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For Your Well Being: Speakers 101

November 2, 2006, Vol. IV Issue 21

Dear Friends,

I was driving home from an event the other day, realizing that I’ve been to see a lot of speakers recently and not just my women’s health speakers. That got me thinking. . . how do I evaluate a speaker? What is my process?  Do I have one?

Well, yes, actually I do. It’s informal. But I thought that possibly sharing my perspectives, would give us common ground for future conversations. The more I wrote about this, the more I realized I might be setting myself up for some debate, but actually, I think that would be a very good idea. Please feel welcome to express your opinions.

And, in the nutrition headlines, there’s some good news for families headed to Disney Parks. They have a new theme: nutrition!

Yours truly,

Speaking of Speakers

Speakers are anything but homogenous. They’re authors, they’re doctors and nurses, they’re survivors, they’re experts, they’re teachers, they’re researchers, and people with a cause. They’re actresses and musicians and humorists and comedians. They’re columnists, reporters, media personalities and politicians. And some, but not all, are professional speakers.

Jana Stanfield, CSP -- A speaker who is also an entertainer brings star power to your program.

When I initially thought about this, I thought I’d do a grid or a system and then we would have a common reference. But it soon became obvious that that wouldn’t work very well. It would take defining the classifications and there are too many overlaps. Some things just defy classification.

When I evaluate a speaker, of course I’m looking at content, presentation style and humor. When I recommend speakers, I’m also taking into consideration the venue – is it educational, is it primarily for fun, is it a stand-alone program or part of a bigger day or conference? And of course, budget is normally a factor in the recommendation process.

For this evaluation process, I’m going to leave fees out of the picture because I have not found fee to be directly relevant to a speaker’s effectiveness, only to her popularity, i.e. in relationship to celebrity fees, etc. That would be the topic of a whole different discussion we could do in a future issue.

Back to evaluating. If I haven’t seen a speaker in person, I’m asking: “Is she a podium speaker? (I usually want to make sure she’s not!) Does she use notes? Does she move around the stage? Is she animated, interesting, fun? Does she engage the audience in participating? Does she use music? Is she a Power Point presenter?

Now, Power Point can be an asset or a liability. I’m sure every one of us has seen a speaker use a Power Point presentation that had too many words on the screen and the speaker gave it practically verbatim. That is the type of presentation we might get from a researcher or medical professional. Although that has its place, it’s not what we’re looking for when we’re talking about motivational speakers. I’ve also seen speakers who use Power Point for pictures, cartoons and slide shows that expand their points and make indelible impressions. Dr. Deborah Kern is one who does a beautiful job of using Power Point effectively.

Zonya Foco, RD, CSP, having fun with audience members demonstrating fiber fitness with her GI tract.

Going back to my reference to the diversity of speaker backgrounds and motivations, this is a place where I “rate” where the speaker is coming from – her motivation for speaking publicly. For instance, is she a speaker first or is she primarily a doctor or researcher?

We can define a professional speaker as one who is paid for her speaking services. I’m suggesting that a truly professional speaker is one whose primary career is built around speaking. She not only has an expertise, usually built on a career or life experience (such as a health challenge survivor), she’s also developed professional speaking skills such as storytelling or humor. She can often be identified by CSP, Certified Speaking Professional, designation awarded by the Professional Speakers Association.

She may very well be an author also. On the other hand, I evaluate someone whose primary career is as an author differently. This is where meeting planners sometimes get into trouble. They have committee and board members who’ve read a book they love so they want to invite the author to address their group. The author stands at the podium and reads notes. Her content may be interesting (or not!) but this is not the kind of speaker we represent at The Speak Well Being Group. On the other hand, there are some wonderful speakers who started as writers. Add some interest in theater and you’ve got a talented professional speaker like Victoria Moran.

A celebrity is defined as someone who is booked for his or her name value. Outside of the world of Hollywood, name value is, of course, relative to the audience’s interests. There are celebrities in any given industry that you or I have never heard of. This is not to say someone hired for their celebrity status does not have a valid message, a good speaking style and a sense of humor. Some do, some don’t.

Now, in the case of actresses, there are actresses who are famous and that is their claim to fame. Some have even linked through personal experience to a health cause. On the other hand, there are speakers with an interest in acting or who have theater backgrounds who use those skills in their speaking careers. In my experience, speakers who have some theater background are especially entertaining.

