are a lot of things to consider when booking an event speaker—everything from cost to topic. But what if the most knowledgeable person is not a professional speaker? And what if your budget is, well, zero dollars? How do you determine if a person you invite will be a hit or a miss at your meeting?

In the speaking business there are three classifications of speakers. The professional speaker is not known for anything other than being a great speaker and paid for his or her talent. The celebrity speaker is a well-known name among most people, but may not be a good speaker. And, the non-professional or amateur speaker is someone who has an expertise or valid reason for speaking, but speaking ability could go either way. Booking a non-professional speaker can be an attractive option if you’re working on a budget or simply want to try someone new, but you should ask yourself these five questions when if you decide to go the non-pro route:

1. What’s in it for the speaker? Toastmasters International estimates that it takes one hour of prep time for every minute of speech time. If you’re asking your non-professional speaker to talk for an hour, that’s 60 hours of research and rehearsal. In addition, your event may be the person’s out-of-office time. If the individual is not getting paid, what can make it worth their time? A non-monetary payment might be the bargaining chip you need. Perhaps it’s exposure to your organization. Would they like to write an article for your newsletter? If they have a product to sell, can you provide free advertising in your publication? Would you be willing to provide them with your organization’s contact list? Or, perhaps it’s recognition they would prefer. Can you make them an honorary member? Even non-professional speakers should be compensated for their time and energy.

2. How important is it that your audience is happy after the speech? Of course every meeting planner wants an audience to be overjoyed, and the fact is some amateurs are better than others. And some speeches are better than others. The non-professional speaker cannot be vetted by videos or past paid customer recommendations; you’re asking this person to do something that they are not used to doing. It might be the best thing your people have ever heard, and it might just be so-so. Is this an audience where you can take a calculated risk of success?

3. Are you expecting this speaker to draw a crowd? There are some people who live in the public eye and have to give free speeches and are pretty adept at doing so. Your local congressman, police chief or popular college professor probably have speeches in their back pocket and can tailor the talk to your audience without a lot of effort. Do not expect the bestselling author or the winning football coach or the award winning news reporter to have those same skills. Celebrity does not equal the skillset required of a person to stand up in front of hundreds of people and leave them glad they came to the meeting. Drawing a crowd and keeping one engaged are two different things?

4. What is the goal of this particular speaking slot? Do you want to entertain, educate, motivate or inspire? Make sure the speaker knows what you are after. Ask the speaker directly if he or she is up to the challenge. And if the speaker is developing content, this is even more critical. Don’t trust that your speaker knows your expected outcome.

5. How much time do you have before the event? If the assignment is months away, you stand a better chance of getting a non-professional to commit. He would have more time to prepare and his calendar less crowded. In addition to some kind of written agreement, there’s a little care and feeding that should be done in this time in order to make sure the speaker is on task. Gently remind the person of the disastrous speaker who read his PowerPoint slides word-for-word and you’re hoping not to repeat the debacle. Then, go through the steps you’d ask for any speaker: microphone preference, visual needs, supporting documents needed, etc.


The non-professional speaker doesn’t have to be an unprofessional speaker. With some insight and advance planning, you can change the outcome of your meeting from a staring ovation to a standing ovation using someone who isn’t on the circuit. If you have several speaking slots to fill, allow yourself plenty of time to ride herd on your speaking team and consider using people in all classification of speakers if possible.


About the Author: Brad Plumb, CMP, is a senior sales manager for the Overland Park (Kan.) CVB. Before joining the bureau, he owned a speakers bureau and assisted clients in booking talent for their conventions and meetings. This post first appeared the CVB’s blog

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