Part 2: How to Help Chapters Find Speakers for Their Events

What is your association doing to help chapters find speakers for their events? We'll share examples of what other organizations are doing to help chapters with speaker lists and speaker directory. Learn next steps to building your own speaker directory.
Part 2: How to Help Chapters Find Speakers for Their Events

Many of you have told us about a request you frequently get from chapter leaders: can you provide a list of good speakers or put together a speakers bureau? Of course you can, but as Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management, pointed out in a Billhighway webinar on speaker sourcing: Will that solve the real problem?

In our first post in this series on chapter speaker sourcing, we shared examples of associations who are teaching chapters to find speakers in their local communities and providing ready-made programs and speakers to their chapters.

Sometimes chapters know what type of programming they want, but they ask you to help them find speakers for those topics. Peggy shared a few ideas from associations who have addressed this issue. She also discussed the next steps to take if you want to get started on your own speaker sourcing solution.

Solution: Curate a speaker list

Instead of building a chapter speaker list from scratch, the American Marketing Association (AMA) curated a list of speakers based on recommendations from chapters. They’ve since gone to a more formal speaker directory but started out with their Speaker Share tool, a simple Excel spreadsheet.

Twice a year during chapter leadership meetings, AMA asked chapter leaders to share the contact information and areas of expertise of their favorite speakers. AMA staff entered this information along with the submission date and chapter location into the Speaker Share spreadsheet.

In five years, they collected more than 200 speaker recommendations. They decided to keep the older submissions in the spreadsheet since they help spark programming ideas. And, there’s a bonus, said Peggy: “You don’t have to vet these speakers because they’ve already been vetted by the chapters who recommended them.”

Engagement: Local vs. National
Curate a speaker list

Solution: Set up a speaker directory

A speaker directory connects chapters looking for a speaker with people who want to speak. Before we go any further, we must explain why we’re using the phrase “speaker directory” instead of “speakers bureau.”

The phrase “speakers bureau” implies recommendations and ratings—you’re setting an expectation for vetted speakers. The phrase can also cause confusion with third-party professional speakers bureaus. In short, the word “bureau” sets unrealistic expectations.

If you do plan to vet speakers for your speakers bureau, you must be willing to exclude speakers who don’t qualify due to poor evaluations. And, you must be prepared to respond truthfully to members who have received poor evaluations and want to know why they aren’t listed in the bureau.

If you’re not going to vet speakers, use the phrase “speaker directory” which is understood simply as a list of speakers.


Searchable calendar as speaker directory

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) created a speaker directory based on chapter website sleuthing. They scanned every chapter website and created a searchable calendar of all chapter events, including speakers and contact information. Chapter leaders sort the calendar by location to find nearby speakers.

ATD says it only takes two to three hours a month to update the calendar. Chapter leaders consider the calendar a useful resource since it already contains information from two years of monthly events from 140 chapters. Besides being a great source of speakers, the calendar also provides valuable insight for national staff and chapter leaders into speaker and topic trends.

Searchable calendar as speaker directory

Staff- and volunteer-managed speakers bureaus

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has two speakers bureaus. In both cases, speakers are recommended for inclusion so the word “bureau” is appropriate.

The GBTA Speakers Bureau is a list of recommended speakers from GBTA’s national events. Staff compiles and updates this list annually as a benefit for chapters.

A group of volunteer chapter presidents built and maintains the Chapter Presidents Council Speakers Bureau. Every month, this group updates the list based on recommendations of speakers from chapter and other meetings. Peggy pointed out a downside to this approach: “Volunteers certainly know a good speaker when they see one, but, remember, this is not their day job.”


If you build it, will they come?

Before building anything, make sure you’re solving the right problem. Have enough evidence that chapters need your help finding speakers and will use whatever you build.

You could offer chapters an incentive to use your speaker directory. AMA offers a 5% speaker fee discount when chapters book a speaker via their chapter portal. If you use this approach, speakers would have to agree to give chapters a discounted rate.

Chapters won’t find your directory useful if it’s full of speakers who won’t travel. At the American Association of Diabetes Educators, only speakers who are willing to travel to local chapters are eligible for the Diabetes Educator of the Year Award. Can you create an award or incentive that will encourage speakers to work with chapters outside their region?


Ways to build a speaker directory

The technology used for speaker resources by the associations we’ve discussed in these two posts ranges from a simple Excel spreadsheet to a customized website portal.

Here are several options to consider:

  • The Power BI Users Group uses the Higher Logic platform for their speaker directory. Members create a speaker profile to which they add their experience, areas of expertise, required fees and expenses, and presentations. Volunteer leaders search for speakers by location or expertise.


  • ReviewMySpeaker is a new white label option based on the same software used for the popular ReviewMyAMS Chapters can read reviews on speakers they’re considering in exchange for reviewing speakers they’ve worked with. Speakers or speakers bureaus who become sponsors receive premier listing at the top of search results.


Or, use an Excel spreadsheet. If many people will be updating it, turn it into a Google Sheet. When AMA had their Speaker Share spreadsheet, they posted it on their online chapter portal so people could access it 24/7.

Measuring the success of your speaker directory

You must establish metrics to find out if your efforts are successful. To find the right metrics, think about the impact you want to see. The number of directory users or speaker profiles doesn’t tell you anything useful. Peggy said,

“Your directory should move the needle in terms of event attendance or program evaluation. It must help chapters put on compelling events that make a difference to members.”

Your next steps in building a speaker directory


Step #1

Confirm what chapters need. Will you:

  • Build them a directory?
  • Give them a curated list of speakers?
  • Provide tailored programming?
  • Or, teach them how to find speakers themselves?


Step #2

Review and consolidate existing speaker resources. Start by curating a speaker list. If you’ve got a chapter advisory group, ask them to make phone calls and get speaker recommendations. Put the list where chapter leaders can easily access it.


Step #3

Experiment with a pilot. Before investing in off-the-shelf or customized software, see if your chapters will use a simple Excel spreadsheet. Peggy said, “Tell your chapters: we’re going to build something for you, but before we build it, we need to find out whether you’re going to use it and what kind of information you really need.”


Step #4

Decide upon and track metrics that show whether your solution is meeting a need.

By stepping in to solve a big problem for chapter leaders, you’ll build their trust along with a better relationship. You’ll also help them provide education that makes an impact on their members’ lives.

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