After 20 years of planning events, András Baneth was sick of the endless hours it took to find the perfect speakers for his events. So, he conceptualized a solution that would transform the way event organizers search for speakers: he created SpeakerHub. In this interview, András shares his insights.
SpeakerHub is currently Europe’s fastest growing network of speakers and trainers, but where did it come from? What makes it unique? And where is it going? In this interview, the founder of SpeakerHub shares his insights
Listen to (or read) the interview to find out:
- The number one tool speakers can use to make their talks more clear and engaging
- The reason why Google can’t ensure you find the right speaker for your event
- Why webinars might be the best training ground for new speakers.
- What SpeakerHub aims to do, and what it doesn’t do.
- The simple way speakers can increase their chances of being contacted by the right organizer.
Interview with András Baneth
Q: What’s your background in public speaking?
A: I don’t have a formal background in public speaking, but this is something I’ve been doing for at least 10, perhaps even 15 years.
It all started when I got a request after university to run a short course on the European Union. I started preparing my notes, and I started thinking about what I was going to cover in the lectures, and that’s when I started teaching.
From teaching came other activities such as training.
Then from training I got a lot of invitations to talk to larger audiences, not so much in a workshop format, but a public speaking format where I was requested to go on stage, and give a presentation to fairly large audiences. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years, and every single time I learn something new.
Also, being in this profession has opened my eyes to the whole idea of public speaking.
Whenever I see someone else giving a presentation, or a lecture, I try to learn what they do right, and spot the issues or errors they make, and try to make sure that I avoid that when I’m on stage.
Q: Share with us one of those insights you picked up in the past ten years. I’m sure you’ve picked up hundreds, but what’s the one that stuck with you the most?
A: I think a lot of other people have mentioned this, but the power of pause is the number one tool that any public speaker can use.
A lot of people speak continuously. They don’t allow enough time for the audience to let the message sink in, and to catch up with the speaker.
Speakers’ minds usually work much faster than the processing capability of an audience, because an audience is not familiar with the topic, hence they are listening. Yet speakers don’t give them the chance to really process the information.
One very important part is speed, and especially the power of pause.
I think a lot of other things come into play, especially when it’s a public presentation where body language, movement, the physical appearance of the speaker, and the layout of the visual aids, the slides, become much more important.
I’ve learned the most when I’ve prepared for webinars. It’s interesting that webinars can teach you so much, because a webinar is a constrained, limited environment, the audience doesn’t see your face, and they don’t see your body language. The only thing they see are your slides, and they hear your voice. You need to do a lot with your voice, which normally you could do with your body.
It’s a little bit like the “Sinatra Test”, in the song New York, New York, Sinatra sings in “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” If you can make it on a webinar, if you are able to run a good webinar you’re probably able to run a good classroom course as well, or you can do a good public presentation.
Those constraints teach you a lot about how to make sure you speak clearly, that you enunciate properly, and that what you’re presenting is crystal clear to the audience. Once you have that then you can take the next step, and go out in front of others on stage.
Q: You are also an event organizer. Tell us a little bit about that.
A: I’ve been organizing events for at least 20 years. It all started at university, when I was heading a student union that was dealing with foreign affairs. I was dealing with workshops, and a lot of conferences on different European Union matters and policy issues.
Even after university there were a lot of things that I organized.
It really became a semi-profession in the past few years, when I started my own company. I was also dealing with training, and now representing the public affairs council, in the framework of which we organize more than 30 events each year. These include public events, and a lot of other customized training, or customized courses as well.
The event organization is something that I’ve learned by doing, as well as constantly learning from the pros to create checklists, and make sure nothing is forgotten.
I’ve also learned that there’s a proper procedure in place to make sure that whatever could go wrong may still go wrong, but you have a good solution in any case.
Q: 30 events per year, that’s more than two speakers a month. What was your process for finding a speaker?
A: That’s how SpeakerHub as an idea came up. Because finding a speaker in the age of Google is not a problem, but finding a good speaker, and finding a relevant speaker is far more of a challenge.
The reason is that it’s easy to find subject matter experts, because you simply look at books, or scientific articles, or newspaper articles that you come across in your respective field.
