How to Select a Conference Speaker
It is often marketers are asked to organise a speaker. A successful event, whether educational or entertainment, often hinges on a successful speaker. So here are some tips on how to approach the task.
Of course, this is not the only way to select a speaker, and you may not always select a speaker in the order I have presented. If Seth Godin called me to let me know he was available, I’d be doing everything a little differently.
This list also works in reverse for those who aspire to be professional speakers. Considering what attributes marketers are looking for can help perfect the speaker’s marketing position.
1. Define success
From the company executive to an audience level, what is the critical success factor?
This will be the part on your post-event survey where you want high marks. Information, donations, membership conversions, sales, interaction; it’s the event raison d'être. It remains the focus of the speaker’s intent, style and subject matter.
It’s important to receive the budget here. Depending on the event and context, good speakers will ask for a fee. How much to pay? Ask where on the "continuum of importance" is the speaker’s delivery to the overall success of the event. High importance may require a larger budget. That should give you a good idea of how much to invest.
2. Audience | Participants
Understand the audience or participants.
The first measure is the industry to be addressed. The industry may be mission type, such as Oil and Gas or Tech Start-Ups or industry types, such as C-Suite Executives or Social Marketers. Dig deeper to discover if it is one company level such as CEOs of large companies or multiple ranks from mixed industry sizes. Get to know the industry’s and audience’s current pain points. For example, it may be political, social, technological, or the ambiguity and volatility of the market.
Understand the demographics. If the group is from a single demographic, they may have "heard it all before". If it is a mixed group (finance, marketing, IT, etc.), the speaker may need to address different levels or aspects of the same topic. If the group is smarter and more successful than you, you’ll need to challenge your subject limitations.
Conduct a search of what has already been said to this audience, who said it and the response. There may be a different angle you could adopt with a popular speaker the participants have heard from previously. Or it may be an opportunity to break new ground with an emerging thought-leader.
Lastly, with a firm eye on your critical success factor, define what needs to be said and if there is any sensitivity around the topic.
Technical, difficult and new information is best presented in the morning. Panels and motivational storytelling are good for the afternoon. Speakers will want to know their time-slot early on to best prepare.
Location is important. 5-star city hotel or regional boardroom, CBD or country; these affect the style of delivery. Production availabilities at the location are part of this. For example, what is the quality of audio-visual equipment, is Wifi reliable, or can the speaker connect with the audience through social media or live polling?
Confirm if the presentation is a conference delivery, key note over a meal, seminar or workshop environment. Double check the room set-up with the event manager or hosting venue.
Confirm who will speak before or after your speaker (if any) and their topics. It is hard, but not impossible, to follow a show-stopper or celebrity speaker. A good speaker will play off other speakers although they may need to spend time focussing the audience onto their topic depending on programming.
4. Learning objective
Define the key message the speaker needs to deliver to your audience in the environment in which your event is set.
Understand why this is the key message to be driven. For example, it may be a key part of a curriculum, realising continuing professional development points, or be off-book and a chance to for the audience to explore transformative ideas. Break down the learning objective until you have a confident understanding of the educational content.
This is where the company executive’s input is critical as you determine what is the most important in delivering the learning objective. Do the executive want a well-known name to give the message gravitas and the company market credit, would they prefer charisma and presence, should it be an academic focus, motivating, or a storyteller who overcomes setbacks?
5. Speaker identification
Now you can select your speaker with confidence.
You should be able to clearly see and describe fluently your speaker’s area of expertise and presentation style. Describe the audience reaction and what they may say or do as they exit the presentation.
Start the search. Executive input, your personal network, colleague recommendations, contacting educational institutions, through sponsors or a speaker bureau, there are many ways to find your chosen presenter. Like recruitment, talk to a number of candidates and check their references and credentials. If they are a new speaker, trial them at a company presentation.
Briefing the speaker includes ensuring their attitudes and values mirror the company line and the audience. Explain in detail the audience type, logistics and learning objective. Clearly state if there are any off-limit discussions or limitations to pushing their own product during the presentation (like books and private consultancy work). Check if the speaker will be writing new content or customising existing material. Assess if there is any pre-research you can provide.
Understand what equipment the speaker will provide, such as their personal hands-free wireless microphone, and the quality of their slides and hand-outs. Does the speaker rely on technology for a successful presentation or can they stand alone if there is an unforeseen glitch? Check if there will are rehearsal requirements or setting up as you’ll need to organise this with the events manager or hosting venue.
Assess if the speaker will dress appropriately or if thongs and a suit are cool (I’ve seen it). Can they be available pre or post presentation and when are they planning on arriving into town (ensure it’s not the first flight that day). Make sure they have the correct presentation date written down and ask them to double-check their availability.
Finally, set minimum standards and deadlines for media kits. Minimum standards are high resolution and recent photographs in landscape and portrait, biography, introduction material, supporting articles and links to their website and blogs. Ask if there may be other useful promotional material provided, like access for radio interviews.
6. Fees | Negotiation
Speakers consider their price just as anyone in business does. If you want to drill them down on price, take the time to find out what is worthwhile to trade. For example, you may be able to negotiate travel and accommodation upgrades.
I’m not a fan of trading reduced fees for testimonial letters and opportunities to provide a supporting article. That should be part of the marketing activity on both sides. I’m also not a fan of reducing appropriate riders. For example, fresh fruit and good coffee in the green room is a must have for travellers as they don’t have time to locate Gloria Jeans or the local IGA.
7. Select the Speaker
Return to the original critical success factor and make a decision about the match between speaker, topic, audience and context.
Now comes the moment – select the speaker.
Before you place the phone call to your chosen speaker, obtain an internal signoff in writing including fees and other expenses.
Place the call. Write up the agreement.
...and now for that backup plan.
About Integrated Governance
Shayne Leslie brings fresh interpretations to organisations that are stuck or want to stay ahead of the curve. She is a prolific idea generator guiding others into uncharted territories. Shayne has achieved breakthrough for many clients and peak bodies through her boutique approach to governance, marketing and recruitment.
Shayne has over 18 years’ experience in registered clubs, not-for-profits, membership-based and arts organisations. In that time, her diverse career has included marketing, entertainment and events, membership, professional development and learning and, more recently, governance and strategy - experience backed by university qualifications.