IASB Member and Board Governor, Tim Mathy shared his insight on current speaker trends, new technology and the value of working with speakers bureaus and management companies at IMEX (October 2019).
Alex Plaxen: This is my first [interview] of the day, so I’m very excited. I’ve known Tim for a long time. We were talking yestersday - How long…? How did we meet…? I have no idea! So, it’s great. So, Tim introduce yourself. Let everyone know kind of what you do.
Tim Mathy: My name is Tim Mathy, I’m a Senior Partner with SpeakInc Speakers Bureau - kind of a weird name. And I am a board member of IASB, which I think we’re gonna talk a little bit about too. But yeah - I’ve known you and I don’t know how. We’re social media friends for a while and I don’t know how… It’s kind of this industry though, right? You just kind of know people.
Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey: I think that’s the strange thing… Tim pops up in the most unusual places. I was literally walking down the hallway and I was like, “Is that Tim Mathy?!” The last person I expected to see here. And of course he’s got four other people… But you had a speaker who was working on Smart Monday, right?
TM: We did! We brought in Phil Hansen who is an artist, speaker, done a TED Talk… He’s kinda cool. And he speaks, but also what he does is an art piece. He had the attendees do little pieces of art, and then he went in a private room for 5 hours - him and an assistant - and busted out this John Lennon piece and it’s awesome! MPI did a YouTube link to it. It’s incredible; it’s just a different thing to add some value to a normal keynote. It was well received and, quite honestly, we already got some business from it, so it’s cool.
LMB: That’s fantastic.
AP: That’s awesome. Yeah, it’s interesting because with the speakers now - like some of us, we’re speakers - you’re constantly being asked, “What other value can you bring?” and oftentimes it’s a book signing. Well, what ELSE can I do…? And so thinking on that end, what trends are you seeing that people are asking for?
TM: That’s a good lead in. I think as far as value, one of the biggest trends is they’re asking for more - be it the book signing, or even after the keynote - the keynote is usually the 10,000 foot level - but after, can you do me a breakout right after that is how we can really improve your association or business. I mean, that’s a huge trend going on right now. And also just technology from both sides; be it from the meeting professional’s side as far as what they’re using and how they adapt to that, but also the speaker’s side - PowerPoint, ya know, it’s a boring dead tool.
AP: Death by PowerPoint!
TM: Exactly. How do you keep the cutting edge as far as your slides and how things are going… So, they need to adapt to that.
LMB: So, you’re saying overhead projectors are coming back.
TM: You know what - I think they need to come back! Ya know the old slides with the circles… What are those called?
LMB Oh! Yes!
AP: I would be very interested in seeing a keynote with one of those! That would be awesome! I’d love that.
TM: But some, ya know, they have that cool AV to them and it’s like how do they have that? And I have some speakers, I joke, they won’t let you tape the first 5 minutes because they want to keep proprietary how they’re doing that cool intro or whatever it might be.
LMB: One of the other things we were talking about - I was actually at an event with Tim back in April for the International Association of Speakers Bureaus and it was funny because I was literally the only meeting planner there. It’s a very small community, so kind of unpack because I think it’s one of those places where, “What’s a bureau vs. a speaker’s agent vs. hiring directly a speaker as a planner?” Tell me a little bit about the layers and where you fit into it, as well as the association.
TM: Yeah, sure. And it is a very small division of the meeting world, but at the same time if you ask meeting planners, they’re like “Why are all these bureaus calling me and where’d they come from?” They think we’re like coming from underground, it’s bothering people. But, basically there’s speakers bureaus everywhere and what we try to do is help make your life easier and help you look good by booking speakers. I mean, you look at a 5 minute tape and you’re like “this person’s great,” but [bureaus] really have the knowledge as far as who is good, who is not, who is easy to work with - and make your event a success. Also, if there’s a problem we can be an insurance policy. And think about it - if you book a speaker once, they’re gonna be … if they have a problem with that, so be it. But if someone like myself, or a different bureau, books them 20-30-40 times a year - that’s a lot of money going into them, so I think there’s just more credibility there with the speakers bureaus. And there’s different types. You have exclusives, so they manage some speakers exclusively, and there’s others like myself - my bureau, SpeakInc - we’re non-exclusive so we really try to push that the meeting professional is our client. Then you also have speaker management companies that manage speakers, and speakers bureaus call the management companies to…
LMB: That’s not confusing at all!
