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Associations Now

Texas Destinations: A World of Speakers in Texas

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, May 2009 Supplements

By: Linda C. Chandler

When budgets are tight, why pay to fly in a speaker from far away to your meeting in Texas? The Lone Star State is home to a broad lineup of seasoned speakers who can inform, motivate, and entertain your audience right in their home state.
Summary: In a tight economy, why pay to fly a speaker in to your conference in Texas? The state is home to hundreds of skilled and engaging speakers to meet your needs.
The range of speakers in Texas is as vast as the state itself, from athletes to academics, from entrepreneurs to economists, from comics to change motivators, from futurists to the famous. Texas is home to 58 corporate headquarters, and speakers and consultants abound in the fields of energy, technology, healthcare, human resources, and customer service. Nobel laureates and best-selling authors live instate. If you need experts on panels or in educational sessions, Texas' numerous higher-education and research institutions, including the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Rice, SMU, Baylor, Texas Tech, and others, can provide recognized authorities in any field imaginable.

The Local Advantage

Texas has many high-profile political and celebrity speakers whose fee structures are proportionate to their fame. If you're bringing your convention to Texas anyway, you can save on air transportation for the big names and negotiate a friendlier rate because the speaker's time commitment is reduced. And if you check references and review videos, you may also discover experienced and dynamic speakers in Texas whose rates may not be as high, but whose presentations will be rated topnotch by your members.

Using local speakers has more than just financial advantages. "Typically, local speakers will be more flexible in coming onsite and staying for longer periods and are willing to have more presence at the event. And besides being more affordable, you'll eliminate weather issues for travel, even in winter," says Betty Garrett, founder of Garrett Speakers International in Irving, Texas.

Brian Palmer, president of the National Speakers Bureau in Libertyville, Illinois, says, "In the current economy, planners want to save money, but that is still not the first priority. Of course, you can hire a personality who costs a fortune but is not necessarily the best speaker. The right speaker is the biggest bargain, and people are very careful about the speakers they hire. Numerous good speakers are available in Texas without sacrificing quality."

Speakers With Credentials

One way to tap into local talent is to check the Texas member list of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the Arizona-based organization for professional speakers. NSA has 263 members in Texas, and 35 carry the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation. To qualify for the CSP, a speaker must have detailed documentation of clients and paid presentations, client testimonials, educational credits including competency and ethics, and sustained NSA membership.

"A Certified Speaking Professional is an insurance policy for the meeting planner's success," says NSA's CSP Council Chair, Patrick Donadio. "Hiring a CSP will make a meeting planner's job easier. Speakers who earn the CSP designation give their audiences a proven track record of continuing speaking experience and topic expertise and know how to deliver client satisfaction. A CSP provides a solid place from which to begin your search."

Another measure of a highly respected speaker is NSA's Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE). Seven of the 186 winners are Texas-based speakers: Doc Blakely, Dianna Booher, Ed Foreman, LaDonna Gatlin, Suzie Humphreys, Vince Poscente, and Zig Ziglar. This peer recognition constitutes a speakers' hall of fame.

"The CSP and CPAE designations have a lot of credibility," says Garrett. "It means these people have been around and they do their homework. If all other things are equal, I advise clients to go with the CSP."

Speakers With Inspirational Experiences

NASA's Houston Space Center is the backdrop for many speakers whose careers are based in the space program. Astronauts Alan Bean, Fred Haise, and Eileen Collins (the first female commander of an American spacecraft); physician to the astronaut program and telemedicine specialist James Logan; and NASA Flight Control Director and Presidential Medal of Honor winner Gene Kranz are all based in Texas and available for appearances and keynotes.

Beck Weathers, a physician who survived tragedy on Mount Everest in 1996, is based in Dallas, as is Ed Foreman, who inspires others to achieve success using his own rags-toriches-to-Congress story. San Antoniobased U.S. Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia, has a compelling and motivational story that has applications for almost any audience. Three-time Paralympic medal winner and Olympic Hall of Famer Randy Snow is another inspiring choice.

Speakers Who Can Keep 'em Laughing

If you're bringing a meeting to Texas, you don't have to fly in a humorist or comic from New York or the West Coast. For a lot less money, you can find speakers in Texas who can adapt their presentations to your group, keep the audience laughing, and even take all the boredom out of awards presentations. Joel Zeff, a veteran of Ad-Libs improvisational comedy, is a favorite of meeting planners. Jim Morris impersonates political leaders across party lines, and Tony Brigmon, former "director of fun" for Southwest Airlines, can rejuvenate a crowd with his wit and antics. Illusionist Billy Riggs brings a mixture of fascination and entertainment to the stage.

And hilarity is not the bailiwick of the male gender only. Former Dallas radio personality Suzie Humphreys, therapist/humorist Connie Podesta, comedian Kelli Vrla, and one-time banker and school board member Anne Barab relate to men and women alike with their presentations laced with humor.