Jana Stanfield performing

You know, there’s another thing we haven’t talked about here and that is stage savvy. These are the speakers who are in the moment. They respond to every audience nuance. They partner with the meeting planner. You know they’re there for you. Jana Stanfield is one who comes to mind when I write those words. Of course, she also fits my definition of a professional speaker. Yet she comes to speaking as a songwriter and musician.

I have watched literally hundreds of speaker videos and continue to take advantage of as many live presentation opportunities as I possibly can. I find that especially helpful in determining if the speaker’s video represents her well or not. They don’t always do the speaker justice yet they are still our standard screening tool. And, as you’ve probably noticed, not all speakers have a preview video or DVD. You are more likely to find preview videos available from speakers who make their living as speakers than from authors or celebrities who speak based on their notoriety or expertise.

So, these are some of the barometers we can refer to when we’re discussing speaker candidates for your next event. What are your ideas? What criteria do you use when you’re evaluating speakers? Whose opinions do you value most? Let me hear from you.


In the Headlines —

Disney Gets A New Theme: Nutrition

Kids’ nutrition has been in the headlines a lot recently. One of our local schools is a leader in the national movement of cooking up fresh foods from scratch, and even growing their own vegetables in a school garden that has become part of the curriculum. Sounds like we’re getting back to our roots, and that has to be a good thing for the environment as well as our kids.

School lunches are one area that’s been ripe for improvement. Family vacation destinations like amusement parks and fairs haven’t ever been known for their health food either. That’s about to change at the Disney properties. They’re introducing new food guidelines to promote healthier kids’ diets.

The new policies call for Disney to use its name and characters only on kid-focused products that meet specific guidelines, including limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar. To implement the policy, Disney actually announced nutritionally-beneficial changes in the meals served to children at all Disney-operated restaurants in its Parks and Resorts and unveiled a company-wide plan to eliminate added trans fats from food served at its Parks by the end of 2007 and from its licensed and promotional products by the end of 2008.

Beginning this month in U.S. Disney Parks and Resorts, kids’ meals are automatically being served with low fat milk, 100 percent fruit juice or water along with side dishes like applesauce or carrots in place of the traditional soft drinks and French fries. Parents will still be able to substitute French fries and soda at no additional cost. Initial tests involving 20,000 kids’ meals show that as many as 90 percent of parents and kids stayed with the more nutritious option.

The guidelines are based on The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and have been developed in cooperation with two top child health and wellness experts, Dr. James O. Hill, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Dr. Keith Thomas Ayoob, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“Disney is synonymous with fun and can play an important role in getting kids to consume a more balanced diet,” Dr. Ayoob said.

Meantime, KFC made the news this week with its implementation of a new oil for frying that gets trans fats out of their foods. McDonald’s are you listening?


Pleasantly Surprised, Divinely Inspired

I’ve often referred to myself as a motivational speaker junkie. My journey started in 1985, as the result of three big losses in my life and the search for meaning in my career. After seeing a counselor, I ended up in a class at the community college called, “Elimination of Self-Defeating Behavior.” That’s where I first met Dr. Wayne Dyer — on video, of course. It was my initial exposure to motivational speakers and it changed my life. I listened to his tapes voraciously for years along with legions of other self-help writers and speakers. I’ve met Wayne and seen him speak many times since then, so quite frankly, I wasn’t that excited that he was coming to Portland this fall. What could he possibly have to say that I haven’t heard already? He’s only written about 20 books!

I was pleasantly surprised as he held my attention for the entire time. He has been exploring Chinese philosophy, specifically the Dao De Jing (Tao te Ching to some) and its emphasis on effortless action, flowing downhill like water, and has connected that with his work on intention. As usual he intertwined his new material with the occasional lines he uses over and over again – they always get a laugh, so why not? And this time, someone else in my family got motivated. Since that night, my husband has been rising very early every morning to write a book that has been brewing for a long, long time. He got motivated. Something clicked. I certainly love motivational speakers.

Until next time, be good to yourself, for your well being and those you love.

Yours truly,

About Our Services

The Speak Well Being Group specializes in providing exceptional speakers for health, wellness and women’s events. Because we’ve worked with so many hospitals and healthcare groups around the country, we speak your language.  When you work with us, you’ll come back for more “How are we going to top that?” speakers.

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