Then you say: “This person seems to know what they are talking about, so they would make a good speaker.”
But then comes the big question, which is everyone’s greatest challenge, are they able to express themselves in an engaging, compelling manner?
That’s something that you don’t know.
Hence the idea that we should have a platform where all of these questions can be answered in one place. When you’re vetting, when you’re screening a speaker, all the information you need is listed on a single, dedicated, robust profile.
You have videos, you have a list of events the person has spoken at, you have tags which describe their domain of expertise, slides which show their ability to convey visually interesting messages.
All of that being centered on a single platform in a rich profile is a fantastic help for any event organizer. Because they can easily screen the different speakers, and say “Well this woman, or this man is really the one that I’m looking for.”
The number one doubt in sourcing a speaker is uncertainty, because you just don’t want to get it wrong. There is a high risk that you might choose someone who doesn’t fulfill a certain expectation.
Q: Have you had that happen where you chose the wrong speaker?
A: Unfortunately it’s very easy to choose the wrong speaker. It’s far easier to choose the wrong speaker than to choose the right speaker, because there are so many variables in having the right speaker.
Even the domain of expertise is a big question. But you can minimize the risk by really reading what the person has published in different outlets.
However, it is difficult to ensure in advance that a person is going to be able to manage an audience, or run a workshop, or deliver a speech which is properly structured; on time, on point, is neither too complex nor overly simplified, and most importantly provide a takeaway for the audience. All of these things are very important..
What do you do? You try to look for cues, and clues that are going to reinforce your belief that this person is the right fit. You look for testimonials, you look for some sort of feedback, or you look for videos, you look for sound recordings.
You look for any kind of sign or hint that adds to your conviction, that reassures you that you’re making the right choice.
Q: It’s really about convincing the event organizer this person is going to fit super well with this program.
A: Uncertainty management, if you may.
Q: I think SpeakerHub is a much better name, kudos on that.
A: I dare to hope so, yes!
Q: What was the initial inspiration for SpeakerHub?
A: I’m glad you asked this, because there were essentially two main paths, or reasons why SpeakerHub came up.
In the beginning these two were disunited, they were totally independent of each other. But then I realized that they both make sense together.
The number one reason is what I’ve just described. Each time I was sourcing a speaker for my event I would find this person who knows their stuff or has very prestigious job description, or job title, and that would draw in an audience.
But the challenge would always be that you don’t want to draw in an audience just to be there, and be frustrated about what the speaker said, or did not say. You want to make sure that the person really lives up to the expectations.
That was number one reason in creating this platform, where these rich profiles could be well integrated, and speakers can easily be sourced.
Then came reason number two, which as I said was fairly independent of the original idea, which was working with schools.
My kids are still little. But in a few years when they will start learning about science, and they will learn about the world, and geography, and history, and social issues,
I really would like them to be exposed to people who work in those fields. Where professionals, (whether they are parents, or someone else,) can actually go to the school, and talk to the kids, and say “Hey, this is what I do for a living, and you should hear about this, you should learn about it.”
There should be a structured way when kids, in any school, get that exposure to real life professionals. Whether that’s a brain surgeon or a nuclear scientist who says “This is what I do for a living, and it’s super interesting.”
But currently there is no easy way for a school to source such a speaker. It came from the idea of whether any of the kids have parents who are willing to come to the school, and dedicate an hour of their time to talk about what they do.
This is very ad hoc, and very unstructured, and it’s very difficult for a school to do this, not the least because they don’t know whether the parent would want a fee for it.
Obviously they would pick parents who are willing to come as volunteers. But there are so many questions that need to be asked. Every such hurdle just paralyzes a teacher who would like to organize it.
They need to be extremely motivated to keep pushing, and asking, and trying to find someone to come to the school and speak, especially when they have no budget.
I said “Okay, a school speaker is a fascinating idea.”
The idea is that a teacher could simply go on a centralized website, and say “Are there any professionals who already answers my initial question by indicating on their profiles saying ‘yes, I’m a volunteer.’ Who are willing to volunteer their time for a good cause, (whether it’s a charity, or it’s a community organization, or outright a school,) by talking about what they know best; their own profession.” This was the second idea, to create that website.
