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Traditionally booked to ramp up corporate conferences, motivational and celebrity speakers can garner extravagant fees in the Gulf, but does the investment pay off in results? Kathi Everden looks at the pros and cons of the big-name stage show

Following a summer of sport last year, there are potentially 1,000 more motivational speakers available for hire as Olympic medal winners cash in on their athletic fame to seek fortune. Some of these will be well worth their weight in gold, justify- ing an appearance fee that will add a sparkle of star dust, an inspirational tale of trials and a photo opportunity to a stand- ard corporate conference. Others, lacking that convincing on-stage presence, will simply pocket upwards of US$4,800 to fill a 30-minute slot and provide a temporary respite from more serious company matters, sales targets, structural reor- ganisation and the like. It’s the first lesson to be learned when seeking to fill a

speaker slot at any event. What is the actual purpose of that booking? According to Kirstie Hepburn, programme director at strategic communications firm Richard Attias and Associ- ates – who worked on the recent star-studded Doha GOALS event – a keynote speaker is usually a good bet to inspire the audience and there is nothing wrong with employing a little star power to ensure a good attendance. “At every conference or communications platform we

build, the first question is: What do we want or need to achieve? Secondly, who is the audience?” From personal experience, Hepburn cites President Bill

Clinton as a guaranteed hit. Indeed, the former US president has just been confirmed as the keynote speaker at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit taking place from April 9 to 10 in Abu Dhabi. However, having earned nearly US$100 million in speaking fees since his ‘retirement’ with one-off fees now topping US$750,000, it might not be within everyone’s budget. In line with the less frivolous times of the 21st


Hepburn says the requirement for pure motivational gurus is on the wane in many cases, perhaps restricted to one-goal sales events. “I don’t think it works for modern and innova- tive companies where motivation can come from a great entrepreneur, a wise economist, a voice of global wisdom or a high-achieving peer,” she says. For the client, where to research and how to source that show stopper is a process that can start with Google and a trawl of the latest motiva-

tional blockbuster reads, but should be augmented by expertise – either a call to one or two of the international speaker bureaux or even by consult- ing colleagues. According to Dubai-based speaker Carol Tal-

bot, 95 per cent of her clients come through referrals, across 10 countries as well as the UAE. “My clients are brand ambassadors,” she says. In a complementary approach, JLA’s Jeremy Lee


million earned by President Bill Clinton in speaking fees since his ‘retirement’

Opposite left:

Richard Attias, Executive Chairman, Richard Attias & Associates and Executive Producer, Doha GOALS Forum and Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, speaking at Doha GOALS Forum

Below left:

Nicholas Sarcozy at Doha GOALS Forum

puts the case for a speaker bureau acting as an inde- pendent evaluator as well as having its own portfolio of tried-and-tested talent. Founder of the UK’s leading speaker bureau, he’s been in the business for 13 years and is forthright about the need for objectivity in booking speakers. “Just as the three most important words in property are location, location and loca- tion – the only three words that matter in choosing talent are audience, audience and audience. The least important factor is the personal taste of the organiser, sponsor or person signing the cheque,” he says, add- ing a caveat about the value of celebrity in the mix. “Unless you catch a celebrity the moment they

hit the headlines, there’s no correlation between their profile and audience satisfaction. By all means hire a ‘name’ if your object is to imbue the event with a certain kind of authority or if you want people to boast ‘you’ll never guess who I’ve just seen’ – but not because you think it offers some kind of quality assurance. It doesn’t.” While accessing a choice of speakers from the

motivation names such as Deepak Chopra, Stephen Covey and Robin Sharma through to Olympians, corporate stars in the mould of Richard Branson or industry experts along the lines of Bill Gates, the dark side of the equation is the budget and ROI.

THE US$50,000 QUESTION For many corporates, the the amount of money allocated for speaker fees is part of the entertain- ment budget. It’s an attitude that the professionals in the industry shoot down, citing the keynote or motivational address as part of overall investment in the company event. According to Susan Fur- ness, CEO of Gulf-based Strategic Solutions and herself a motivational speaker, results will depend on how much the organisation is prepared to invest in infrastructure, rehearsals and the expenses of the speaker, but it can be demonstrated on the bottom line. “A US$20,000 investment in a speaker trans-

Kirstie Hepburn

lates to US$200 a head – or a dinner in a Dubai restaurant – for an audience of 100 and they are left with a message that is meaningful, magical and thus memorable,” she says.

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