TM: Yeah, it’s crazy! It is. It should be simplified, but it really is a simple process. We just try to make, honestly, life easier. And we have access to all the speakers out there.
AP: In my mind I just have one of those string things, like in a crime movie…
LMB: They had something like that at IASB, I was like, you know what you need to do is put this on MPI’s website because I was taking a picture, sending it to my friends like, “Look at this!”
TM: And even the conference - the IASB conference… We’re growing. We’re small but we really need to get ourselves involved more with different industry associations or even, like you were saying, why are you the only meeting professional there? And it sounds bad, but I think in my speakers bureau world, we live in fear - like, if you show up we’re gonna like poach each other, which is stupid because it should be a relationship-based business.
LMB: You have these incredible speakers on stage who are auditioning and I think from a trend perspective in that room, I was seeing speakers that I thought, “This is gonna be the next big thing.” So, what are the trends? Are people using more bureaus? Or is it you’re seeing a lot more planners just go directly out and try and find those speakers themselves?
TM: It’s both. I think the first part is, we talked about technology being a trend, but I think it’s also a negative because I think meeting planners are out there - and I know this may be hard to believe but what is on the internet is not always accurate. And they’re going on the internet and they’re finding Joe Blow speaker, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna find this person and fees…” and it’s not accurate what they’re finding out there. So then they try to go direct, and a lot of times they’ll just work with people like myself. But, I think Velvet Chainsaw did a study a couple years ago - 50% of meeting professionals use speaker bureaus. And, in my opinion - obviously I’m bias - it should be higher. But I think it’s better for meeting professionals … we’re hopefully a better partner to save you time and energy.
AP: So I was just seeing on Facebook - literally this morning - someone goes, “I have this much money, I’m looking for a speaker on this topic…” and they’re in some Facebook group for event professionals, and they’re asking like - does anyone know anybody…? And it’s such a strange way to do business! And I get it, like I’m the social media guy. I’m like that’s cool… But at the same time, you know there’s companies you can reach out to!
LMB: But I think they think it costs money to use a bureau.
TM: That’s correct. And it doesn’t. We’re the same price. If you call them direct or you call me it’s the same price. It’s like the old travel agency model. Really we just add value. At the same time it’s just a world that people aren’t that familiar with. Yet you think about it, you put a professional speaker in front of your 3,000 attendees and senior level people - if they suck, you’re done. You’re not going to get fired for the meat being a little chewy, but if that speaker is really bad, ya know, it’s really a problem. And that’s where speakers bureaus come in because we know who is good, who’s not, and it’s not just finding somebody on the internet.
AP: And you can see the difference when there is a good speaker versus a bad speaker. I live tweet so I’m sitting there and I’m watching the social media, and if it goes dark that’s a problem!
LMB: Or they start… I was there one time where on the screen they were live tweeting the actual piece and the speaker veered off into left field and you just watch the audience turn, and the Twitter turned, and they couldn’t get the feed down, and I was just sitting there in the back and was like, Oh no… Oh no…
AP: It’s a problem. And on the flip side, the data there is really interesting too. Where are the peaks in the social media hashtag being used for the event? And if it’s a really good speaker, you see those peaks.
TM: You’re right. And also on the front end, we’re seeing more and more where in contracts they’re requiring Joe Speaker to go and do 5 tweets to go ahead and help promote that event or even a really good or smart speaker will tweet stuff out while they’re on stage because they know the timing of what’s gonna happen and it comes right out. And it’s not a hard thing, but it’s brilliant because it just keeps that live momentum going in the presentation.
AP: Well, it’s funny you say that. I was at an event last week and I won’t say the name of the speaker…
LMB: Oh no! I remember this!
TM: I think I saw you put something out about this… Maybe I’m wrong…
AP: I put out a tweet, I was live tweeting, and this speaker re-tweeted me while they were still on stage and I’m like, I know that is not them re-tweeting that and all of a sudden it took me out of it. I was really excited and then I was like, wait a second - she’s not holding her phone! So, it totally took me out of it!