I thought “Why not merge these two?” Why not have the same professional speaker who might be a high flier, and speaks at corporate events for top dollar. But at the same time they feel they have that social responsibility that they’re willing to dedicate their time for a good cause; they are willing to speak four hours a year, which is not a lot.
But it’s still enough to go four times for one hour to different schools, and talk about nutrition, or talk about religion, or talk about any social or scientific issue, and they can all be merged onto the same platform.
The concept behind SpeakerHub is that anyone who is a professional, private, or volunteer speaker can easily be found, contacted, and hired for a paid or unpaid speaking engagement.
Q: Especially when you have these professionals for whom speaking isn’t their main profession. They’re a doctor, as you say, and speaking is just something they do on the side, and without putting a lot of effort into it they can start making these connections, and offering their ability to speak to a lot of different audiences.
A: Absolutely. I’m glad you raised that point, because that’s another big idea in SpeakerHub. We’re looking for a “long tail” of speakers.
That’s a marketing expression where in any profession, or in any commercial setting you would always have a demand curve.
You always have a “head,” meaning the blockbusters, the ones that we all know, we have all heard of. Whether it’s a book, and you’ve heard of Harry Potter, and the Da Vinci Code, and whatever other bestseller of the day there is.
But what you haven’t heard of is the tens of thousands of other books which cater to very niche, specialized audiences.
It’s the same thing with speakers.
Because if you happen to be a stamp collector, and you are an expert in 17th century French history, not a lot of people are interested in that.
But those who are interested are very keen on speaking with you, or inviting you to speak to the schoolkids, or speak to their organization. Because you are really dealing with a niche area, a very specialized area that very few others do.
How do these people find each other? This is the opportunity.
We’re not catering only to the professional high flier speakers. (Although they are very welcome as well.) We want to look at, and we want to welcome, those who are dealing with something more unique. They’re not trained professional speakers, but they’re very engaged and enthusiastic about a certain topic.
Whether it’s a doctor, or a stamp collector, it doesn’t matter because they are welcome. They need to be found easily so they can be invited to all of these events.
Q: SpeakerHub really isn’t representing the speakers are they? They’re just providing a platform where they can present themselves.
A: Absolutely. An important concept of SpeakerHub is that we don’t want to interfere.
We have some extremely basic policies to make sure that no hate speech, and no quackery enters the platform.
But apart from these very basic checks to make sure that it stays within the realm of legality, other than that we do absolutely no checks on the content, or the quality of the speakers.
We provide anything and everything on the platform so speakers can create these rich profiles where they can showcase their talents. Obviously when I say “speakers” I don’t limit myself just to speakers per say, but we also include moderators, workshop trainers, webinar presenters, and school speakers.
We provide all the tools where connections can happen, where event organizers can find them, and connect with them. But we as a platform do not interfere with the content.
What’s even more, we don’t charge any commission fees. That’s entirely up to the two parties; a certain supply with a certain demand that they meet, and they do the transaction.
Q: Describe how you see the future of SpeakerHub. What do you imagine it looking like five years from now?
A: I hope to have several thousands of speakers on the platform, and I hope we can grow to be such a significant player where most event organizers would definitely look at our speakers, and look for quality speakers through SpeakerHub.
We aim to be the single biggest one stop shop of public speakers.
It’s a big ambition, and it’s going to take an enormous amount of work. Because at the beginning a lot of people are skeptical about whether it’s worth creating a profile, if our company could go under.
But we are growing very nicely, and zero to one is always the most difficult path. It’s much harder than going from one to ten. Symbolically speaking the more we grow the easier the growth is, because it’s a self reinforcing process.
How I see SpeakerHub in five years, beyond a simple directory of speakers where event organizers can just go find and source those that they would like to invite to speak. We’re very soon, actually in a matter of days, launching a marketplace feature.
That feature is going to enable a full scale, very robust system where anyone who is organizing a large scale event or conference can simply put a call out for speakers on our platform, and anyone who is trying to pitch themselves to be selected as a speaker can apply.
