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The Business of Meetings

Nov 24, 2020

We are delighted to have an amazing individual as our guest for today! Brian Palmer, the former President of the International Association of Speakers Bureau is joining us! 

Brian has had a vast amount of experience with booking speakers over the last forty years. He is with us today to talk about what he and his clients look for when recruiting speakers, to give some great advice about what you could do to convince him that you should be the next speaker he books, and share his experience after selling his company. We hope that you enjoy today’s conversation! 

Brian Palmer’s bio

Brian Palmer is the Senior Vice President of the National Speakers Bureau, a division of the Premiere Speakers Bureau of Nashville. Brian started to work with his father at NSB after finishing college in 1980. After spending 38 years there and having bought the company from his family, he decided on a new path and sold the firm. He continues to work for the firm, helping professionals to plan effective gatherings.

Along the way, Brian has been involved in the meeting industry as President of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus, on MPI's International Board, and as President of Chicago's MPI chapter.

In that time, Brian has also been given some industry awards. MPI presented him with their International Supplier of the Year Award, the National Speakers Association gave him their Meeting Partner of the Year Award, and the International Association of Speakers Bureaus presented him with the John Palmer award, named for his father.

Brian and his wife of 30 years live in the suburbs of Chicago.

Brian’s father

Brian’s father was in the entertainment business as a bandleader. When he got tired of traveling, he started the National Speakers Bureau. 

Getting into the business of speakers

Brian was a freshman in high school when his father started NSB, and he used to work there, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps, in his spare time. He continued working there part-time throughout high school and college, and in 1980, he began working there full-time.

Selecting speakers 

Brian explains that there is no strict formula for how he goes about selecting the speakers he represents. He relies on his gut to a certain degree when he hears a speech that could be of interest to his customers and falls within the realm of the market he serves, which is mainly corporations and business-related associations.  

What Brian Palmer looks for in the speakers he selects

The way that speakers interact with Brian Palmer gives him an idea of how they might interact with their customers. He looks for people who deliver interesting talks and interact well with his customers and the audience. What happens before the speech is critical in the run-up to the presentation. If Brian does not think those things will be right, he will not be interested in booking that speaker.

Politically-oriented speakers

Currently, people are less apt to hire speakers to appear at events for fear of them offending their audience in some way. Some people are okay with hearing views divergent from their own. But there are often people at the extremes who do not want to consider any ideas they disagree with. So there are a lot fewer politically-oriented speeches booked in the business realm currently.

You cannot please everyone

Brian has found that no matter how good a speech is, there is always someone unhappy about it.

Brian’s secret to selecting the right kind of speakers

The way that people react to Brian's suggestion of some small adjustment to their presentation is one of his secrets to selecting the right kind of speakers. If they are unwilling to consider feedback, he is a lot less interested in booking them. 

Something Brian Palmer looks for in a speaker

One of the things Brian Palmer looks for is the recognition that the most important person in the room is not the speaker but the audience.

Well-refined presentations

Although Brian does a bit of coaching, he prefers it when people’s presentations and shows have been well-refined by the time they get to him. He is not interested in booking rookies because NSB is a large entity with a brand to uphold. He prefers to book people with experience and who are prepared for things that might not go right.

Having your things in order

When you contact a large speakers bureau in the US, you need to have things in order. Speakers should consider using resources to prepare themselves. The National Speakers Association has many educational seminars and products to help speakers understand how to put an offering together.

People get anxious about spending a lot of money on speakers

People get anxious about spending a lot of money on speakers because they want to be sure that the speaker will reflect well on them and their meeting. So, Brian advocates for people having a discipline for their selection process and their speaker preparation process, to make sure that the people they hire do what they want to get done.

Staying in the industry

Brian was interested in remaining in the events business and industry after he sold his business. He wanted to go about it differently, however. So his business coach suggested that he should find someone to work with, with a similar philosophy and business approach. 

People in the lecture business

Brian focused on people in the lecture business with whom he thought he would want to do business. He approached someone at Premiere Speakers Bureau who liked his idea, and things moved very fast from there. A lot of their negotiations had to do with the finer points and with what Brian’s role was going to be. Brian found that the way the transaction worked was decidedly fair.

A lawyer

He hired a lawyer to help him with the business transaction, and he feels happy with the way things have worked out.

Business advice from Brian Palmer

Brian Palmer’s advice is for you to do business with somebody you would want to spend some time with, not someone you would want to run away from.

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Book mentioned: The Wealthy Speaker 2.0: The Proven Formula for Building Your Successful Speaking Business by Jane E. Atkinson

The National Speakers Association has many educational seminars and products to help speakers to understand how to put an offering together.