Selecting a Speaker for Your Sales Kickoff Meeting: Three Things You Need to Know.

Tony Robbins.

What will the guest speaker at your upcoming sales kick-off meeting deliver?

  • Knowledge?
  • Motivation?
  • Entertainment?
  • Business improvement?

If you are planning on paying $5,000 to $50,000 (or more!) for the privilege of listening to someone talk for an hour or so, you need to think carefully before you answer that question.

As part of my discovery process for a keynote I’m to deliver at a kick-off meeting, I ask the stakeholders what results they expect from my appearance.  “For the team to sell more.”  “To get them motivated.”  “For them to have some fun.”  Sometimes all three responses come from the same person.  I ask what percentages of content, entertainment, and motivation they want.  Few have thought very much about it.  Over the years, as a buyer of these services, as a speaker, and now as a recommender of other speakers, I’ve learned a few things about this aspect of sales kickoff meetings.  Let me pass a few of these on to you…

  1. Many kick-off meeting stakeholders (VP of sales, marketing director, CEO, event planner) think that they can have a sales trainer come to their annual event for an hour, three hours, or even a day and that person will deliver meaningful content that will have a lasting impact on their team’s  performance.  This is rarely the case.  Sure, we’ve all picked up a trick or two from most content-oriented speakers we’ve heard.  But long-lasting impact on the audience?  Measurable results?  Those require behavioral change, ongoing reinforcement, and plenty more. And someone speaking to your team for an hour isn’t likely to effect that change.

  2. Some think that a pure motivational speaker (former athlete, astronaut, president) will deliver a message that will impact sales performance through behavioral change.  (The “If my team gets up an hour earlier every day, they’ll sell more,” type of thinking.)  Again, most often speakers in this category can’t deliver those results for you.  Sure, they can fire up a room full of sales people.  I’ve been fired up many times by the best of the best, including Tony Robbins (during an 11-hour session, after which I was motivated enough to earn my pilot’s license and then buy an airplane!).  But for salespeople, being fired up is for today and maybe tomorrow morning. It’s not for next quarter.

  3. When considering hiring a speaker for your meeting, set your own expectations properly.  Don’t expect to receive business results from a generic keynote speech or breakout presentation unless it is either an legitimate knowledge transfer (such as an expert discussing the industry into which you sell), or it is integrated with your overall sales performance improvement strategy.  If you’d like to provide your team with an hour’s entertainment, some new things to think about, the voice of experience or a passionate call to action, that’s fine.  Just don’t expect any of that to have an impact on your bottom line.
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  1. says

    Hi Dave,

    From research with 600 members of the UK Bid and Proposal Management Association (UK-APMP) the highest priority for a conference speaker was:

    1. A former Chief Procurement Director to share insights into what makes a difference when selecting the winning bid / RFP response

    Insights from Sales trainer / bid management consultancy were ranked in the middle of the list and Sports personality and ‘motivational’ guru were right at the bottom!

  2. says


    You’re absolutely bang on. Nobody will improve their sales process and thereby drive ongoing performance improvements as a result of one speech. Behavioural changes, in depth understanding and ownership of successful and proven processes coupled with ongoing support are precisely the prescription. The great news, though, is that this misunderstanding among enterprise stakeholders reveals an opportunity to provide exactly that type of education to the organization.

    So, though the misunderstanding exists, this, for sales trainers, is a good thing. As sellers understand, identifying a misunderstanding is the opening of an opportunity, and these are the nuggets for which we tirelessly prospect.

    Great post. Thanks bunch.

  3. says

    Hello Dave,

    Valid points above. “motivational” buzz, kick or contact high for sales reps in the same room as their CEO and a “celeb” speaker will wear off quickly if not part of an ongoing multi-faceted sales enablement program.

    Also, as the UK chap mentioned, the target group may be subject matter experts in a niche area, where they will really appreciate hearing from “peer”. (vs some retired Hall of Famer, Astronaut or a footballer. (not like the late George Best ).

    Many times, the Marketing Directors or CEO’s uses the event (and the company money) as an excuse to pay a celeb $10-50k (ie Bobby Orr is $25, but Pres. Clinton is min $250k. The “workers” see this and it LOWERS motivation very quickly.

    In fact most sports celebs are weary of recounting that 4th quarter touch down from the 1992 Super Bowl. They would much prefer to be HELPING sales reps score more goals!

    In my experience, it is more effective to contract a celeb to become an internal team builder over a period of time and have them directly involved in projects that 1) drive new leads, 2) motivate the Sales Workers and 3) demonstrate customer appreciation.

    If done right it can lead to immediate new sales. ie. after I did a 2 city training for Pitney Bowes, I had Mike Bossy personally call 2 reps a few days later to ask them if they plan to ACT on some of his suggestions Well, I can tell you a rep closed a $100k deal right after.
    (you may let your manager down, but not a 4 time cup winner who just called you).

    Stuart from Canada

  4. says

    Dave, my experience — both in hiring speakers and in being a speaker is the same.

    It’s impossible to have an enduring impact from a 60 minute speech. Shame on those meeting planners who think it’s possible, shame on those speakers who make that claim.

    Speakers can be very powerful–they can reinforce messages/strategies that management wants to drive, they can be inspirational and get people to think, they can be a welcome relief in the tedium of corporate messages.

    Your advice is right on the mark!

    • Dave Stein says

      Hi Dave, thanks for your message.

      Those of you who follow Dave (and me) on Twitter already know that I had some unsubscribes today from this blog. They were trainers/speakers who didn’t like what I had to say. Now what does that say about them? LOL.

  5. says


    Excellent post. You’re absolutely right about that fact that “one shot” sales training at large meetings rarely leads to behavioral change and measurable results. Many of our client have found that the “half-life” of motivational speakers is short, and have concluded that valuable time at kick off meetings can best be spent launching or reinforcing sales training initiatives. Our clients typically want a session that can entertain, motivate, and build team cohesiveness and shared vision…and also:

    –Kick off a new sales training initiative “with a bang,” and connect it to a common strategic theme that is being communicated at the meeting, or

    –Reinforce content of previous sales training on topics like sales negotiation or sales execution, driving application of content to specific challenges being addressed at the meeting (for example, a new product launch or pricing change).

    In both cases our clients’ goal is typically to use sales training content as a vehicle for bridging the “what we will be doing this year” content normally presented at a kick off meeting to a “how we will do it” experience that also leverages sales training investments already made or planned.


    • Dave Stein says

      Thanks, Paul. For those of you not familiar, Paul is EVP at BayGroup International. They sponsored ESR’s recent Report on Sales and Purchasing.