Do You Need an Outside Speaker?

By Lain Ehmann

It’s almost a given that when you’re planning a sales meeting, you need to hire a speaker. But meeting planners should challenge that assumption, says Stephan Schiffman, founder of D.E.I. Management Group, Inc. “Many speakers provide nothing more than a graduation speech, the result being you know someone was there and you know they spoke, but you don’t remember what it was about,” says Schiffman. He encourages planners to ask themselves the following questions instead of automatically reaching for their speakers bureau directory.

  • Will a speaker help accomplish the company’s goals? To make the most of your time and dollar investments, the speaker should dovetail with the rest of the program’s goals, whatever they may be. If you’re facing Chapter 11 and layoffs are imminent, it’s probably not the best time to bring in a comedian or even to try to address sales skills. Instead, some serious reengineering may be needed, in which case you would be better off with a consultant than a speaker or trainer. Make sure to match your speaker with your needs, Schiffman says.
  • Can the speaker you select help your organization meet its goals? The person you hire should be able to adapt his or her presentation to the unique needs and style of your organization. How can you tell if you’ve got a good one? Ask acquaintances at other companies for recommendations and review their tapes. Also, be realistic about what you can accomplish in one speech, urges Schiffman. Particularly with large meetings, the speaker can only set the tone for what follows. It’s unrealistic to expect to change the world with a two-hour speech.
  • Would it be better to have an internal speaker? While having the sales VP address the group might not be as exciting as bringing in Tony Robbins, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper – and it can be more powerful, says Schiffman. Internal speakers already know your company, your goals, your challenges and your culture so they can jump right into the fray. On the other hand, sometimes an outside perspective is especially helpful. Schiffman says there’s some truth behind the old adage: You can’t be a prophet in your own land. Balance your need for familiarity with your need for an objective opinion.
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