How to Choose the Best Speakers for Your Event
Selecting the right guest speaker for your event can be the difference between pats on the back and slow shakes of the head.
When planning a conference or event, one of the key elements to its overall success is having the right speakers. This includes session, guest and keynote speakers. They can help set the tone of the event and make it memorable to your audience.
When selecting guest speakers you have a number of considerations. These span everything from technological know-how and diversity to their ability to engage and inspire your audience.
Get it wrong and your reputation is damaged; get it right and you will have made a significant step towards a successful and memorable event.
In this piece, we look at how to select the right speaker for your event.
What makes a good guest speaker?
It is important to approach speaker selection as a positive opportunity rather than just another item to tick off the list. Selecting a good speaker can bring your entire event into a sharp focus.
Let’s start with what makes a good speaker. Yes, they need to be capable of entertaining an audience, engaging them and inspiring them to take action when they leave the room. However, the right speaker for you all depends on your specific vision for the event and what you want to achieve.
A good guest or keynote speaker needs be able to do at least some of the following:
Engage an audience
Reinforce key event themes
Entertain an audience
Inspire audiences and drive positive change
Provide fresh insight and perspective on event related topics
Provide actions and motivational takeaways
Considerations when Choosing a Speaker
What is the purpose of the speaker?
You already have a clear idea of the central themes of your event, the topics and the overall goals. The speaker you select should align closely with all of these.
A guest speaker can perform a number of different roles. They can energise a crowd, inspire them, support the event themes, add value by sharing insider knowledge, offer a new perspective, break up the more routine aspects of the event and entertain. If you are clear on exactly what it is you want from your event, it is easier to pick a guest speaker that can help achieve this.
Level of Knowledge
You have to decide how important it is that your guestspeaker has industry knowledge. If you want an expert in a field that is relevant to your event, its key themes and your audience then this will narrow the field dramatically.
An industry thought leader adds value by being highly relevant to attendees. They are able to provide insight into emerging trends, predict future trends, share data and offer actions that have a genuinely positive impact on attendees and their organisations.
The alternative is to opt for a speaker that has limited or no industry knowledge but will fulfil another purpose. This could be an author, a celebrity or a motivational speaker with the ability to engage and inspire your audience. Brainstorm some more general related areas that could support the conference themes. You will want to find a guest speaker with experience and willingness to tailor a presentation to your audience.
Regardless of the type of speaker you opt for, you are looking for their ability to connect with the audience. This usually involves impeccable pacing, a strong sense of narrative, excellent storytelling abilities all backed up with case studies and data.
Relevance to Audience
When looking for speakers, be sure to match them to your audience.
There’s no point picking your favourite author, comedian or mindfulness coach to deliver the speech, if they aren’t likely to appeal to the attendees. Ask yourself, why are people attending the conference? What are they looking for? Are they interested in something light-hearted and amusing? Or do they want no-nonsense advice and clear calls to action? Do they want a storyteller or someone that can provide insights with facts, figures and stats? Finding the right speaker for your audience is essential so do your research into their needs and expectations.
When planning a conference, it all comes down to staying on budget. This means knowing exactly what your budget is for guest speakers. It would be nice to handpick the best and brightest keynote speakers from around the world, but event and conference budgets don’t often stretch this far.
It’s worth pointing out that celebrity or high profile keynote speakers aren’t always the best option, even if you have the budget. Being a great and relevant speaker is the priority over their status and draw.
It makes sense to begin by calling around agencies to get an idea of the going rate for a high quality keynote speaker. Making enquiries will give you a better idea of the costs and what you can achieve within your budget.
And yes, you do have to budget for speakers. The days of freebies are over, especially if you want a professional speaker. It takes time, effort and experience to deliver a good presentation and this needs to be paid for.
If you know how much you can afford then this will narrow down the list of potential speakers. When you enter into discussions, it’s important to be clear on exactly what you are paying for and when it will be paid. Some guest speakers will expect travel and accommodation to be provided on top of their fee.
It is beneficial to have the guest speaker interact with attendees in breakout sessions and refreshment breaks. If you want this to happen then make sure you discuss it and get it included in the price. As Jeff Kear states in his post: “Giving your audience members one-on-one time with the speaker before and after the speech only enriches the experience.”
