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Local News

Free speaker’s bureau celebrates 20 years of growth

To celebrate two decades of service to the community, Free Speech Speaker’s Bureau has undergone a major update – a new name, logo and many more opportunities for both speakers and the hundreds of groups who use speakers. Free Speech is now FreeSpeakers.org - A Pro Bono Speakers Bureau.

“All speakers present programs at no cost – nada, nothing, zip,” Andy Richardson of Naperville, director of FreeSpeakers.org, said in the news release. “There is no charge to any group. Ever. Not from the speaker and not from the bureau.”

FreeSpeakers.org is a boon for groups who need speakers for their programs but who have limited or no budgets. Groups include chambers of commerce, libraries, Rotary and Kiwanis groups, special interest clubs, retirement communities, church groups, women’s clubs and men’s clubs.

Speakers pay a modest annual fee to be members of FreeSpeakers.org.

“What’s in it for the speakers? Certainly not money,” Richardson said. “They want the opportunity to hone speaking skills, market themselves, make contacts, convey a message, teach, give back to the community and, frequently, all of the above. The benefit for all speakers is that getting out in the community and in front of audiences can lead to new clients, new friends and new experiences.”

Free Speech was launched officially in 1996, and the response was, and continues to be, enthusiastic, he said. At the end of its first year, Free Speech represented 36 speakers. Today, more than 150 speakers are available. During the first six months of 2015, there were more than 250 requests for speakers.

There are additional benefits, Richardson said, noting that public speaking provides invaluable experience in communications. And no-fee speaking can lead to free public relations because many groups send out press releases about their speakers to the print media who, in turn, reach thousands of readers. Another positive is that a speaker has an opportunity to educate the public; and, maybe most important, speakers give of themselves.

“If you’re thinking that FreeSpeakers.org is about working for free, think again,” speaker and business coach Tom Kelly said in the release. “It’s about getting in front of great audiences that can experience your expertise which will help you grow your business.”

“I have used FreeSpeakers.org several times for our Chicago-area Mensa group’s monthly gathering; each may have been free, but each has been as professional as those we’ve hired who had a high fee,” Vicky Edwards, programs officer for Chicago-area Mensa, said in the release. “Every one of them has arrived on time, been fully prepared and given a fascinating presentation.”

“Free Speech has given me the opportunity to talk to a diverse range of groups,” Terry Bass, president of Chadons Resources Group, said. “It also has resulted in some of the best testimonials that I’ve received from attendees.”

“People who call for speakers for the first time are always incredulous that no money of any sort is expected of them,” bureau founder Ginny Richardson said in the release. “Some of them are suspicious and want to know what the catch is. We tell them we do this as a community service project, and they still can’t believe it.”

What is not allowed is blatant selling of anything. An author may bring copies of his or her book, but offering the book must be very low-key.

Free speech history

Ginny Richardson of Burr Ridge is owner and president of GR-PR, Ginny Richardson, Public Relations, a Hinsdale firm specializing in social media and traditional media relations. Free Speech is an outgrowth of her PR business, although the two are entirely separate.

In 1996, she received a phone call from a client who asked if she knew anyone who could give a dynamic talk at a chamber of commerce meeting. She recommended four people – a friend with an exercise business (“Fifty Ways to Lose Your Blubber”), a banker with a terrific sense of humor, a motivational speaker she knew, and a camera buff whose talk was titled “How to Take Better Pictures.”

Later, Richardson had lunch with a reporter and she mentioned her “just-for-fun” speaker’s bureau. The reporter found it fascinating that no money changed hands.

“My friend wrote a short story that ended up on the front page of her paper,” Richardson said. “The day the story came out my phone rang nonstop. Here it is 19 years later, and it’s still ringing.”

She typed up the growing list of names with short descriptions of each person’s topic. That list was snail-mailed, at her own expense, to clubs and organizations in DuPage County. Today, FreeSpeakers.org is run entirely online and with a much longer list of speakers. It reaches beyond DuPage County and into the city and north, south and far west suburbs. The response from groups has been tremendous.

“Many people don’t understand why we, as a PR company, would spend time on a project that doesn’t make money,” Richardson said. “But we are rewarded with loads of contacts and, maybe most important, proof that some things in life are free.”

For more information, visit FreeSpeakers.org. The bureau is newly expanded to Milwaukee, with details at milwaukee.freespeakers.org.

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