Picking a speaker for your conference is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your event – but how can you be sure you’re making the right choice?
Simply put, the perfect speaker can make or break a conference. Your choice will have a huge effect on your event, from how many tickets you sell and how much you spend, to how your delegates feel as they exit the venue. Will they be uplifted? Inspired? Excited? Pensive?
Instead of just another item on your checklist, selecting a speaker for your conference should be considered a huge opportunity to create a focal point for your message.
By asking yourself these eight questions, you can ensure you decide on a speaker that delivers a mic-drop moment, instead of just dropping the ball.
1. What is the Purpose of Your Conference?
Every event has an agenda. Sometimes it’s a simple as selling as many tickets as possible or informing stakeholders of a new product, but others are subtler – perhaps you want your employees to feel appreciated but also need to motivate them to hit their next round of targets.
A speaker doesn't just stand on a stage and give a speech. They stand on your stage, represent your brand and they should deliver your message. This doesn't mean merely parroting your words, but reinforcing the tone for your conference.
A comedian might be great entertainment for an enjoyable evening, but would a motivational speaker be better at convincing your delegates to take action?
2. Who’s Going to Be Sitting in the Audience?
As important as it is for you to consider why your speaker will be getting up on stage, it’s equally important for you to carefully think about who the audience is.
A political speaker’s anecdotes might seem like a perfect fit for your company’s yearly conference, but they’re likely to prove divisive among your guests – especially if there’s a mix of the c-suite elite and trade unionists.
You also need to consider why your delegates are there. Do they want to listen to an insightful lecture packed with information? Or are they just there to enjoy themselves and would rather listen to master storyteller?
3. What Type of Speaker Do You Need?
Once you’ve figured out who your delegates are and the message you want to send them, it’s much easier to narrow down your search for a speaker. As a very rough guide, you can break conference speakers down into five “types”:
- The Influencer. Actively engaged with their substantial fanbase. Taste-maker. Motivator.
- The Celeb. Well-known. Expensive. The “WOW” factor. A great story-teller.
- The Specialist. Knows their niche like the back of their hand. An obvious fit for your event.
- The Industry Expert. The Specialist’s cooler, more popular older sibling.
- The Curveball. Irrelevant to your organisation and alien to you delegates, yet they're still the perfect fit – think Noel Fielding in The Great British Bake Off.
Understanding the different types of speaker and what they each say about your event is another key piece to the puzzle. Want your conference to scream "We think outside the box!"? Book yourself a Curveball! Do you want to bathe your delegates in glitz and glamour for the evening? Send for the Celeb!
4. What Can You Afford?
As important as your choice of speaker is, even the best keynote address can’t save a conference that has no money left to book a venue.
While choosing an expensive but well-known speaker can help draw delegates to your conference and sell tickets, you need to consider whether it’s worth the risk of laying out that money up-front. Sometimes it’s better to prioritise relevance to your audience over star power, and save your budget for other expenses.
It’s also important for you to figure out exactly what you’re paying for. Some speakers will expect you to pay for accommodation and travel on top of their basic fee, whereas some will have factored that into their price. The very best speakers will be prepared and delighted to interact with attendees, but this may cost extra.
5. Is Your Speaker Reflective of the World Around You?
Think back to all of the conferences you’ve attended before: who’s onstage with the microphone? Is it a man? Are they white? Are they able-bodied? Are they almost always all three?
Maybe you’ve never noticed it before, but the voices society has chosen to elevate has looked and sounded extremely homogenous for years decades centuries millennia pretty much the entirety of humanity’s existence.
Ensuring that you take a mindful approach to diversity means you're much more likely to choose speakers that create an engaging, enriching and less “copy & paste” experience for your delegates.
6. Have You Seen Your Speaker in Action?
The rise of easily accessible video streaming means it’s easier than ever to avoid judging speakers you want to book by their cover letter. Any professional should have a wide variety of videos they can supply to help you reach a decision, but the only way to truly see what they’ve got to offer is to watch them speak in the flesh – if the opportunity arises.
It’s also handy if you’re able to arrange a conversation with potential speakers. This gives you a chance to discuss your delegates and the overall theme of the event, letting you gauge whether they’re the right fit for your conference.
7. Does this Speaker Have the “WOW” Factor?
Speaking of YouTube, one question you absolutely need to ask is whether this speaker is able to deliver a more engaging experience than just watching TED Talks on your sofa.
Listening to an amazing keynote is great, but your delegates will get so much more out of your conference if they have an opportunity to ask a question, have a conversation, or even just take a photo with, your delegate.
There’s much more to a successful conference than having someone stand up on a stage to talk. The right choice of speaker will also be able to help you engage delegates by using more non-traditional presentation formats.
8. Have You Asked Your Delegates What They Think?
One of the most forward-thinking trends affecting the world of conferencing, and the wider events industry in general, is getting your delegates to do some of your strategic thinking for you.
With the smart use of widely available digital tools, it’s easier than ever to send out feedback forms on past events and surveys about which speakers people are interested in, or, even allow delegates to cast votes and make the final decision from a selection of appropriate speakers.
Ultimately, when it comes to choosing a speaker for your conference, the most important thing is to remember that it’s a strategic decision and an opportunity to ensure your event is a success –not just one of a hundred humdrum items on your checklist.
In the future we expect more conferences to take a more delegate-centred approach to the decision, whether that’s simply considering whether the speaker is a good fit for the audience or going further by asking for delegate feedback.
If you’d like more information on the future of conferences, click here to view our new infographic guide and discover the trends you need to be aware of when planning your event this year.
By Anthony Kelly
Anthony began his marketing career back in 2008 after studying business management & marketing at the University of Stirling. He joined the events and incentive travel industry in 2015 after spending a number of years in the engineering, oil & gas and transport & logistics industries.More articles by Anthony Kelly