Tag Archives: professional speaker

How to Book the Best Speaker for Your Event

Speaker in front of audience

Have you attended a conference or seminar where the speakers were boring, uninspiring, unprepared or delivered completely irrelevant content? Yep, I thought so. Me too!

Having the right speakers and break out session facilitators is crucial to the success of an event. Therefore, if you’re in charge of planning, it’s important to put time, effort (and money) into finding the right speakers who will engage and inspire your audience and ensure your event is talked about for years to come. And I mean talked about for all the right reasons!

Here are my top tips to help you book the ideal speaker:

Details Details Details

Before you approach a speaker or a booking agent, ensure you have all the details to hand such as: When and where is the event? What is the theme? How many people will be in attendance? What time will the speaker be speaking? How long is the slot? What kind of equipment will be available? What is your budget for speakers? What is the outcome you require i.e. what do you want your audience to know, think, feel or do after hearing the speaker?

You’ll also need to be clear about the demographics of the audience, why they will be attending, what they are expecting to hear and how the speaker can provide the best value for the audience.

And be sure to book your speaker well in advance to get the best person for your event and ensure you have ample time to promote it.

Do Your Research

You might start with a Google search, but how do you know which speaker will be a good fit for your event and who will deliver what you require? Just because someone is well-known or an expert in their field doesn’t mean that they are a good speaker. I once attended an event with a keynote speaker who had been an extremely high achiever in the sporting arena. Whilst their sporting accomplishments were to be admired, unfortunately they not only stood and read word for word from their notes but they didn’t engage with the audience on any level and had not tailored the message to be relevant to them. At the end there was polite applause but it was pretty forgettable and finished the event on a bit of a low rather than the high that the organisers had intended.

The best way to find the right speaker is to ask people for recommendations. If you’ve run the event before, always ask your keynote speaker to give you recommendations – a good speaker will have a network of other speakers and will be best placed to identify someone else who is a good fit for the event. You can also consider using a booking agency who will provide helpful advice on who would be most suitable for your budget and the aims of the event. Most agents will also manage the entire process including booking any travel and accommodation for the speaker which gives you one less element to worry about in the lead up to your event.

Once you have your recommendations, make sure you have a look at some footage of them speaking, ideally with the same size audience as will be at your conference. And of course a conversation with them will help you get a feel for their style and approach.

You should also be looking for a speaker who:

  • will be easy to work with
  • arrives early to set up and mingle with delegates
  • helps promote your event through social media and their own direct marketing where appropriate
  • can supply you with a 30-60 second video promo that you can use in your promotional material
  • answers your call when you have questions
  • provides the information you need on time
  • and of course delivers an exceptional speech!

Consider choosing a speaker who is a member of the Professional Speaking Association or equivalent in your country; they are bound by a code of ethics which will give you further peace of mind that you can rely on their professionalism to provide the best possible service.

You Get What You Pay For (well… sometimes!*)

If you want a speaker who will engage, entertain, educate or motivate your audience as well as being deeply committed to ensuring your event is a success, you should consider paying a professional. Professional speakers have spent years developing their expertise and will spend countless hours researching your audience, tailoring their content to meet your needs and practicing their delivery to ensure it comes across smoothly, confidently and credibly on the day.

You may know of industry speakers who will speak at your event for free, but can you be sure they will deliver? They may be an expert in their field but if you’re not paying them they are more likely to be speaking for their own benefit, rather than that of the event and the audience. A paid professional speaker will not only be able to hold your audience’s attention with a well prepared speech but can offer a fresh perspective and will of course be completely focused on delivering a session that meets your expectations and the requirements of the audience.

It’s important to remember that a professional speaker speaks for a living and asking them to speak for free for the “opportunity of exposure” is not going to put food on their table! Having said that, if you don’t have the budget for a professional speaker, some speakers will consider waiving their fee if the audience is a good fit for them and if you offer something of value to them. Factors that may influence their decision to work with you may include the provision of professional recorded video of the talk, professional photographs of them in action, written and video testimonials from event organisers and delegates, contact details of attendees or promotion of their services and products. If they agree to this, please honour your end of the agreement.

*Be warned that sometimes higher fees don’t equate to a better speaker; for example some celebrity speakers will charge an enormous fee because they don’t actually enjoy speaking and they want to be compensated well for it!

Respect The Speaker!

A professional speaker will have honed their brand and refined their message over many years. Their slides will be carefully designed to ensure that their speech has maximum impact so, if you want the best from your speaker, don’t ask them to alter their slide presentation to fit with your event theme and branding.  They will also want to ensure their presentation is fresh and tailored for each audience, therefore, avoid asking for slides ahead of time and definitely don’t distribute them to delegates beforehand unless you have explicit permission from the speaker as this could ruin the impact of the session.

