A Snapshot into the Lives of the People Who Hire Us
Except for keynoters, Barbara Sadek
doesn’t usually pay the several hundred speakers she brings in each
year for her large association conventions.
But speakers still scramble to present at the
dozens of concurrent sessions anyway. Only
one out of every four speakers who applies
Speakers are also not permitted to sell
books, recordings or other materials to audiences, except at the conference bookstore
or at scheduled signings. So why do nearly a
thousand speakers seek to present before
the 210,000-member Society for Human
Sadek, the group’s director of education,
says good speakers should forget the short-term of a quick sale and focus on building
long-term business relationships. “Speakers
find value in appearing before our audiences,” she says. “Our audience is human
resource professionals who can hire speakers to come in and do corporate training.
“The other value,” she adds, “is being in a
brochure that is sent to about 300,000 people.” Many of the 200 or so speakers who
present at the society’s big national convention each June get selected through a
“Call for Presentations” placed on SHRM’s
Web site each January.
Competition is rigorous to appear before
the world’s largest HR management organization. “I’ve actually had people who called
here and cried because we haven’t
accepted them as a speaker,” Sadek says.
“They take it very hard. But it’s not personal.”
The society pays travel expenses for
speakers, including hotel, meals and airfare.
Each speaker is also given a complimentary
convention registration, worth about $1,000.
Because selling during or after presentations is frowned upon, Sadek says speakers
have to sell themselves “in a subtle way.”
Overt selling is an audience turn-off. “If you
do a good presentation, that’s better than
any marketing you do on your own behalf,”
Sadek says. “People will want to hire you if
you’re a good communicator.”
And what if your presentation doesn’t turn
out so great? “You may not get invited back,”
she says, recalling one speaker who
smacked a convention center’s audio/visual
person over the head with a microphone
and another who left before completing her
sessions because things weren’t going well.
“It’s a bad experience to go through,” she
says about the times when speakers flop. “I
feel like we let the audience down. They are
paying customers, and I feel bad they are
not getting the value for their money.”
But this doesn’t usually happen with NSA
speakers. “NSA speakers are our best speakers,” she says. “If everyone could be as good
as NSA members, we wouldn’t have any
problems at all.”
Columnist Dave Lieber, a member of NSA/
North Texas, is a
columnist for the Fort
and a professional
speaker. His Web site
Getting a Foot in the
With a one-in-four chance of getting
selected to speak at the world’s
largest human resource management
group, how do you increase your chances?
Sadek has some advice to get on the A-list:
Be honest in your self-description. SHRM
asks speakers to give a 75-word description
of their intended session but too often,
Sadek says, performances don’t live up to
promises. Audience members complain
when they believe they were misled by a
session description in a program.
Get a catchy title for your session. The
shorter, the better, Sadek says. “If it’s short
and really clever, that will get our attention.
Use a number, like 10 Tips for a Successful
Interview’ or ‘ 8 Things To Do To Be a Better
Leader.’ For some reason, those sessions are
very well attended. People like the bullet
points because they think, “Here are the
eight things I have to do so I can get my promotion.’”
Promise practical information. When you
describe your proposed session to planners,
tell them that “upon completion of this session, you’ll be able to do the following at
your workplace.” Then list the specific skills
that audience members will learn.
Submit a great DVD. “That’s the most important thing,” Sadek says. “We call it ‘proof of
performance.’ You can almost be assured
of being rejected if you don’t send it.”
Be a solo presenter. Team presentations or
panel presentations generally don’t work as
well as solo presenters, according to Sadek,
because audiences find it hard to make the
transition between speakers.
Develop a connection. Audiences have to
see a link between what a speaker is talking
about and what they do on a daily basis.
Without such a connection, a speech has
no meaning for listeners.
Make it entertaining. In this department,
she says, NSA members have a big jump on
other speakers: “NSA members understand
speaking is not just a talking head kind of
thing. It’s showbiz. And our audience
expects that as well.”—Dave Lieber