Business, But Not Boring

Looking for a great business speaker? Best-selling author Ram Charan, who has served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School, is a recognized global management authority. Southwest Airlines' President Emeritus Colleen C. Barrett and current Chairman, CEO, and President Gary C. Kelly book speaking engagements that focus on the unique culture of their company. Fort Worthbased Don Reynolds is a renowned international economist/futurist, and David L. Smith of Houston takes a common-sense approach in his economic presentations.

If marketing and branding are on your agenda, John Moore, now of Austin, is a speaker whose background includes Starbucks and Whole Foods. Another Austin pick is Gary Hoover, the entrepreneur who started Book Stop and, an online business directory and research site.

Texas speakers specializing in workplace issues, customer service, leadership, and personal development abound. Former Franklin Covey associate Rory Aplanalp is one of the most popular. Among others are Chip Bell, Tim Durkin, Chris Thrash, Steve Harvill, Christine Cashen, Jimmy Cabrera, and Julie Alexander. Houston-based Garrison Wynn and San Antonio's Ed Robinson are good choices for sales and motivation, and Dean Lindsay is a youthful networking guru.

Meanwhile, two women in technology are notable: Cheryl Currid, an experienced technology expert, and Christina Jones, a young internet entrepreneur.

Speakers From Sports

Most audiences are attracted to celebrity athletes, and the number of different sports represented by speakers in Texas is surprising. You might expect former Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach, Jason Garrett, Drew Pearson, Darrell "The Moose" Johnston, and many others, but don't overlook football's Terry Bradshaw; golf's David Feherty, Ben Crenshaw, and Lee Trevino; and baseball's Jim Sundberg. You can even hire Olympic veterans, including gymnast Mary Lou Retton, skier Vince Poscente, and luge competitor Ruben Gonzalez.

Focused on fitness are Cooper Aerobics Center authorities Ken Cooper and Todd Whitthorne and fitness guru and author Larry North. Other recognizable sports names in the state include University of Texas football coach Mack Brown and former Dallas Mavericks coach and NBA All Star Avery Johnson. More Texans in this category are Jim Morris, whose life inspired the baseball movie The Rookie; Linda Armstrong Kelly, mother of cyclist Lance Armstrong; golf long-drive champ Jim Jacobus; former Dallas-Fort Worth sportscaster Scott Murray; and sports journalist Randy Galloway.

Niche Specialists

Whether they defy classification or are in a class by themselves, some speakers aren't easily categorized but deliver nonetheless.

Just about every major medical school and hospital has a speaker's bureau to help planners find specialists who can serve on panels or do questionand- answer sessions with audiences. Texas experts in the field of medicine include Nobel laureates Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and James "Red" Duke, noted trauma specialist affiliated with the UT Medical School and Hermann Hospital in Houston. Brown, Goldstein, and Duke discuss of medical policy and breakthroughs as well as their personal journeys to leadership.

Chef Dean Fearing, the king of Southwest cuisine long associated with The Mansion on Turtle Creek, now runs Fearing's restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas and is also available as a presenter. Also based in Dallas is Darren McGrady, former chef for the British royal family and author of Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances From a Palace Kitchen. He speaks of his experiences with royalty and does demonstrations for trade shows or smaller groups.

Another interesting speaker is Rice University professor and historian Douglas Brinkley. At his previous position at Tulane in New Orleans, Brinkley collaborated with Stephen Ambrose. His works cover a wide range, from Rosa Parks to Jack Kerouac and from editing The Reagan Diaries to the letters of "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

For women's issues, one choice is Austin-based attorney and law professor Sarah Weddington. Linda Swindling, attorney-turned-speaker, specializes in negotiations and conflict resolution. Making the most of diversity is the forte of Hattie Hill, and Colleen Rickenbacher fills a niche for programs about etiquette and protocol.

Journalist and political pundit James Moore and populist author and radio talk show host Jim Hightower examine all sides of politics. Energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens is a big-as-life Texas personality who is currently touting green energy and wind turbines.

Dozens of other Texas-based speakers specialize in everything from keynote addresses to facilitation and training. Although they couldn't all be mentioned, your speakers bureau partner can help you find them.

Big State, Big Names, Big Bucks

If you have the money to spend and the draw of a big name is appealing, you can hire either of the former Presidents Bush, who make their homes in the Lone Star State. (The former First Ladies will speak for a slightly lower fee.) Political mover James Baker III also resides in Texas, as does former Bush White House press adviser Karen Hughes. Also pushing the ceiling for the fame factor is cyclist Lance Armstrong. If you want to plunk down a small fortune on a couple of tech entrepreneurs who made their own fortunes, Michael Dell and Mark Cuban are available as well.

Have Presentation, Will Travel

Although you can save money by hiring local speakers when you bring a meeting to Texas, you may discover quality presenters in Texas that you would happily hire for meetings elsewhere. Texas speakers may love the state enough to call it home, but they also love the limelight enough to travel where you need them. Like Texas troubadour Willie Nelson, they are accustomed to being "on the road again."

Linda C. Chandler is a freelance writer based in Tyler, Texas. Email:

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