Tino Nombro and Debbie Byers (pic: Terry Murden)
Interview: Debbie Byers and Tino Nombro of Speaker Buzz
When John Davidson was hired to speak at a corporate event he didn’t just turn up for his hour-long booking, grab a drink afterwards with the organisers and then head off home. He sat through the whole two days of the conference, observing those attending, hearing their concerns and picking up on the issues they raised.
Maybe that level of reconnaissance could be expected from a former SAS soldier, but his deep-dive into the event was also a key reason why he was hired for the job.
“He used that information to adapt the content of his speech so that he was fully engaged with the audience,” says Debbie Byers who includes Davidson on a growing list of individuals who fit the philosophy behind her Speaker Buzz agency.
At a time when we’re all being asked to think more about the welfare of others and the future of the planet it seems only natural that companies are taking a closer look at their role in the wider scheme of things. From going green to being a better employer, the focus has shifted from simply delivering products and services to how they are perceived by staff, customers and society.
Byers, a veteran of Scotland’s PR industry, has hooked on to this ‘purpose’ agenda that is now considered a key theme for the communications sector. Working alongside husband and business partner Jim she brought in business adviser and digital entrepreneur Tino Nombro to build a public speaking business that is addressing these changes.
Speaker Buzz represents handpicked individuals who help organisations deliver change internally through inspirational talks that evolve into programmes of longer-term support – as well as more traditional conference and event appearances.
“It could be about leadership, or diversity issues, or how they are tackling waste,” says Byers. “The point is that the speaking event will lead on to an ongoing conversation through workshops and other forms of feedback and development around the way a company and its employees operate.”
Nombro, who is helping manage the agency’s growth, adds: ‘It’s not just about getting people together over drinks to hear a few anecdotes and jokes. It’s about providing an inspirational impact that will create debate and make people think differently about the subject being addressed.”
‘It is less about entertainment and more about stimulating change’
It means those attending are not merely the audience, but participants in a programme, in which the speaker is a key player in delivering what Byers calls “authentic stories” in driving further action.
An example is Nour Shaker Fayad. Born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Egypt and now based in the UK, she is a senior tech professional previously with Vodafone and now with UCAS who transitioned from male to female, a brave decision that put her on a direct collision course with her society and resulted in personal traumas.
“She is going into organisations to help them understand these issues,” says Byers. “It is less about entertainment and more about stimulating change.”
Speaker Buzz launched three years ago with five speakers and now has 45 drawn from a diverse background, including the social entrepreneur Mel Young, television presenter Gail Porter and Mollie Hughes, the youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole.
“We’ve probably turned down about 200,” says Byers. “We have a lot of people wanting representation but they either do not fit our model or we do not have enough of a relationship to understand the impact they would make.
“It is about looking deeper at what the speaker can offer. It starts with the client wanting to bring about a change, maybe in terms of employment practices or its approach to environmental issues. We can put the speaker at the centre of that discussion.”
The agency, based in Edinburgh, has also extended its global reach and the size of client it works with, delivering for companies such as Coca-Cola in South Africa and Facebook in Dubai. The advance of virtual communications during the pandemic and the ability to reach an even bigger audience online has accelerated this growth. The agency has also worked with Allen & Overy, Edrington, Ekimetrics, Gleneagles, Standard Life and TVSquared.
“When the pandemic hit we had three events cancelled within a week, but it also made us re-assess our own model,” says Byers. “We could see that the message was changing. It made us think differently and see that we had a bigger role to play.”
Byers has worked in PR for more than 25 years, running her own agency Beeline PR for the last decade and brought in Nombro “because I wanted a mentor who would listen, guide and support me through Speaker Buzz’s growth.”
He was involved in setting up a number of online businesses in the 1990s and then went on to create digital marketing agency Ambergreen, which he sold in 2016. He is a board member of the Homeless World Cup Foundation and is helping to develop the Speaker Buzz proposition to include long-term partnerships with clients.
“Debbie has done a great job in establishing the business and steering it through the transition to online events,” he says. “Businesses have realised they have to change their style of communications.”