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.
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_