Time To Build Bridges & Create New Media Brain Alchemy

Have you seen the recent debate about social media speakers?

I’ve been watching the debate from the sidelines and decided to weigh in with my comments here. After all, it is about me as a conference and event organizer and what we event professionals are supposed to be doing.

I’m also going to use this post to kill two birds with one stone. I was tagged by Liz Strauss to connect a brain leader with a social force in her post Will You Try Some New Media Brain AlchemySuzanna Stinnett started this tag with Cloud Alchemy: A Thinking Heart. Stay tuned for my meeting of the minds at the end of this post as I introduce female social media strategists to #eventprofs and some of my speaker bureau connections!

Imagine more female social media strategist on the professional speaking circuit.

Imagine more female social media strategist on the professional speaking circuit and at your next conference.

Now back to the debate about social media speakers.

Here’s a quick overview of the debate. TSG (The Speakers Group Speakers Bureau) released “Their Top 10 Social Media Speakers To Know.” Blogger Geoff Livingston fired back with “Women Snubbed in Top Ten Speakers List, Industry in General.” Both blogs have resulted in a firestorm of criticism and comments about inadequate representation of female social media speakers. Valeria Maltoni responded on her blog with An Opportunity For Speakers And Organizations with next steps on how to proceed instead of blame and pointing fingers.

First, some disclosure. I personally know TSG and have spoke on the phone with Shawn for years. He’s pitched speakers to me in the past although I never contracted with his bureau. I also am a fan and regular reader of Geoff Livingston’s Buzz Bin/CRC/Tanaka and Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Agent. And I’m working on a an October conference with Liz Strauss where Geoff Livingston may will be a presenter/panelist. [Conference has been postponed to 2010 at this time.]

My view on the social media speaker debate.
I’m a professional event and conference planner that has hired more than 2,500 professional speakers in the past 10+ years. Diversity is always one of my top priorities when selecting speakers. I may create a draft event schedule and will play with it for days trying to ensure that I have a balance of male, female and different races in my speakers along with the right topics and the right fit for my audience. Then I have to check speakers’ availability and negotiate fees. I don’t always get the right balance or my first choice of speakers but I try hard. Often, I am frustrated by my lack of knowledge about female speakers on specific topics or those that are within my budget.

My suggestions to all social media strategist and speakers
I would encourage more social media bloggers and strategists to reach out to speaker bureaus and event professionals, and let them know of their desire to speak. Speaker bureaus pitch speakers based on those speakers that have signed agreements with them for representation, those that have voiced an interest in securing speaking gigs or those the bureau reps have personally seen or met. It’s not a bureau’s fault that they are not representing more speakers or listing more speakers of a certain type. They can’t promote people they don’t know or those that have not reached out to them.

How many of those female social media strategists listed in Geoff Livingston and Valeria Maltoni’s blog have reached out to speaker bureaus and asked for representation? How many have contacted the international, national or state associations of meeting and event professionals to let them know of their interest in speaking at their conferences? [Sidebar: The meeting and event professionals industry is dominated by women, not men.]

How many of these social media strategist, both female and male, have a one-sheet, a short marketing video, headshot, presentation descriptions, fee schedule and marketing materials about their presentations? These are all necessities within the professional speaking industry just as a computer, web hosting company, domain name and blog account are a necessity for bloggers.

Subject Matter Expert Does Not Equate To Professional Speaker
Just because someone has spoke at a bloggers conference, a social media event or SxSW does not mean that speaker is the right fit for traditional audiences. Just because someone is a great writer, blogger or author does not automatically qualify them as a great speaker. I’ve seen many industry speaker experts fail and flail with their presentations. Event professionals struggle with finding SMEs that cross the divide and deliver a homerun presentation with great content and outstanding delivery skills.

Assuming that all event professionals like me are aware of the “who’s who” of social media speakers is a false assumption. I’m probably the anomaly here because I have a personal interest in Web 2.0 and the social space. I seek out subject matter experts that have great content and can deliver a great presentation. There are plenty of opportunities for social media speakers yet unless conference organizers know about these speakers; it’s less likely conference organizers will find them.

Both Industries Are Foreign To Each Other
The professional speakers and events industries are probably foreign to most social media explorers, strategists, Ungurus and bloggers. Just as the social media industry is foreign to most meeting and speaker professionals. So it will take both industries reaching out to each other so that a broader diversity of speakers appear on conference agendas. Ultimately, that’s a win for conference and event attendees.