If you go to the trouble of selecting the perfect keynote speaker for your event, think carefully about when you schedule them into the programme; ensure there are no distractions such as eating a meal so that the audience can fully focus on their message.

A professional speaker will also provide a carefully crafted introduction to set up their talk and get the audience ready and eager to listen – ensure your compere has this in advance and communicates it word for word when doing the introduction.

If you take care of your speaker, your speaker will take care of you.

Respect Your Audience

Always remember that people’s time (and money) is precious. If you expect them to attend your event, it is up to you to ensure that you provide great value for them. Don’t scrimp on the speaker – think about what you are paying for the rest of the event and the combined value of even one hour of the audience’s time and allocate your speaker budget accordingly.

And finally, don’t be tempted to choose a speaker just because you like them; choose a speaker who is great to work with as well as being right for your audience and you will be well on the way to a successful event.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_



How to Take Your Presentations From Good to Great


When was the last time you attended a conference and came out absolutely buzzing with ideas and inspiration? That’s what happened to me following the Professional Speaking Association 3 Day Mega Conference at the Cumberland Hotel in London this month.

There were so many highlights and just over a week later and I’m still buzzing so I wanted to share some of the nuggets I learned. I had the privilege of hearing and speaking with dozens of speakers but one in particular spoke on both Friday and Saturday and provided loads of helpful tips for presenting. Patricia Fripp is an award-winning keynote speaker, business presentation expert, sales presentation skills trainer and in-demand speech coach. She has been named by Meetings & Conventions magazine as “One of the 10 most electrifying speakers in North America.” During the event Fripp (as she likes to be called) put presentations under the microscope and offered advice for how to make a good presentation great.

So here is an overview of Fripp’s top tips:

  • You get paid for what you know; you get paid well for what you know if you speak about it. Speaking is the number one skill that is guaranteed to position you ahead of the competition. It’s in your interest to get good at it!
  • Record every speech you do then have it transcribed so that you can hear exactly what is coming out of your mouth and refine it each time.
  • Putting together a good presentation is not magic; it’s technique. You have to master technique before you can abandon it. Don’t rely on inspiration; learn how and practice to get good at it so that you are great every time you speak.
  • The creative process is messy (PowerPoint is too tidy!); it is difficult to be creative in isolation so get input from others as to how you can make your presentation great.
  • The first 30 seconds and the last 30 seconds have the most impact; work on these and learn them so that you have a powerful start and finish.
  • If you want to own the room, don’t talk to the room, talk to one person one hundred times.
  • Be aware of self-deprecating humour – don’t knock yourself too much!
  • Instead of opening with ‘Did you know…?’ try something like ‘Would it surprise/shock/horrify/amaze you to know…?’ This brings more emotion into the question.
  • Instead of opening with ‘Have you ever…?’ try ‘How often have you…?’ The first question indicates the past; the second question indicates that it is an ongoing problem.
  • Instead of saying ‘I’m going to talk about…’ try ‘You are about to learn…’ This will make it audience focused.
  • Speak in short phrases; when drafting your speech write them down the page rather than across.
  • How you stand represents the stability of your ideas and the stability of what you represent; therefore, stand solid in your centre rather than moving about. Standing still is verbally underlining what you’ve said.
  • When you pause; freeze your gesture as well for more impact. If you drop your gesture you lose the power out of the words you just said.
  • Be specific with your word choice; non-specific words dilute the impact of your credibility.
  • Orchestrate the presentation; don’t wear your audience out by starting at 100% energy; try starting at 80% and add variety as you go.
  • When telling a story rather than report on it, tell it in dialogue as the character; it will make it more real and add interest.
  • Make friends with the stage; get to know the space you’ll be presenting in before the event.
  • Be your own warm up act; meet people beforehand so you can get to know them and build rapport before your presentation as well as glean information to help make your presentation more relevant to your audience.

The tips above are just some of the many I noted during Fripp’s sessions, and there were loads more that I didn’t manage to write down. Many of them won’t be new to you but I found that Fripp has an incredible way of explaining and illustrating her points that helped me see things in a new light. I witnessed her transform the opening lines of people’s presentations with a simple tweak of the words or phrasing. I also admired her delivery style; her powerful use of pause has the audience hanging on her every word!

One of the events during the annual PSA Mega Conference is the Speaker Factor contest where speakers from around UK and Ireland compete. This year Patricia Fripp was a judge and I was delighted to be selected as a finalist to speak on a stage in front of 200 of my fellow professional speakers (a scary audience if ever there was one!)