LMB: But that authenticity piece I think is good feedback. Sometimes the speakers can be really difficult in hearing that, so that’s where an agent partner can become crucial because you really can pass that information back and forth and have a better experience. Because, you talked about how you can lose your job if the speaker sucks, but also if they’re difficult to work with you have somebody who, they work with them all the time so you know the nuances and help us kind of avoid the pitfalls; but also their lives because they’re on the road so much.
TM: No, that’s the thing. That’s my job is to be honest, and give them honest feedback. Like I said, the meeting professional is my client, not the speaker, so I’m happy to share my thoughts. At the end of the day, being on stage in my opinion is the easy part. They do that all the time. It’s not asking for green M&Ms, or being on time for your AV check…
LMB: That’s important.
TM: That stuff is easy, but they don’t realize sometimes like… “Why do I have to be there 2 hours early?” Well, they have five other people they need to get up there… But that’s where I think speakers bureaus come into play because we’re able to help manage that.
AP: So, what do you see is the future of this? Like, what in your mind are you seeing the direction going?
TM: You know, you hear different things as far as the keynotes dead, or it’s changing… In my opinion - and even the TED Talk - I don’t think it is. It’s almost like a play: if you have somebody up there captivating you… Think about it - a good speaker - you remember that signature story or whatever it might be, that point of data… Sometimes that 60 minutes might seem like it’s 2 minutes. And I think there’s good speakers out there and they’re gonna continue and continue. There’s a small piece of that pie, but they can make an event. Even an opening keynote - if they set that energy, that tradeshow is better. If they speak about whatever it might be, there’s better dialogue and engagement. In my opinion, it’ll change, it’s gonna adapt a little bit; but I still think if you have a great presenter up there they’re still gonna kill it.
LMB: So I want to talk about something you said at the very beginning trend-wise, because this is something that seems to be happening more frequently. Insurance against cancellations. So, what does that mean and how does that bode for the event professional that’s trying to have a back-up plan and still plan a great show and promote?
TM: Ya know, it happens. I mean, Act of God, or whatever it might be. But I think that’s where if you’re doing it on your own, you don’t know who to call and you’re in trouble. And it does happen. So, we’re able to get other speakers. It happened a couple weeks ago where someone had a death in the family, so I called another speaker who was even more and they came in, same fee, and we were able to handle that right away. And it just makes things a lot easier. I see that a lot. I get calls - “My speaker cancelled” - and I’m like, I don’t know who you are… But then it helps me, ya know, I can come in and be there hero. But if you just use somebody in the first place it…
AP: You already had that connection…
TM: Exactly. And it does happen, but for the most part we just want to make it a no-brainer and a seamless process.
AP: So, if you had one tip for planners - maybe something they don’t already know about working with speakers bureau and things like that - what would that tip be?
TM: Good question. Just one…? Um… Ya know, I just think at the end of the day I just think speakers bureaus will just make your life easier. And go with people you trust. There’s a ton of us out there, but just go with somebody… I think my job’s easy. If I make you look good, and your job easier, you’re gonna use us. And I think that should be your thing with speaker bureaus; like you do with your other partners in the industry. I think sometimes meeting professionals forget that speaker bureaus can be a partner and they should look at it that way.
LMB: So where can we find more information about all the bureaus that are out there, and as well as yourself?
TM: Sure. IASBweb.org - International Association of Speakers Bureaus - check us out. Look there too because we are an accredited bureau association. And like anything else, there are some that might not be members and you just want to be careful as far as how that works. I’m Tim Mathy - SpeakInc.com - check me out. I’m all over social media…
AP: There’s really good YouTube videos out there…
TM: Yeah, I do these… That’s right! I use to do these, I’d go up and do my promo bit and no one cared, right? “I’m Tim Mathy, SpeakInc, and we book speakers…” So like 10 years ago I did this funny video and it took off and I’ve done like 4 or 5 since and there’s probably a good possibility there might be one at PCMA in January, so… Check it out.
LMB: It’s like the ultimate sizzle reel.
AP: People wait for this!
TM: Yeah… And it’s so embarrassing because I’m not like any kind of actor or comedian. I’m not. So I get embarrassed when I see them, but… Yeah, they’re a good little connection piece. Thanks for that. That’s funny - I forgot about those.
AP: Thanks for joining us, Tim.
TM: Thanks you guys, I appreciate it. Have a good rest of your day.