- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

So many words, so few podiums: Motivational speakers, toastmasters, keynoters and other professional speechifiers around the country must try a little harder to get their voice heard these days.

There are two dais-ready Bill Clintons out there, for example.

There’s former President William Jefferson Clinton, who gets about $100,000 for each heart-to-heart talk he gives. Then there’s Florida-based Clinton impersonator Tim Watters, who receives $5,000 to $10,000 an appearance, depending on whether he brings fake Secret Service men along.

“Well, it is getting a little crowded out there,” said Jim Montoya of Indianapolis-based International Association of Speakers Bureaus, that represents 107 companies who do nothing but book speakers for conventions, meetings, symposiums and other corporate confabs.

“A lot has changed since September 11 in the meeting and events industry, what with security and travel issues. And then there’s the economy,” Mr. Montoya said.

“Five or six speakers used to be the norm for the typical big-business gathering. Now, maybe they bring in two pros, and cover the rest with their own people. Budgets just aren’t what they used to be,” he said.

But high-profile speakers bureaus have a full head of steam, nonetheless.

San Francisco-based Speakers Platform, for example, represents some 2,000 speakers who can hold forth on almost a hundred topics, including stress, corporate culture, alternative medicine and climbing Mount Everest, to name a few.

The agency, which represents Clinton impersonator Mr. Watters, also can supply former “Newlywed Game” TV host Bob Eubanks, one of those Everest climbers or the world’s only woman feng shui master for the same price.

Ten grand is, well, considered low- to mid-price.

Tennessee-based Premier Speakers, meanwhile, offers President Bush impersonator Steve Bridges for $15,000 an appearance, plus a list of “the top 10 under $10,000.” That list includes Fox News’ Steve Doocy and talk-radio host Neal Boortz.

Most professional speakers, however, don’t have celebrity cache.

The winnowed-down marketplace and an “increasingly crowded profession” have been a reality check for Arizona-based National Speakers Association (NSA), whose 4,000 members each aspire to snag regular gigs, reasonable fees and an amenable audience.

It’s not an easy road, though.

“We have a few myths in the industry,” said NSA spokesman Marcia Mardock. “Many people believe there is some kind of magic speaker circuit you get on. There’s no such thing.”

Speakers must instead coldly market themselves and develop a sideline, such as audio tapes or how-to books to generate extra income.

An upcoming NSA annual convention will drill the membership in honing their wares, including workshops in “the role of expertise,” “strategic selling and positioning” and “being attractive without being good-looking,” among other things.

And while the call for patriotic topics is way up, most speakers “are not motivational,” Miss Mardock said. “Instead, they have an expertise they pass on. In the tight economy, businesses hire speakers with practical information, and speeches which ultimately affect their bottom line.”

The human touch still matters in the business world, she said, despite video-conferencing, use of the Internet and other high-tech methodology.

“The face-to-face speaker is never going to go away,” Miss Mardock said.

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