Meeting Planners

How to choose the right speaker for your conference

You’ve secured the destination and completed negotiations with the host property, now it is time to focus on the content of the meeting and how you will exceed your attendees’ expectations. As with many meetings, choosing the right keynote speaker to enhance and compliment your program is often times one of the most difficult challenges. Here are some tips to hiring your next speaker and ensuring you find the right fit for your group.

Watch your prospective speakers perform

When you watch a speaker live, you are able to see how well they are received by the crowd, as well as how they interact with the audience. Are they able to read the crowd reactions and adapt quickly to the responses they are getting? A keynote speaker should absolutely be able to supply you with a video of past sessions and make sure you watch the entire segment so you can determine if they held the audience’s interest for the whole time.

Look for speakers who research and prepare thoroughly

For your meeting, you want a tailored presentation that will appeal to the specific audience attending your event, which means the speaker will need to put in time either creating a speech from scratch or repurposing an existing speech with your audience in mind. Gauge the speaker’s understanding of the topics, industry and your audience. Make sure to put it in writing in your contract with your speakers that they know and understand you require input and progress updates all along the way.

Inquire if they have worked with other organizations like yours

You want to hire a speaker who knows your audience and has presented to them or something akin to them before. And this goes double for presentations or keynotes that deal with a specific subject matter or technical information. In those cases, people are attending because they want to be informed by an expert, and having a generalist speak may leave them feeling slighted. This is a great point to remember, because even a free speaker may cost you thousands when your attendees hit the exits early and decline to sign up for next year’s event because this year’s speaker was a dud.

Speakers who co-promote the event get special consideration

It’s always hard to market an event and get the word out, especially if it’s a new event or a one-off event that has no track record or no prior audience. This is why you seek out every potential marketing avenue possible, including relationships with professional organizations, associations and anyone else with a membership or mailing list that hits your target market. But don’t overlook having the speaker also pitch in and market the event to their marketing list. You can and should negotiate this into their contract, and you can also give the incentive to market the event directly to their followers by giving them a cut of any registrations that come from their site or list (by way of some kind of affiliate program/tracking).

Place a priority on speakers who interview you

When first talking with and screening a potential event speaker, pay close attention to how many questions they ask and how interested they are in your mission and your audience. If you have a potential speaker who engages with you from the outset, you have found someone who should at least make it to the next stage of the selection process only because they care enough to ask tough questions and are showing the effort and diligence they will bring to the role of the keynote speaker for your event.

Beware of speakers looking to make extra money selling their wares

Event budgets are like any other budget these days in that you are usually forced to do more with less. And after spending money on food, venues, decor, transportation, etc., often you don’t have much money left over. This is why it is often very tempting to save money on a speaker by selecting either someone who is an amateur and will speak for the exposure or someone who will make their money back by promoting their own books, videos and other products. Both come with their own caveats. The amateur will probably not be as polished and may not be able to read the audience if their presentation starts to nosedive with the audience. The professional who is promoting their new book or seminar may place too much emphasis on selling and not enough on educating and inspiring, which can make audience members angry, especially if they have paid a registration fee for the event. It should never be about the speaker…it should always be about the attendees.

Understand the risks of high-priced, high-profile speakers

High-priced, high-profile motivational or celebrity speakers can certainly be a big draw, and if you have the budget for them it’s hard to turn down that kind of appeal that could sell out your event. So even though they may bring lots of people through the doors, a high-profile celebrity or motivational speaker can still lay an egg when it comes to the content they provide (if it’s not relevant to the audience) or their connection to the audience. In addition, they can suck up so much of your event budget that everything else on the program suffers, including your second- and third-tier speakers.

Check unlisted references

Every event, meeting or convention speaker, even the most mediocre ones, have good references who will attest to their abilities. So you need to dig deeper regarding references for your speakers. And it goes without saying that calling on references is a must. The best way to do this is to research what events they have spoken at in the past and call the organizers of those events to get real feedback.

Contact the Tempe Tourism Office if you are planning an event in town and would like to search for local talent. We are happy to put you in touch with local speakers. Contact the Tempe Tourism sales team at (480) 894-8158 or email us. The National Speakers Association has national headquarters right here in Tempe and is a great resource. Connect with them at (480) 968-2552 or visit their website:

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