New speakers agency set new standards
We are in a spacious and peaceful office in a national monument from 1860 in The Hague. With a view of various embassies and the Willemspark. It feels good to be here, in the residence and office of Ruud Veltenaar, with the Binnenhof, the Council of State and the Peace Palace around the corner.
The Netherlands has dozens of speakers’ bureaus, and almost all of them operate primarily in the national market. A closer look makes it clear that they do not differ much from each other in terms of concept. They are primarily trading houses that bring supply and demand together. Relatively little value is added, not for the clients and not for the speakers and moderators. Dozens of themes, hundreds of topics and thousands of speakers, makes it difficult for most agencies to offer truly customised solutions, let alone exceed expectations time and again.
So time for a new agency; it can and must be better?
Ruud looks relaxed and smiles appreciatively at this question. “Let me put it this way; Speakers for Good is absolutely not pursuing the goal of becoming the best or the biggest in the world. We would much rather be the best for the world. That’s why we work predominantly with experienced, impactful speakers and moderators with a proven track-record. Who think and act from the purpose. Our world is experiencing great challenges and some transitions of systems and sectors are inevitable. If the crisis continues to grow, transitions will accelerate and our future will automatically be reshaped.
I do not know of any other speakers agency that works so intensely and so explicitly from purpose on this inescapable transformation…
Our speakers and moderators create clarity about this future and offer the perspective and hope for a better world. With vital ideas and solutions for the 21st century. I do not know of any other speakers agency that works so intensely and so explicitly from purpose on this inescapable transformation. Doing Good: creating value, ecologically, socially and financially. For all stakeholders. And resulting in Doing-Well, a nice return on invested capital. Nothing more and nothing less. Because of course there is nothing wrong at all with earning a few euros by solving the world’s biggest problems, is there?”
From what themes and topics does Speakers for Good operate; are they different from other agencies?
“That’s a good and relevant question. Most agencies use 20 themes and over 100 topics. They serve several hundred to sometimes many thousands of speakers, with a relatively small team. They are the Alibabas of the new era. Well-intentioned opportunists, who mainly think in terms of possibilities and opportunities. At Speakers for Good, we believe that specialization and focus leads to better results. For our clients. For our speakers and moderators. And for ourselves.
Ultimately, we believe the relationship with our stakeholders is far more important than the opportunities. The same is true for the events where we are active. The reviews and testimonials of the participants are leading for us.”
So what themes does Speakers for Good distinguish?
“Our themes are tied to the great challenges of today and tomorrow. For both current and future generations. Three themes take the spotlight at Speakers fo Good, which are then elaborated into a dozen inevitable and irreversible transitions.
The first theme is ‘Liveable Planet’ and is about a world in which we work, live and consume within planetary boundaries. It is about climate, biodiversity, nature and our living environment. And above all, it is about reconnecting with nature, from the perception that we’re nature.
Theme two focuses on the ‘Resilient Society’ and that is about much more than the current hot topics like inclusiveness and diversity. It is all about reconnecting with each other and leaving nobody behind.
The ecological, demographic and geo-political developments will cause major social disruption in the near future, including increasing inequality and poverty. Migration, climate refugees, inflation, recession and a middle class that is falling through the cracks.
Our speakers and moderators not only identify these risks, but also offer the vital ideas and solutions. No quick fixes, no tips and tricks. But from a clear and great ambition and a dot on the horizon, they show the route to Utopia for Realists. Under the motto: ‘today a little better than yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow a step further than today’.
Our themes are tied to the daunting challenges of today and tomorrow and for both current and future generations…
And that brings me to the third theme “Business Net Positive, reconnecting with the profound purpose. Of course, there is an eminent role to be played by government and I do believe that they should regulate much more than is the case today. So tax much more heavily what is bad for the planet and our health. And much more de-taxing that contributes to a better environment and our well-being, including labor that has a positive impact on this.
But neither the government has sufficient financial resources nor the innovation power to accomplish the great transformation, right?
“I agree on that. Therefore, I also believe that business has the biggest and most crucial task to undertake. In short, it comes down to the fact that our companies should not only strive for Net Zero, but for Net Positive. A desired and desirable transition to a kind of hub and vehicle that creates a better world. Companies that solve our big problems instead of magnifying them. That’s a Net Positive company (ed. “Net Positive” is a bestseller by Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever).
How do you become such a Net Positive company? Why do your performance and results improve then? In all aspects. For everyone. Everywhere. And always. On this expedition, we want to include companies, their courageous leaders and entrepreneurial employees!
We have then developed these three themes into just over ten inevitable and irreversible transitions of eminent systems and sectors in our society. In doing so, we not only align with the vision of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, but these transitions can also be recognized in, for example, the work of Jan Rotmans (‘Embrace Chaos’) and Paul Polman (‘Net Positive’).
So a client doesn’t need to call Speakers for Good for a speaker on, say, workplace automation, optimizing the customer experience, improving management skills and other issues that dominate the delusion of the day?