Time To Build Bridges & Create New Media Brain Alchemy
So in honor of building bridges, furthering discussions, creating new media brain alchemy and having people meet each other: Toby Bloomberg, Marcia Connor, Allison Fine, Kami Huyse, Tara Hunt, Beth Kanter, Charlene Li, Amber Mac, Valeria Maltoni, Jane Quigley, Liz Strauss and other female social media speakers, meet #eventprofs, the Twitter community of meeting and event professionals. You can find us every Tuesday at 9 pm EST and Thursdays at 12 pm EST in Twitter having a conversation about meetings, events and even social media issues. Please feel free to reach out to us using the #eventprofs hashtag. You’re welcome to join us anytime and we’d love to pick your brains about social media and events. We’d be more than willing to help you make more connections with meetings and events professionals.

And social media strategists please meet:
Andrea Gold
of Gold Stars Speakers Bureau
Broker Agents Speakers Bureau
Convention Connection Speakers Bureau
Darrin Powell of International Speakers Bureau 
Gina Schreck of Snyapse3Di
Katie Hiebert of Speak LLC 
Keppler Speakers Bureau
Julie Homesey of Five Star Speakers and Trainers
Impact Speakers Bureau
Robert Swanwick of #SpeakerChat & SpeakerInteractive
Shawn Ellis of The Speakers Group
Sheldon Senek of Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau
And there are many, many more that I have not listed here. Also, please read David Meerman Scott’s Ranking of Speaker Bureau Websites.

Finally, social media strategists, please meet the following professional associations for the association, events, meetings, and training industries. You should know these associations as they cater to the decision makers at many organizations who hire professional speakers. Look for their call for speaker proposals as well so that you can begin to reach out to these industries and secure more speaking gigs outside of the social media industry.
ASAE (professional association of association executives with state and local chapters)
ASTD (professional association of training and development professionals with state and local chapters)
International Federation for Professional Speaking (chapters around the globe)
Meetings Professionals International (with international chapters)
National Speakers Association (with state chapters)
Professional Convention Management Association (senior level meeting and event professionals, with regional chapters)

Social media strategists and speakers, I hope to see you at a future conference or event either face-to-face or through live streaming. Break a leg!

PS, please feel free to add more social media strategists and speaker bureas in the comments section of this blog. It is in no-way a comprehensive list and there are many more people worthy of recognition.

13 Responses to Time To Build Bridges & Create New Media Brain Alchemy
  1. Kami Huyse
    July 31, 2009 | 6:02 pm

    Thanks for yet another post in this series that, like Valeria’s, that is useful and moves the conversation forward. Before I became a social media strategist I worked as a Director of Communication at a trade association and have watched hundreds of speaker tapes.

    I have only very recently started to think of myself as a professional speaker, in spite of the fact that last year I spoke at about 14 conferences, many of them paid. I guess it is time to walk the professional walk. Point well made. I have mostly been doing the work and then sharing what I have found to actually work. People seem to respond to that. I am getting better too, practice is a good thing.

    I am not sure how many of the women debating the issue want more than to be respected within our own industry, but you have opened my eyes to the further possibilities.

    Now I guess I should write a book as well (said in jest)!

    I will share this with my network.

  2. Kelcy
    July 31, 2009 | 6:44 pm

    The sequence of events is a little erroneous. A number of us like @WomenWhoTech were already discussing concerns over the lack of women speakers (and indeed minorities) at the Open Government and Innovations conference in July and the Gov2.0 Expo and Summit in Sep (co-hosted by OReilly Media). @WomenWhoTech had set up a petition at act.ly asking Tim OReilly to address the issue. Right now there are 3 women out of 28 speakers at Gov2.0 Summit despite a wealth of top women in government technology in addition to those in other sectors. The TSG list came out as this issue was being discussed and added to the conversations which came to Geoff Livingston’s attention. He then wrote his blog in response.

    Thanks for the tips, however, they seem based on women in non-government sectors. I wonder how many women in government would take advantage of these or what would need to change especially if government employees were not permitted to accept fees.

  3. Jeff Hurt
    August 1, 2009 | 6:29 am

    @Kami
    Thanks for stopping by and adding comments. I can appreciate that women in the industry want respect and I agree that they deserve it!

    If you’ve already spoken at 14 conferences and you’re getting paid, you’re halfway there! You know the drill if you served as Director of Communications for a nonprofit and chose speakers for conferences in the past. There are so many other conferences and events outside of the Government 2.0 and social media conferences that need good social media speakers. They could benefit from your and other female social media strategists skills.

    @Kelcy
    Thanks for adding to the back story here and giving readers more to consider. The fact that government employees usually cannot accept fees for speaking is a challenge. However, I’ve seen plenty of government sectors mirror speakers bureaus with their own speaker lists and many of the same tools as the professional speaking industry. I wrote this primarily in response to Geoff’s blog as he used a broad stroke that all conference planners were overlooking women speakers. While you see the entire discussion within context, some of the readers do not have that same context. Thanks again for adding more color and details to the issue at hand.

