Whether you’re delivering a virtual, hybrid or in-person format, securing the perfect keynote speaker is critically important to your event's success. From helping create pre-event buzz to boosting ticket sales, this one decision has the power to make or break your entire event.
So how can you ensure you get it right?
Follow my 7-step process for choosing the right one:
Step 1: Meet with the client to understand their event goals, vision and any speakers they have in mind.
Step 2: Investigate all of the speakers suggested by the client. Reach out to any who accept direct inquiries to gauge their availability, interest and fee.
Step 3: Set up a meeting with a speaker bureau/agency (or a couple of them) to relay all of the information learned at the initial client meeting and uncover their recommendations. While they should know their stuff, don’t just take their word for it. Conduct your own research on each suggested prospect, watch recordings of past talks, follow them on social media, research which events they’ve spoken at in the past, and immerse yourself into the profile of your target audience to ensure your speaker announcement(s) will surprise, delight and excite.
Step 4: Once you’ve researched the bureau/agency recommendations, create a shortlist and have them reach out to request their availability, interest and fee. If you’re in talks with multiple agencies, be very clear who is reaching out to who to avoid anyone receiving requests from multiple parties for the same event. You can also select one of them to reach out to any of the speakers your client suggested who will only work with agencies.
Step 5: Coming out of Step 4, you’ll now be in possession of a list of potential speakers who are all available and interested. Depending on the length of your list, you may need to make further cuts before you prepare your pitch presentation. As a general rule, I like to provide five candidates for every headline session. The details I include are their headshot, one to three presentation titles, and their fee. I begin with the clients' suggested speakers as I want them to know they've been heard, and then I’ll include several additional recommendations that I believe would be a perfect fit as well.
Step 6: I always request an in-person meeting or conference call to present my findings rather than just sending them a deck as I like to gauge the feeling in the room and watch reactions as each potential speaker is introduced. It also gives me a chance to address any concerns or questions in real time.
Step 7: In an ideal world, you’ll come out of your pitch meetings with a top three, which you can take back to the relevant speaker bureau to get them contracted.
What resources are available to help event planners source and secure their speakers?
I highly recommend working with a speaker bureau. They specialize in helping organizers find the perfect speaker, entertainer or MC for their event and because they only get paid upon booking (and as part of the overall speaker’s fee) they are a wonderful resource for you to use for advice and direction.
In this digital world, LinkedIn and other social media platforms literally bring announcements and highlight videos right to your fingertips. I can almost guarantee that if any of your connections attend a conference, whether it be in-house or external, and one of it’s speakers is amazing, you’re going to see it in your feed.
If you like what you see, it’s easy to jump on to an event's social pages or follow their hashtag to watch how much engagement a particular speaker inspired. Then take it a step further and read the comments written about them. You can also visit the event website or their YouTube channel to locate session recordings which will enable you to get a really good feel for whether a particular speaker would be a great fit for one of your upcoming events.
If there are any conferences who do a stellar job of their speaker lineup year after year, join their email list, or set up a google alert for the event name so you’re always up to speed on their announcements.
What other factors should be considered in speaker selection?
A speaker doesn’t have to be in your field to be the right fit. I believe the most important factor is that their message resonates with your audience.
Your event budget will play a large role in determining the calibre of speaker you go after. If your entire event budget is $100,000, you’d be wasting your time to approach anyone with a mainstream celebrity profile because their fee will tap out your entire budget - and then some.
Instead, look for Founders or CEOs of companies who have created a well-known or hugely successful product or service relevant to your event. These speakers often present free of charge or for a nominal fee.
In saying that, if you find a potential rockstar and they are just slightly out of reach, don’t be afraid to include them in your pitch, you’ll be surprised how often clients (organizations) can find a little extra money when presented with someone who will help drive paid registration, has the potential to raise an events profile and is guaranteed to blow their audience away.
Who's been the most incredible speaker you've had the privilege of watching on stage?