Given the great advice Fripp had provided during her sessions, following the contest I asked her for some feedback and guidance as to what I could do to improve my speech. Her answer was ‘Don’t change a thing. You were fabulous!’ So out of all the highlights of the conference that one comment has to be mine!

I hope these tips get you thinking about how you can take your presentations from good to great. What do you think? Do you agree with Fripp’s suggestions? If you’ve got some tips that have taken your presentation from good to great I’d love to hear them – just add them in the comments section.

Mel Sherwood is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success. Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer.

Specialising in helping others transform their life and their business through clear, confident and credible communication, Mel empowers business people to clarify their message, engage their audience and use their body, voice, mind and heart to enthusiastically and authentically express their ‘inner oomph’. To find out more go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

Speaking Tips from the Man Who Has Spoken At 2,500 Funerals


This week I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Neil Dorward who is the president of the Scottish region of the Professional Speaking Association.

Neil is known as The Legacy Man. He was the first full time civil funeral celebrant in Scotland, and has written and delivered over 2500 funerals in the past nine years. He is also the author of the first book in the UK on the subject of funerals ‘The Guide to a Dead Brilliant Funeral Speech’.

After speaking with thousands of families following the death of their loved ones, Neil has incredible insights into what people are remembered for and what exactly counts as wealthy in this lifetime (hint – it’s not about money!) He has had the privilege of speaking about how to live and create a legacy on stages in South Africa, Finland, France and the United Kingdom.

Neil, what lead you to becoming a funeral celebrant?

Ten years ago the only two alternatives for funerals were religious or atheist/humanist services. I wanted to be able to offer people the service they wanted. For example, they may not attend church but still want to sing a hymn during the funeral. I was a Catholic priest for twelve years prior to this role but a civil celebrant focuses on the family, not on his or her own personal beliefs. I design a service that allows families to celebrate the life of their loved one and say goodbye in a way that is meaningful for them.

What is your secret to delivering a great funeral service?

I always remember that I am an advocate speaking on behalf of the family; I speak as if I knew their loved one and I speak about them using their language in a way that the family would want. I can only do this by interviewing the family, really listening and taking the time to prepare a ceremony that truly reflects the person. When delivering it I make sure my voice tone is interesting to listen to and that I really feel the words.

When did you join the Professional Speaking Association (PSA)?

I joined seven years ago to become an even a better speaker as part of my CPD and two years ago I became President of the Scotland region.

How has the PSA helped you in your speaking career?

Being involved in the PSA is a constant reminder of the importance of continuous learning and staying sharp, of not being complacent with your speaking. Meeting fantastic orators who can communicate a message that sinks deep has had a profound effect on my own speaking. I’m in the business of dealing with sad and vulnerable people, and I want to communicate to their hearts and not their ears.

How do you keep improving your speaking ability?

I am always asking myself how I can be an authentic speaker and I have learned lots of valuable tips from other members of the PSA. One of the first speakers I saw that made me really sit up, listen and then take action was Geoff Ramm and I decided I wanted to be like that. Attending regular PSA local events and national conventions has shown me that I can always get better, as well as the fact that I can always do more to market myself as a speaker.

How have you benefited from being involved with the PSA?

I’ve heard speakers I wouldn’t normally hear speaking on topics I wouldn’t normally have listened to. Outside of learning more about speaking, I’ve learned about the business of speaking professionally including areas like branding, personal image, marketing, social media and diversification. I’ve realised that it’s not just about standing at the pulpit for 20 minutes speaking at a funeral; it’s about staying at the top of your game so that you continue to move people and continue to get booked.

Often when we work as a professional speaker we work by ourselves but the PSA is a great community – the members have enthused me, encouraged me, inspired me, motivated me and challenged me. By its nature of being a voluntary organisation, the PSA invites you to be humble and generous; I’ve definitely found that the more I put in the more I get back.

What are your top 3 tips for being an engaging speaker?

  1. Have a message that rocks their socks – it doesn’t matter what it is but deliver it in a way that makes people go ‘Wow!’
  2. Be ‘stickable’ – think about how you are going to stand out and be memorable whether that is by using props, video, voice tone, magic, your dress style, your delivery; it could be anything but make sure you do something different.
  3. Include a call to action so the audience is clear about what they should do after your speech.

Whether you get paid to speak at conferences, you work as a trainer or if you are employed by a company and speaking is a significant part of your job, have you considered joining your professional association? Click here to find out more about the Professional Speaking Association for UK and Ireland.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave your feedback and don’t forget to share it with your friends and colleagues.