  4. Geoff Livingston
    August 1, 2009 | 12:08 pm

    My problem with this post is it forces the conference’s existing paradig on women, instead of changing the paradigm to create an equal playing field for all people. SO when I read, “It’s not a bureau’s fault that they are not representing more speakers or listing more speakers of a certain type. They can’t promote people they don’t know or those that have not reached out to them,” I say BS. It’s the speakers bureau’s job, the conference organizer’s job to go find the right speakers, not the other way around. Finding qualified speakers of all genders, races, etc. means going the extra mile, not crying wolf when you don’t get apps. Not a good excuse in my mind.

    Instead of accepting status quo, tear it down, and create a new paradigm.

  5. Valeria Maltoni
    August 1, 2009 | 1:30 pm

    Jeff:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to pull all of these resources together. I’m not surprised that Liz would partner with you to organize an event – she knows how to pick teams. Perhaps the events of general nature have reached saturation level at this point… there are so many! However, I do believe that industry-specific and niche-specific events will do well.

    Together with the increased need to learn practical applications, professionals are starting to look for information on how the material applies to their specific industry. So along with conferences for small businesses, I’m seeing more requests of the social media topic by industry vertical – health care leading the pack.

    First time off GReader – love the design of this blog! I’m hoping to redo my banner using the red hues you’ve got in the border :)

    PS: I do agree with Geoff that conference organizers should do their part.

  6. Jeff Hurt
    August 1, 2009 | 2:10 pm

    @Geoff

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your point of view. We agree on this: “It’s the conference organizer’s job to find the right speaker.” I agree with you 100% that it is my responsibility as a meeting and event professional to make sure that my conference agenda reflects a diversity in gender, race, etc.

    A speakers bureau does not plan conferences and events so I don’t see them at fault for the conference agenda or conference speakers. Assuming that event planners rely 100% on speakers bureaus for their conference speakers is also a false assumption. Event professionals do not contract speakers bureaus to go out and find the right speaker for them. That’s not how a bureau works. Meeting and event professionals only contract with a speakers bureau if they choose a speaker that bureau represents or one that bureau has pitched. There are more than 20,000 professional speakers in the industry and no bureau represents them all.

    That’s no different from how the William Morrison Agency or the Creative Artists Agency works that each represents specific actors and entertainers. Actors and entertainers secure representation and then depend upon that agency to pitch them for potential jobs. So taking fault with TSG instead of educating women on how to access the industry is backwards. Taking fault with Government 2.0 conference organizers is completely understandably.

    PS…So sorry I got the title of your blog incorrect. I was trying to honor your alignment with CRT/tanaka | Social.

  7. Jeff Hurt
    August 1, 2009 | 2:16 pm

    @Valeria

    Thanks for adding to the discussion here and I apprecaite the kind words. I totally agree with Geoff that conference organizers should do their part!

  8. [...] have been reading recently that there is a concern in a number of circles that many conference or convention organizers are lacking diversity in their [...]

  9. Shawn Ellis
    August 3, 2009 | 10:26 am

    Jeff, thanks for your wise insights here, and for introducing parties on all sides to one another. You make a very astute point about the gap between the worlds of social media authorities and of meeting professionals and professional speakers and speakers bureaus. One reason we’ve begun establishing this niche of social media speakers on our roster is to help bridge that gap for the benefit of the social media speakers and meeting professionals alike. There are lots of tech/social media conferences out there, but there’s a need to bring this content into the “mainstream” corporate and association events.

  10. Jeff Hurt
    August 3, 2009 | 12:42 pm

    @Shawn

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your feedback.

    I agree that there is a gap between social media experts (dare I use that word) and the meetings industry, professional speakers and speakers bureaus. I think there is a misunderstanding of many in the social space about the role of speaker bureaus and meetings professionals. I believe that mainstream audiences are wanting to learn more about social media and there are a lot of wonderful opportunities for the social media thought leaders to help educate the corporate and association world outside of the social media and tech conferences.

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    August 10, 2009 | 5:30 pm

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  12. Suzanna Stinnett
    September 20, 2009 | 4:18 pm

    Jeff,
    I’m remiss in getting my response to you on this important post. Thank you for picking up the thread via Liz who wrote her own post about my concept article on Cloud Alchemy.

    I’m one of those public speakers who came into the industry through a side door – while I knew I was headed that way, I did not know I was good at it until the past year of various engagements turned on a big light in my head. Now, I need to understand the industry and its needs. You’ve handed me the info on a cushy pillow. THANKS.

    As soon as I have all the proper elements in place, I’ll let you know. Again, great appreciation for how clearly you articulated the difficulties and the solutions for public speakers and the audiences who want them.
    Very best regards,
    Suzanna Stinnett

  13. Jeff Hurt
    September 20, 2009 | 8:02 pm

    Suzanna:

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your feedback. I also appreciate the kind comments. Please do keep me and other meeting professionals informed of how things progress for you.

    Thanks again!

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