Free Speakers service proves 'good free stuff' is real
Andy Richardson of Naperville admits the emails he sends about the service he runs at FreeSpeakers.org can look "a little spammy."
Recipients sometimes skip over his messages about the pro bono speakers' bureau, thinking they're some marketing scam or a bait-and-switch ploy.
But they're not. The 150 Chicago-area speakers with profiles on FreeSpeakers.org really offer their expertise without a fee in a community service project that has been growing for the past 20 years.
"This service is a win-win," Richardson said. "The speakers have a lot to share and are giving back to their community and they're also doing networking and marketing and being known as an expert. And the groups have a tremendous need for speakers and to bring new knowledge into their organizations."
Richardson said his mother and business partner, Ginny Richardson of Ginny Richardson Public Relations, created the free speakers' bureau out of a small list of personal contacts, people she suggested when she heard someone was in need of a speech.
The service recently redesigned its website and launched a second bureau in Milwaukee as part of an expansion that Richardson says will bring the wealth of free speeches to Indianapolis, St. Louis, Des Moines, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit and Minneapolis.
Community groups such as Rotary, Exchange and Kiwanis clubs often struggle to find presenters to enlighten and enliven their lunches, Richardson said.
Some of them face requirements to bring in a new speaker every week and others are working to book presenters with nearly nonexistent budgets.
When club leaders find FreeSpeakers.org, Richardson said they can search for speakers presenting on 220 topics in categories of business, educational, entertainment, financial, health and fitness, miscellaneous, motivational and self-improvement.
Clicking the "request this free speech" button begins the process of scheduling the presentation.
Jim Rabb of the Exchange Club of Aurora said his group has heard from between 10 and 15 Free Speakers presenters since beginning to use the site about four years ago.
He remembers one speaker who told of a group of volunteers that entertains residents in nursing homes.
He said another memorable presenter spoke about the need for suicide-prevention awareness.
Both worked well and brought new topics to his club's attention, he said.
So after successfully booking speakers through the site, Rabb said he signed on to do speeches himself about the health benefits of the product he sells, hydrogen-rich alkaline water. Rabb said speeches he's given in Elk Grove, Oak Brook and Chicago are educational, without a sales pitch.
"I'm trying to educate people on my business and generate business, but I don't sell during these meetings," he said.
The same holds true for Free Speakers member Susan Neustrom of Woodridge, an author and motivational speaker who gives two talks: one about eliminating the fear of "leaving your comfort zone," which emphasizes topics Neustrom also touches on in her 2015 book "The Comfort Zone Illusion: Leaving Your Comfort Zone is Not So Hard After All," and another about how to awaken the unmotivated.
"It's of particular interest for people working with students, understanding that we cannot motivate anyone but we can create an environ for self-motivation," she said.
She recently shared her motivational messages with staff members at Hinsdale South High School and with a group she'd never heard of: the Illinois Association of Public Procurement Officials, which includes purchasing officers for governmental agencies.
"It is a much easier way to really showcase your expertise in what you do by being part of Free Speakers versus trying to push your way through without that," Neustrom said. "It's an opportunity to meet with a vast variety of people."
Speakers pay a small fee to post their information, and the membership fee covers the costs Ginny Richardson Public Relations incurs to host the site. Groups using the site to contact speakers pay nothing.
"This is 100 percent community service for us," Richardson said. "It has not ever made money. That's not its intent."
Richardson said the service's increasing popularity proves free can be real.
"There is a whole lot of good free stuff in the world," he said.
Need a free speaker?FreeSpeakers.org offers 150 Chicago-area experts willing to give talks without a fee on more than 220 topics. Categories include:
• Health and fitness
• Self improvement
Users can search by topic, click the "request this free speech" button and fill out a contact form to book the speaker.