Toastmasters is a great place to find good yet inexpensive speakers, especially for nonprofits and organizations on a budget. The nice thing about Toastmasters is you can often find incredible values as this is where many professional speakers go to start out. Many of these budding speakers are looking to just get their name out or get some “paid” (or non-Toastmasters) speeches on to their resumes. So it’s an excellent way to find a good speakers that will speak for free or a small honorarium.
There are a couple of things that you’ll want to do when you look to your local Toastmasters club for a speaker. But something you don’t want to do is just email all the local club Presidents to see if they have anyone willing to speak to your group. This is a common mistake companies and organizations make and usually results in them finding a speaker that’s eager to do the talk, but not necessarily the most qualified. So here are some tips:
1. Don’t assume rank, title or awards mean anything.
You might assume that someone who has achieved a certain distinction, given a certain number of speeches or is in a role that sounds important is a good speaker, but that’s not always true. Generally speaking, people with more speeches under their belts or those who have risen to leadership roles tend to be better speakers that those that haven’t, but that’s not always the case. Just because someone has given 40 speeches doesn’t mean those speeches were any good. Also, my Toastmasters district (Eastern MA and all of RI) has had some District Governors who were horrible speakers – I was in a club with one such person back in 2007. So while usually people who have impressive resumes within Toastmasters are good speakers, it’s not always the case.
2. Attend a few meetings in person.
This is important if you’re unfamiliar with Toastmasters because it’s really hard to fully appreciate and understand what Toastmasters is all about unless you see a club in action. I have written both a primer on Toastmasters and some tips for being a guest at a meeting, so that should help you understand what to expect. But there’s nothing like being there – you get to see the type of people in the club, what types of speeches people are capable of and of course, to see speakers in action.
When you’re bringing in a relatively new speaker, it’s important to see him or her in action so this is the best way. If you see a speaker you like, talk to him or her privately about doing a speech for you. If not, ask the club president or another officer if there is someone in the club that can speak to your group. If there is, try to stop in the next time he or she does a speech.
3. Be upfront about what you can pay.
There’s nothing more disappointing to an aspiring speaker than to have someone tell them they’d like to “hire them” to do a speech to only find out their payment will be a free dinner or the “opportunity” to address their members. If your budget is under $100 for the speech, tell the person what you’re willing to pay and ask them if they are interested. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, then ask the speaker what he or she would charge.
From my experience with Toastmasters, most people would be thrilled to make $100 for a speech. But others claim to make much more (some charge in the thousands). While those in the upper limit are rare (most people that get to this point lack the time to stay involved with Toastmasters), they do exist so be understanding. Also remember that many Toastmasters members work during the day, so if you’re looking to hire someone for a talk that’s during normal business hours, they may be sacrificing income or vacation time to do the talk.
4. Have realistic expectations.
Keep in mind that not all Toastmasters desire to become professional speakers. Some do it to help them with their jobs while others find it to be their social outlet. Also, a non-Toastmaster crowd is different from a typical Toastmasters audience. A Toastmasters audience is usually friendly and will tolerate mistakes more so than an audience that has paid money or taken time away from other things important to them to watch a talk. While someone giving their first non-Toastmasters speech to your regular meeting is probably okay, having them do this at a conference or convention isn’t a great idea. For larger events, seek someone who has done a lot of speaking outside of Toastmasters.
5. Sell the benefits.
Sometimes there are things you can offer a speaker other than money such as exposure to your audience, free meals, access to other parts of the event, listing on your website/newsletter/program and of course, a recommendation if they do a good job. Again, just be upfront about the actual pay you can offer. One thing to consider though about using access to your audience as a benefit – sometimes this can be taken as a green light for the speaker to “sell” to the crowd, especially if they are not receiving monetary payment. Just be clear about your expectations with the speech and while you speak of the opportunity to get their name out, mention your policy about selling from the stage.
6. Topics can be tricky.
Sometimes it makes sense for you to choose the topic, other times it’s better for the speaker. If you’re looking for a generic motivational speaker and you find someone that’s good, have him or her suggest a topic. If it fits your needs, you’re all set. Otherwise work with them to tweak it.
If you have more precise needs, perhaps you’re looking for someone to talk about public speaking or business development, then work with the speaker to see how his or her experience can fit your need. No matter how good the speaker is, if he or she has no experience in the topic you’re looking for, you’re taking a big risk by using him or her. I get a lot of Toastmasters and professional speakers alike that say they can speak on any topic. No one is an expert on everything, so this is a red light to me.
Again, Toastmasters is a great place to look for speakers especially when you’re on a budget. Just follow these tips and you’ll avoid most of the problems that people find when they hire a relatively new speaker.