“That’s how it is, I couldn’t have expressed it better myself. We really want to help organizations and people take a step forward in relation to the world that almost everyone desires. What are the deeper problems and concerns? How can things get better when we intertwine our desires? And what does it take to do that? Because left or right, eventually we will land in a more sustainable world and just society. Either we create these ourselves, or nature forces us to do so.”
What does this ambition and focus mean for the offer of speakers and moderators? Isn’t the pool in which you fish very shallow then?
“Maybe at first sight it seems that way, but in practice it’s not so bad. For one thing, you don’t need to have hundreds or thousands of speakers on board at all to work with these themes and transitions. That’s the advantage of specialization and focus. It’s mainly about quality, impact and perception. Do you know how to touch people’s minds and hearts? Every event has to be a true experience. Our contributions must set people and organizations in motion and keep them there. An experience that is often remembered and talked about months later. Impact that leads to a different way of working, living, producing and consuming.
Our network is so large and international that in the coming months and years we will be able to work relatively easily and effectively on a solid basis with enough speakers and moderators who distinguish themselves from the ordinary. Just like Speakers for Good. And the beauty and uniqueness of Speakers for Good is that we have the momentum very much with us right now and it will only continue to grow in the coming decades. And because our profound purpose is the foundation at Speakers for Good and we have no quantitative goals, we are very and relaxed about looking forward to the future. And to our impact. It’s so much fun this way!”
What conditions must a speaker or moderator meet to partner with Speakers for Good?
“In principle, Speakers for Good works exclusively with highly experienced and renowned speakers and moderators who have a unique story to tell. Professionals who understand the business and differentiate themselves from the mainstream in terms of performance, content and impact. Like us, they work from the purpose and know how to reach people in their hearts and minds. They are born storytellers and come from the world of practice. They know what it’s like to run a business or start a company and build it into a force that takes the world one step further.”
Additionally, it is of course important that they are connected to our themes and the transitions, which we recognize and interpret together in society. They are all partners and we consider each other friends for and of life who, just like Speakers for Good, are constantly trying to improve themselves. By listening to each other and being open to feedback. That way we continue to learn together, about ourselves and about the world we live in.”
On your webpage for speakers, it mentions that you can only partner with Speakers for Good on an invitation-only basis or after third-party recommendation. Does this mean there are no opportunities for young, up-and-coming talents who haven’t quite proven themselves yet?
Instead of making rules for others, we like to make exceptions for ourselves.
So we are open to working with the group you just mentioned. We consider it a great pleasure to take young speakers and moderators to the next level. We even invest in them, in both time and energy and money.
In addition, we have some very experienced speakers and moderators on board, who enjoy mentoring and engaging their younger colleagues to take them to the next stage of impactful events. Experiences that participants will think back on and talk about with others months later.
What added value does Speakers for Good offer these speakers and moderators? What makes you so unique?
“We are a cohesive community that challenges and strengthens each other. After the summer, we regularly organize internal sessions where our friends for and of life reflect on each other and provide TED-like sessions for one another. This is how we inspire ourselves and ensure that we stay in tune with current developments and future challenges. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom and only together will you get far.
We also recognize that no two speakers are the same and therefore our speakers and moderators can choose how we work together. Want to do your own intake interviews? Fine, we work together in confidence. Want to co-write winning proposals? Gladly even, if it makes it better. Or would you rather leave everything to us? Of course, we are professionals.
Whatever you want and choose, you have access to all data 24×7 by using our systems and productivity tools. This way we monitor the process and progress together. And we are always accountable for performance and results. We do this the other way around as well.
But what distinguishes us most is the active collaboration to further optimize the performance and content of our speakers and moderators. In our direct network we work with fantastic partners who strengthen the stage skills (ed. ‘Speakers Club’) and take the content to the next level with efficient templates, impressive animations and other appealing design. This makes presentations memorable and truly unique.(ed. ‘Present Savvy’). In addition, we also offer our speakers and moderators support in creating videos, podcasts, blogs and even writing a book.”
There are successful speakers who say you shouldn’t work with presentations. They believe that on stage nothing should shine more than themselves?
“This, I think, says more about the emotional needs and intent of these speakers than the quality of their stories. The best speakers and moderators are subservient and connected to the people they are privileged to contribute for. They are far beyond their ego and do not crave recognition and applause. They find the assessment by and perception among the participants much more important than the compliments of the client. If you start believing in yourself too much, then you shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore, I think.”
Does Speakers for Good also invest in its speakers and moderators?
“I don’t know of any other agency that invests as much time, energy, attention and money in its partners and ambassadors as Speakers for Good. We do this not only to improve our speakers and moderators, but more importantly to ensure that their unique stories make maximum impact and help and encourage people and organization to make a real difference. To make true progressions that matter. For everyone. Always. And everywhere.
For our exclusive speakers and moderators, we have a unique, winning proposition. An all-encompassing package of effective on-line marketing services and tools. Including your own website, digital campaigns and an all overseeing management cockpit. All with 100% transparency.