It’s important to point out that diversity means diverse opinions, different angles, more meaningful debate and an overall progression of ideas. By selecting keynote speakers from different backgrounds whether this is around religion, sexual orientation, gender and race you can create a more engaging and enriching experience for the audience.
There is simply no excuse for a lack of diversity when it comes to speaker line-ups at events and conferences. Every event planner has a part to play in encouraging speaker diversity and putting an end to the predominance of all-male and all-white line-ups.
There are several ways you can encourage diversity. You can ask your speakers to recommend diverse talent and look for speakers from specialist databases.
Finding Guest Speakers
Now that you know the type of speaker you want and the role they will play at your event, you need to find them. Finding the right speaker amongst the thousands out there is no easy task. We recommend starting your hunt in the following places…
Similar events and conferences – look back over the programmes of similar events and see which speakers featured. Dig around on social media and YouTube to see if you can gauge the success of their presentation.
Use databases like BlueNod to find influencers from social media
Your contacts – yep, go back through your contact list and see who jumps out
TED Talk Speakers – both TED and TEDx talks put the emphasis on the best quality and most engaging speakers so use these in your search for speakers
Choosing the Right Guest Speaker Checklist
So you have a shortlist of potential speakers, you now need to decide if they are right for your event but also if they can deliver the goods.
See them in action – the obvious way to determine if they are right for your event is to watch them speak. If your timeframes allow then this really is the best way to judge if a speaker is suitable. The next best thing is to watch them speak at an event on YouTube or Vimeo. If you can’t find them on these platforms then ask the speaker or their representative to send over some footage of them presenting in front of an audience.
Visit their website – although websites can be misleading, they should at least give you an initial impression of the speaker’s suitability and quality.
Check Slideshare on LinkedIn – look for your speaker on Slideshare to see what their presentations look like. You can get a good idea as to their professionalism and the quality of their talk from the slides they use. Someone with well-presented and attractively designed slides is often a speaker that makes an effort.
Speak to them – having a direct conversation over Skype or phone allows you to ask them key questions and also to get a feel as to how they carry themselves and how well you might work together. If they ask lots of questions about the event’s themes and the audience you know you are onto a winner.
Check out their Twitter and other social media profiles– are they active? Have they promoted events that they have appeared at in the past? Are they an asset? A speaker that is familiar with social media and will help you market your event, adds real value to your event. Julius Solaris in his article on hiring conference speakers points out: “A good speaker has a healthy and engaged following on different social networks. What you are looking for here is a sign of positive engagement and meaningful content.”
References – make the effort to follow up on any references provided.
Relevant Experience – check to see if they had any experience of working with similar audiences.
Choosing the Right Guest Speaker in Focus
There are three key areas that are worth looking at in more detail when it comes to selecting a speaker for your event:
Ever lost several hours down a TED Talk wormhole on YouTube? No. Just us then. What TED Talks demonstrate though is just how compelling and engaging presentations can be nowadays.
It doesn’t necessary matter how, but one thing your speaker must do is engage the audience. Audiences today are more demanding that ever before. They expect to be entertained, be able to interact with the presenter and to see technology utilised. Storytelling is a key element to engaging an audience. Having a strong narrative helps bring a talk together and maintain interest throughout.
When choosing your speaker, you should look out for an eagerness and ability for them to adapt and tailor their presentations to your needs. Do they deliver a one size fits all presentation or do they research the audience and the event in order to tailor their talk? We’re not talking about a completely new presentation but some effort to connect with and engage your specific audience. If they request information about the event, the audience and ask pertinent questions, this is a good indicator that they are a good speaker.
Technology plays an important role in presentations today. It can enhance talks in numerous ways, but primarily through increasing engagement and enabling interactivity. Find out from the potential speaker what their tech requirements are – this will give you an idea as to how comfortable or ambitious they are with technology.
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This resource from TED offers advice on selecting speakers for TEDx events with loads of relevant pointers
A Guide to Selecting Professional Speakers for Meetings and Events from MeetingsNet.
Header image via the State Library of New South Wales on Flickr