Investment in Professional Speakers Pays Bottom-Line Dividends
(TEMPE, Ariz.) A myth in the business world suggests that speakers leave corporate audiences pumped up and inspired, but hold little lasting value for organizations. Yet, the rapid expansion of the $120 billion meetings industry and growth of the speaking profession suggests that the benefits of hiring a professional speaker are real and pervasive.
Business managers tout the positive, long-lasting impact on organizational productivity from qualified professional speakers. Employees, clients and Wall Street alike view professional speakers as a contributing factor to the long-term success of an organization.
Qualified professional speakers know that the key is leaving audiences feeling not only more confident and energized, but armed with new tools, skills and ideas to make an on-going, positive difference in both their personal and professional lives.
Paid speakers come in many forms. Celebrities, athletes and even former United States Presidents are paid to speak to corporate audiences. These people may be good speakers-or not. Professional speakers (experts who have selected speaking as their career path) are committed partners in making an event a success. They have
the skill set to research audiences and customize content, to maximize the room set-up, to make the most of presentation technologies and, most importantly, to engage an audience.
"A real professional speaker will do much more than give a speech," says John Haskell, also known as Dr. Revenue®, a California-based marketing and sales consultant and business planning instructor for many Fortune 500 clients. "I often build my programs to meet the clients' needs even to the extent of developing a new program and helping them design and deliver brochures and promotional material that sells the program."
He adds that follow-up after the presentation-providing articles for the organization's newsletter, responding to individual audience member's questions and posting tailored information on his Web site-is also part of his work on behalf of clients.
Many of the best professional speakers belong to the National Speakers Association (NSA), the premiere organization for experts who speak professionally. NSA serves to advance the skills, integrity and value of its members and the speaking profession. To join NSA, speakers must document professional speaking experience and adhere to the ethical standards of the association. NSA's membership base increased by 30 percent between 1988 and 1998, indicating substantial growth in the speaking profession.
"Enlisting a professional speaker is often a major factor in improving the health of an organization or company," says 1999-2000 NSA President Dave Gorden, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and member of the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame®. "The National Speakers Association in particular has reputable, qualified members who make a positive, lasting impact on the companies and organizations they address."
Traditionally, critics cite the fleeting nature of inspiration as one strike against some speakers. Some also argue that lessons learned at a meeting are difficult to apply on the job. However, studies show that the type of training and continuing education facilitated by professional speakers impacts the corporate bottom line. Whether it's a one-time event or a long-term consulting partnership, professional speakers offer organizations the tools they need to improve corporate or organizational performance.
As someone who has listened to numerous seminars conducted by professional speakers, the President and CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) considers himself an objective third party and qualified critic on the art of professional speaking.
Edward Griffin, Jr., CAE, has been at the helm of MPI for more than nine years. He attends more than 120 speaker presentations a year. In his opinion, professional speakers can offer long-lasting impact to companies and organizations, especially when creating excitement among employees for a new product launch or a new corporate strategy.
"One value is the boost that professional speakers can often contribute. When you have an aggressive agenda, professional speakers can provide momentum that sets the stage for your company's long-term success," said Griffin, adding one caveat. "But it needs to be the right speaker, at the right time, on the right subject."
Jack Richter, president and CEO of Winona National and Savings Bank in Minnesota, hired professional speaker Roxanne Emmerich, CSP, CMC, after reading an article that mentioned her in a local paper. "She helped us define what we are as an organization and what we wanted to be," says Richter. "She didn't just motivate us, she gave us actual tools to change." Emmerich, whose programs focus on organizational change, first spoke to the group in November of 1997, and from that time the bank has seen a 20 percent growth.
A recent study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) offers evidence of the benefits of investing in workforce training. The study shows a correlation between a higher investment in training and higher net sales per employee, higher gross profits per employee, and a higher ratio in market-to-book values.
According to ASTD, companies that invest more heavily in workplace training are more highly valued on Wall Street and their market value is growing more quickly.
The study, the first of its kind in the performance arena, compared companies' expenditures on workplace training during 1996 with their sales and profit performance during the first half of 1997. By looking at two sub-groups in the study-those companies investing an average of $900 per employee on learning and those investing an average of $275 per employee-researchers found that, among 40 publicly traded companies in the sample, the top group outpaced those in the bottom group by:
"ASTD's study makes crystal clear the bottom-line benefits of investing in your workforce with the type of training professional speakers provide," said Gorden.
- 57% higher net sales per employee;
- 37% higher gross profits per employee; and
- a 14% higher ratio in market-to-book values.
Speaking professionals state that each presentation needs to offer audience members a solid means of improving the productivity of their company or organization, rather than just offering "feel good" speeches.
"Professional speakers definitely need to be catalysts for improvement and change, and part of being a catalyst means offering clients strategy for improving their organizations," says Terry Paulson, Ph.D., CSP, CPAE, a California-based professional speaker who includes Kodak, Sears, Texaco and Hewlett Packard among his clients.
Paulson, who conducts more than 110 seminars a year, has come to rely on anecdotes and stories from successful organizations to strike a cord with corporate audiences and provide a message that sticks.
Scott McKain, CSP, CPAE, vividly illustrates how one idea from a speech can result in increased sales. This Indiana-based professional speaker gave a customer service presentation to brokers at Merrill Lynch and, two weeks later, received an e-mail from one of the audience members telling him an idea from his speech had resulted in a $300,000 sale.
The audience was focused on the big internal issues such as how to adapt to the boom in online brokering, but McKain's customer service message reminded them to focus on serving the needs of the individual client. He spoke to them about how the customer's experience begins when they pull into the parking lot and ends when they drive away.
One broker took the message to heart and walked his client, an elderly widow, to her car rather than dismissing her as she left his office. On the walk out, she gave him the order he had been working for weeks to get. She conceded that his walking her to her car convinced her that he cares about her and would take good care of her money.
Much of the power of a professional speaker comes from the fact that he or she holds an outside perspective from the company or organization. "A professional speaker can be a generalist," says McKain. "We see the ways lots of organizations do things, so we can be a conduit for sharing successful ideas. Industry experts have the same blinders on as everyone else in the industry. Why does Saturn hire people from Nordstrom's to help with customer service?"
Paulson adds that many professional speakers weave motivation into the mix to impact the message. The best motivational speakers create in audiences the desire to change, the confidence to act and the tools to succeed. They are experts in a variety of industries and disciplines who have the passion and the skills to get ideas across to an audience.
While motivation needs to be rekindled from time to time, he adds, that does not lessen its impact. "Showers have a temporary impact, but just because you need to take another one tomorrow does not mean today's shower was not important."
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