Along with our speakers and moderators, we also work with professional growth hackers (ed. Sprints & Sneakers) and on-line marketing agencies. For several exclusive partners, we also create their newsletters and help them with their SEO strategy and optimization and SEA strategy and other social media campaigns. Working together on your brand. As a speaker and/or as a moderator. For the best results and maximum impact.”
Why this step and why especially by Ruud Veltenaar? Isn’t it a bit transparent and ultimately in your own interest?
Ruud smiles a little cynically and shifts visibly engaged to the edge of his seat. “I honestly think it’s a bit of a suggestive question, but I understand your point. I don’t need Speakers for Good to generate more leads for myself. Before the pandemic, I received over 2,000 requests annually and now the counter is back to an average of 25 requests per week and rising. From this large pool, I choose the inspirements that has an urgent themes and where the target audience is relevant. I used to share the remaining requests with fellow speakers such as Leen Zevenbergen, Marga Hoek and Peter van de Wel. Or I ‘sold’ in the past a simple no; ‘not available’. How obvious is it then to start an agency yourself? To increase impact. To be of more added value. For more people and organizations. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
But surely that is not the prime reason for starting an international, boutique speakers bureau?
“No, of course not, and after many adventures as a serial entrepreneur and impact investor I had no intention of ever starting my own business again (ed. Ruud co-created Planet Internet, was founder of Parkmobile and chief investment officer of a large international impact fund for twelve years). But blood was thicker than water and it was very logical and even natural to start Speakers for Good. The market is crying out for a purpose-driven agency that creates value for all stakeholders and which is transparant in every aspect.
We must avoid further colonizing our future. We may not be guilty from a historical perspective but we are responsible for solving the ecological and social shit that is coming our way…
We live in a crazy and messed up world and the hustle and bustle of the day prevents us from addressing the big challenges and the necessary reshaping of systems and transitions of sectors. That’s where Speakers for Good is focused. On the companies and the courageous people who want and need to make a difference. Who want to create real progress. Within our planetary boundaries, taking into account all ecosystems and for everyone. Also the billions of people we have left behind in the past centuries.
I believe that we should avoid further colonizing our future. That from a historical perspective we are not guilty but responsible for solving the ecological and social shit that is coming our way. That’s why I started Speakers for Good. To make effective connections and measurable contributions and help the world and humanity take a step forward. For our clients. For our speakers and moderators. For the participants at events and the organizations they represent. And, of course, for ourselves as well. Together we are the best friends for and of life.
After many business adventures and global wanderings, I have landed at home with Speakers for Good. For me, the agency is my ultimate purpose and destiny and I will remain committed to it until my last gasp.”
How do you avoid conflicts of interest, and are other speakers concerned about this?
“This I believe is another suggestive question, you apparently assume that personal gain is paramount with me? That distrust is stronger than trust?”
Ruud seems slightly irritated, taking his time and choosing his words carefully….
“I am not involved in day-to-day operations other than as a speaker and moderator. I do not have access to inquiries for other speakers, nor am I involved in general requests for advice or proposals for other speakers and moderators. In that respect, I am in the same position as any other speaker at the agency.
Of course I am actively involved in the recruitment and selection of new top speakers and moderators, which is not so surprising with my network. But other speakers at our agency do the same, so I am not in an exceptional role. Furthermore, I don’t have the impression that fellow speakers are worried about this, especially because the management of the bureau is extra alert to it. They act more holier than the Pope and I will not be surprised if I am more disadvantaged rather than favoured.”
How autonomous is your team? Do they really have the authority to suggest not you but other speakers and moderators?
“The team has to act mainly from the interest of the client and the event and put forward the best possible speaker or moderator each time. As I said before, I get many more inquiries through my own website than I can and want to accommodate and these are now also handled by Speakers for Good. In my opinion, at Speakers for Good, 1 + 1 = 11 really applies. It’s a win-win for everyone. It really is.”
Where will Speakers for Good be in ten years? What will you have accomplished by then, in terms of growth and impact?
“With this question I can perhaps most clearly underline the purpose of Speakers for Good.
We have no business plan and therefore no goals regarding the number of speakers at the end of 2023 or a revenue and profit target in five years.
Of course, a positive cash flow is necessary to fulfill our purpose and so are our non-negotiable values, where we never compromise.
At Speakers for Good, 1 + 1 = 11. We create added value for all stakeholders.
We see our values and corporate culture as a bonding agent and vehicle to secure our future and to remain of impact. Our intentions and profound purpose are and will remain pure. Now and in the future. We are not idealists. We do not have a monopoly on wisdom. We do want to be of value. Always. Everywhere and especially for everyone. For one planet and for everything that lives on it”.
And where will Speakers for Good be in ten years?
After some silence Ruud concludes with a typical answer for a philosopher: “Where do we stand then? Well, we still stand for what we stand for. And where we stand at, on top of the world challenges and opportunities. The rest of the expected answer is completely irrelevant”.
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