Selecting the right keynote speaker for your event is a crucial, ‘make or break’ process that will either help you create a stand-out programme that everyone wants to pay for, or a ‘me too’ agenda that struggles to sell tickets.

Here, Nick Gold, managing director at market-leading speaking bureau and consultancy, Speakers Corner, shares his experience to advise you on how to choose the best speakers for your event.

  1. Define Your Aims

Speakers come from all walks of life, with a plethora of experience and expertise. Each individual can offer delegates a range of messages and lessons, meaning no two keynotes or motivational speeches will ever be the same.

Too often, the call from a client has a brief that ‘we are holding an event and looking for a motivational speaker’. The starting place should never be to fill the guest speaker slot, but it should be around what the aim of the event is and, in turn, the goal of the particular session with the speaker.

By starting with the aims, the speaker can be chosen to align directly to this, rather than a name plucked from stories heard of the speaker.

  1. Understand the Flow of The Event

At different stages within an event or conference, the energy of the room fluctuates. Identifying the flow of the event and the specific speaking style that matches this, will hugely help a bureau or agency ensure they are choosing the ideal speaker.

To give practical examples of this, the three typical keynote slots at a conference are kick off, after lunch and close of day.

  • The kick off speaker should be able to outline the big picture, setting the tone and the goals for the day.
  • The after-lunch speaker, occupying the infamous ‘graveyard slot’ requires energy and dynamism to reignite the delegates post-food.
  • The closing keynote must be able to pull together the significant messages from the whole day. Importantly, yet often overlooked, they must be the most flexible in their content, as they will have to reflect on and respond to the rest of the delegates.
  1. Audience Expectations

When selecting a speaker, there are three groups of stakeholders in any decision. The event organiser, the budget holder and, (often forgotten), the audience. This group’s requirements and expectations are the hardest to identify. But if you nail this, the speaker selection and the risk attached to achieving success, suddenly becomes entirely attainable.

As a side note, the role of the ‘big name’ speaker or ‘wow factor’ speaker is designed to either draw people to the event or keep bums on seats. This also heightens expectations of the audience. We must ask, can the big name speaker ever deliver to the expected levels of anticipation? Would booking a lesser known speaker, who consequently wows the audience, result in a more spectacular response? Considering these questions will change your viewpoint when selecting a speaker.

  1. ROI

Can you measure ROI on an event? Can you measure ROI on a speaker? These questions have been discussed and deliberated over the years by the events industry, despite some strong viewpoints on both sides, for me, the answer is, of course you can.

This might not be in the form of financial revenues, with a clear understanding of your aims and expectations, what you constitute as successful will naturally come and then, you can measure it. Make the speaker aware of this, so you can work together to achieve that ROI. Use tools, whether it’s social media, apps or good old fashioned questionnaires to ensure you achieve feedback.

Traditionally, ROI measurement is focussed on the short term (i.e. a questionnaire as the delegates finish the session) but for true sustained impact also look to measure the long term for the impact of the speaker. Any speaker should embrace these targeted aims, because if they truly believe in the impactful messages they are delivering, they should be comfortable in committing to long-term ROI.

  1. Embrace the Q&A

Ask any delegate what they value most from a keynote speech, more often than not it comes from the questions they get to ask at the end, as this is the content that relates directly to them. Make sure the speaker is flexible with the format of the session and can deliver the unique impact required, irrelevant of the ‘standardised’ format. Work with the speaker and their preferences so they can deliver in an environment that suits them best.

  1. What is the cost?

Make sure you are clear what the overall cost of the speaker is from the outset. The fee quoted for a speaker is entirely theirs, but be aware, speaker costs often do not include expenses or accommodation.

Also, some speakers have specific AV requirements, or riders which might incur additional production costs to you. Compromising on the AV requirements for a speaker might mean that they will not be able to deliver their content to your event successfully, or more likely just add a higher risk of technical hitches, as the speaker doesn’t have the optimal environment to deliver.

Clarify all the costs up front so there are no hidden surprises, and the memories of event itself are not tainted by any issues after.

  1. Don’t Compromise

You are the customer. You are booking the speaker. Don’t compromise on what you first set out to achieve. Be clear about what you are looking for from the speaker and make sure they can deliver all your requirements.

Maybe this be the speaker staying for a meet and greet session, accompanying the delegates for lunch, or conducting an interview for the company’s internal magazine. Lay out your aims clearly, up front, to ensure all your needs are met.

The fees for a speaker are not necessarily based on time but rather on their life experiences and accumulated expertise. These ‘extra’ activities of asking the speaker for lunch, for example, should be seen as an opportunity to leverage the speaker to achieve maximum impact with the audience. So, it is good to remember, you can but ask!

If the speaker can’t meet these requirements, either understand why not and shift your aims to a more realistic level, or else look for an alternative speaker who can deliver you the event and session you aspire to achieve.

In conclusion

Picking the right keynote speaker for your event isn’t as simple as picking a famous name, there is a strategy and process to making sure you get the right person to achieve the aims of your event.

If you follow this process, then you should consistently choose great speakers that have a positive impact on your audience, ticket sales, and retention rates too.

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