How to choose the right sort of speaker for your conference or event

Stefan Thomas - keynote speaker

Over the years I have spoken at hundreds of conferences, networking events, business shows and other events which needed a keynote or seminar speaker.

Something which I know, from speaking to many organisers of events over time, is that they always try very hard to ensure they have the right speaker for their audience. I’ve also spoken to organisers who have, on occasion, made the wrong choice which, as you can imagine, can be disastrous for their event.

Outside of cost (different speakers will have different scales of fees based on, typically, their experience and availability) I believe there are a few key points which any conference organiser should consider when choosing a speaker:

  • What does the organiser want the audience to get from the day? Is there an overall theme? Does the speaker’s experience and presentation match that? For a conference particularly, it often makes much more sense to the audience if there is a theme running through the day, so that they can take key lessons and information away.
  • If you haven’t worked with the speaker before, is there video available of them? You will be wanting to check out whether they have spoken in front of your size of audience before and, frankly, whether you like their material and think it will work with your audience. Several times an event organiser has said to me that by the time I turned up to their event they already felt that they “knew” me, from the volume of video available.
  • Can you speak directly to them and establish whether they are going to be flexible on the day? Sometimes things go wrong, timings go to pieces, the MD’s 5 minute introduction turns into 25 minutes or something else happens which nobody accounted for. Is your speaker going to be able to cope and be flexible around your event? Talk to them, see how well you get on with them as, on the day, that relationship will be vital.
  • Check their testimonials and, if possible, actually speak to people who have worked with them before. It sounds simple, but make sure you’re going to get the right experience for your event and your audience.
  • If, as the organiser, you can build some sort of relationship with the speaker before the event, it really will help things to go much more smoothly on the day.

I do hope this is useful, having spoken at conferences and events where everything has gone perfectly, and having been there when nothing has gone to plan, I do know that the right speaker, with the right attitude and experience, can pull everything back into shape and make a success of the event, no matter what happens.

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