And if you’d like further hints and tips on communication skills, follow me on Twitter @Grow_Potential or go to http://www.grow-your-potential.com

The Moment Before…

Image - Sprinter at startling line1

Can you imagine a professional sports person not warming up before their event? No doubt they would experience all sorts of problems both physically and mentally. From a physical perspective their muscles and joints would not be limbered up, not primed to perform at their best and there would be a strong risk of injury. Mentally, they would need to take some time to focus on the task at hand, to eliminate distractions and ensure they have a winning mind set. They will have visualised their desired outcome many times in their preparation and they will likely run that movie again in their head just prior to their event. Many sports people have a routine that they repeat before each event or match and some are quite superstitious about ensuring that this takes place each time.

Performers also have to warm up physically and mentally to ensure that they are in control of their body and voice, as well as ensuring that they are totally focused on their performance.  A proper warm up is vital in so many areas where peak performance is crucial to getting exceptional results. So why is it that so many people fail to prepare their mind, voice and body prior to delivering an important presentation, pitch or speech?

Most professional speakers have some sort of routine to prepare them for a speaking engagement. I personally wouldn’t dream of delivering a speech, training session or presentation without first preparing my body, voice and mind. My background as an actor has provided me with a variety of techniques that I now incorporate into my preparation routine prior to a speaking engagement. I’ve included them in the list below along with warm up tips from other professional speakers.


  • Breathe deeply into the diaphragm and slowly exhale to assist with energy levels, supporting the voice and controlling nerves
  • Arm swings in opposite directions help get the blood pumping; if you circle them all the way around it facilitates the left and right side of the brain working together and if you concentrate your eyes on a single spot it helps to focus the mind and centre your body
  • Another left brain/right brain activity is to touch your elbow to the opposite knee, (right elbow to left knee, then left elbow to right knee) bringing the knee up and the elbow down to meet it; then swap sides, and do it at least 4 times
  • Squeeze and release muscles around the body especially the shoulders to help with relaxation
  • Shake the body to release any tension as well as energise your body
  • Roll the shoulders and gently stretch the neck muscles to free up the neck and throat which is important for vocal control and projection
  • Check your posture and the position of your arms and legs so that you are not hunched forward or crossed (even when sitting waiting to speak) as this can impact on your confidence and expressiveness


  • Warm up the voice with some gentle humming at various pitches and open it out into a ‘maaaahhhh’ sound which will help with tone, projection and flexibility
  • Rub your jaw joints with your fingers, massage your face and neck, poke your tongue in and out and roll it around the inside of your mouth to wake up your articulators
  • Recite some tongue twisters, trying to incorporate as many different letters and sounds as possible to ensure that your speech is crisp and clear and you don’t ‘trip over’ your words


  • Do a quick mental check of what you want to bring to the presentation and what you want to achieve as a result of your talk
  • Remind your butterflies to fly in formation
  • Some people find a short mediation or prayer is helpful for calming nerves and focusing the mind
  • Others find that listening to a certain piece of music or song gets them in the right frame of mind (upbeat for energy, calming if you’re too jumpy)
  • Decide to enjoy yourself as this will maximise the chance of the audience enjoying themselves
  • Find a mantra that works for you and repeat it to yourself e.g. ‘I’m calm, I’m confident, I’m in control’ or ‘I now command my subconscious mind to assist me in helping as many people as possible’
  • Empty your mind of your speech; stop the mental rehearsing and trust that your preparation will enable you to say exactly what you need to say, when you need to say it and in the way you need to say it


  • Arrive early and ensure the space is set up the way you expected it or work out how you will adapt
  • Thoroughly check all of your equipment and decide where you will put any notes, water, etc
  • Walk around the room and check out the stage area from the audience perspective
  • Stand on the stage, check out all the areas, walk around the space and visualise yourself succeeding so that when you stand up to speak you will own the space


  • If there is an opportunity, some speakers like to get to know the audience beforehand, meeting, chatting, shaking hands and finding something interesting, positive or common to note as a way to develop rapport with them and to weave into their presentation
  • Note the smiley faces – it’s always easier to connect with a smiley face in the first few minutes of your talk
  • No matter how many people in the audience, they are listening to you one at a time; therefore, remind yourself to speak to them as though you are having a one on one conversation
  • Remember that it’s not about you or even how technically well you present, it’s all about the connection and the message you are bringing to the audience

Every speaker is individual and will require a different preparation. My advice is to find what works for you and make sure that you do it every time you speak to ensure that you give each audience the best delivery possible.  If you already have a warm up routine, share your tips in the comments section. If not, try incorporating some of the above tips into your preparation prior to your next presentation and let me know how you get on. Here’s to your continued speaking success!