Two Types of Speakers Bureaus
No discussion of marketing for professional speakers is complete without an exploration of speakers bureaus. Speakers bureaus, properly used, can be an incredible boon to a speaker’s professional career. But first, let’s clear up a point of confusion. There are two basic types of speakers bureaus, and they are fundamentally different —
Many non-profit organizations (such as NASA or the Red Cross) operate “speakers bureaus,” through which they make speakers available... for free. The speakers talk to audiences on topics that promote, directly or indirectly, the organization that runs the speakers bureau. (NASA’s speakers bureau, for instance, supplies speakers who tell audiences about different aspects of the United States space program.) Since the speakers’ topics are promotional in nature, there is usually no charge for having one of these speakers speak to your organization.
Speakers provided by this type of speakers bureau are not “professional speakers". (Describing them as "not professional" is not a reflection on their skills, nor on the quality of their presentation. Some of these speakers are extraordinary speakers! Instead, "not professional" simply means that they don’t make their living as a fee-paid speaker.) They may be salaried employees of the sponsoring organization (NASA uses its own engineers and scientists), and they are normally not compensated directly to give a speech.
And since the speakers bureau usually doesn’t charge for the speaker’s services, the speakers bureau doesn’t need to be profitable. In short, neither the speakers nor the speakers bureaus are in it for the money — their aim is promotion.
That’s one type of speakers bureau. Then there are the companies (confusingly, also known as “speakers bureaus”) who are in the business of supplying professional speakers (speakers who make their living by speaking) for a fee.
That's one difference between the two types of speakers bureaus. There’s also a difference in the topics that the speakers speak on. Whereas speakers supplied by a non-profit speakers bureau speak only on topics that promote the governing organization, professional speakers speak on a wide variety of topics.
So if a corporation wants a speaker who’s a sales trainer or who can motivate their employees, they probably can’t find the speaker they need from a “free” speakers bureau. They need to go through the second type of speakers bureau. But if their goal is to entertain or educate their audience, they may be able to find an appropriate speaker from the non-professional type of bureau.
To summarize, the crucial difference between the two types of speakers bureaus is that the first is basically a marketing tool of an organization, whereas the second is a for-profit business. Since here at Pro Speaker U, we’re concerned with the profession of speaking, we’re going to be considering the second type of speakers bureaus — the for-profit type of bureau supplying fee-paid speakers.