It’s very similar to a job portal where applicants send their CVs, and they would like to be accepted for a job interview, but this is dedicated for public speakers. Those who would like to apply can do this with rich profiles, and providing all the information that an organizer needs to vet and screen the candidate.
This is a very robust system, which I hope will be used by dozens, or hundreds of speaker agencies, or event organizers. This functionality, it’s a utility for anyone who is organizing a large scale event.
Because I have spoken to a few event organizers of this kind where they say “I organized this huge conference, and I got 1,000 speaker pitches. I was telling them please send me your portfolio. But one person sends a cover email, and forgets to attach a video. The next person fills in a Word file, and it’s a five pages, it’s very hard to find the details there.”
For event organizers, the management of speaker pitches is a huge challenge. Apart from being a directory, SpeakerHub allows speakers to have an easy way of pitching their services or their talents to organizers.
Beyond this we also will have very soon a white label system, which means that any association, or any organization that has a lot of speakers among their members can list these members using our engine. But they can put it on their very own website, with their own branding, with their own colors, and their own systems.
This is where I see it right now. We’ll see how systems will develop, whether we truly can connect the speakers with each other, or if we go more towards the direction of a social network, or something else. It’s still an open question.
But the scale is the most important, that we’re constantly pushing the scale up to hundreds, if not thousands of speakers on our platform.
Q: My last question is what’s one piece of advice that you would offer new speakers who are looking to join the site?
A: What we see on the platform so far is there is quite a diversity in the richness of the profiles that speakers create.
Those who are professionals, they know very well that the more complete, the more comprehensive their profile is the better their chances of being found.
Not just being found, but even those who are evaluating speakers, they will have far more tools, and far more information to see whether a given speaker is professional, reliable, and has the right skills or not.
Those who sign up on the platform are strongly encouraged to make their profile as rich and complete as possible, and as concrete, and specific as possible.
For instance, if somebody writes “I deal with motivation,” that’s a good start. But they need to go way beyond that, and put specific keywords outlining what they offer specifically, the concrete benefits that those who use their services would get. It cannot be vague or abstract.
There also needs to be a video. A lot of speakers still haven’t put a video up of themselves, and that’s one of the most important features of a speaker profile. If not a video, at least a sound recording, because that gives an impression to an organizer of how convincing, how persuasive a given speaker is.
The profile has to be rich, all fields, and all data points need to be covered. Then there’s a far bigger chance of being contacted by the right organizer.
Q: I think part a complete profile is making sure your personality come through. There’s an element of being very professional, but then also who you are as a speaker if you’re funny, to be funny on your profile so that the event organizer has a really good idea of who you are going to be when you’re on stage.
A: That’s correct. Your personality needs to shine through, as you said. It doesn’t need to be diluted, or completely devoid of any individual characteristics, and trying to live up to some imaginary expectation of a professional.
Obviously you can be professional. But if you are more of an entertainer, and that’s the kind of dinner speech that you can bring to the table, then be an entertainer even in your profile. Don’t try to deny who you are, you have to be very authentic, and consistent.
Q: Was there anything else you wanted to add to this that you felt that we missed, or that you think is important for the listeners to hear?
A: I really hope that my enthusiasm about SpeakerHub and its potential has come across in this chat, because I truly believe in the project, and the potential of the project.
It’s a tool to empower speakers, and it’s a tool to get more visibility, more exposure for the topics they deeply care about, and obviously as a business generator as well.
But then on the organizer side I think it gives organizers the possibility to tap into previously unknown talents to speak about topics that they may not have thought about when they started organizing their events.
It really opens up possibilities, and makes topics and people available who otherwise would have stayed invisible, and that’s what I’m most enthusiastic about.
Q: I think that’s the real beauty of SpeakerHub is that it marries those two sides of your experience. You know what it’s like to be a speaker, but also know what it’s like to be an event organizer, and what kinds of things look for. It takes those two unique perspectives, and builds a tool that’s really effective.
Find out more about András Baneth:
Find out more about SpeakerHub