Article by Kaitlyn Wallace
Finding an event speaker can be a whirlwind of desperate searching, near-identical profiles and pure exasperation— but it doesn’t have to be! Whether you’ve been in the event planning business for years and are longing for a simple refresher, or you’re new to the business and don’t know where to start, it’s always useful to pause, breathe, and remember the commonsense basics.
FINDING SPEAKERS 101:
Before jumping straight into the chaos of poorly designed websites and camouflaged contact information that inevitably comes with looking for a speaker, take a second to think about your goals. For example: are you using your speaker to draw attendees, or to increase the likelihood that attendees will return? If you’re looking to increase the attendance of your event, hiring a big-name speaker is a great way to do so. Keep in mind, however, that though a big name might draw crowds, it doesn’t always make for great presentations (plus, the big fees that come with them might spread your funds pretty thin for the rest of your event). If, on the other hand, you’re hoping to build your reserve of regular attendees, look for a speaker focused on engagement, entertainment and audience interaction. This will keep attendee satisfaction high and add value to your event.
Once you’ve solidified your goals, start reaching out to colleagues, friends, trusted acquaintances— even previous speakers that aren’t right for your current project. Unlike reading internet reviews, you’ll know exactly where your information is coming from, and you can acquire further details if you need them.
If an internet search is more your cup of tea, a good place to start is IASB-approved Speakers Bureaus. IASB (International Association of Speakers Bureaus) uses high quality control and mandates compliance to an ethical and professional code, ensuring that the speakers you find through their databases are capable and experienced. You can also use LinkedIn to do a general search or to peruse your network of contacts.
Start making a list of potential candidates within your price range, both those found through the internet and by word of mouth. Once you’ve compiled a list of 10-12, take a break. Congrats! You’ve completed Finding Speakers 101.
Take a deep breath, because we’re about to jump right back in with…
VETTING SPEAKERS 101:
Vetting speakers can be the most difficult part of the process. With the rise of the internet, we have more and more data available to us— which, of course, makes it much more difficult to know where to start. Follow the step-by-step below to simplify the process.
Step 1: Engage. Watch videos, read reviews, check certifications. You want to get a feel for each speaker’s personality and energy and consider how they will fit into your event.
Step 2: Cross-check. Look at social media accounts, YouTube and LinkedIn. Do they promote themselves and their past events well? Check to see if they’re on SlideShare. If they are, not only can you share slides with attendees after the presentation (allowing them to review and increasing the likelihood of their retaining the information), you can also check the quality of their slides— which should be polished, include bright graphics, and have little text.
Step 3: Connect. Professional speaking is a job like any other, and an interview should not just be recommended, but required. Like any good interviewee, your speaker should be interviewing you as well. A good speaker is calculating how well their message fits in with your event, how your goals can be incorporated into their talk, and, most importantly, how they can personalize their message to your audience. This interview should be done in person, over the phone or by video call. What are they like in person? Does their speaking manner confirm what you’ve seen online?
Hopefully, you’ve narrowed down your list to just a few top candidates. Here’s a quick list of tips and tricks to separate the good from the great.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
– Watch out for speakers who work “for exposure.” A good speaker will spend 3-12 days preparing slides and generating content, this might include taking time off work or away from family. Speakers who do not charge a speaking fee are more likely to supplement the lack of compensation by promoting their services or products during their presentation that was supposed to be educational— something your guests will certainly not appreciate.
– Your speaker should engage the audience as much as possible. At one time or another, we’ve all been stuck in a lecture hall with a monotone speaker who seems like they’d continue to drone on even if the room caught on fire. We can do better. Presenters should leave time for a Q&A and should always be looking for audience engagement and feedback.
– Your speaker should know their tech. It’s a good sign if they’re asking for things like sound quality, equipment and slide ratio. There’s nothing more bothersome than on-the-spot technical difficulties.
– What kind of visual aid is your presenter using? PowerPoint is fine, but if your speaker is using Prezi or some other specialized presentation service, that’s another positive. It means they’ve put a lot of thought into how they want to present.
– Use the internet to its fullest extent. Verify positive reviews. Watch your speaker on a platform they can’t control, like a YouTube channel other than their own. Check to see if attendees of past events have posted about the speaker.
Of course, not every speaker can check off every bullet point on this list. But the more careful you are in the vetting process, the more likely you are to hire a successful speaker— and the more successful your speaker, the better it is for your event! It’s up to you to make sure your speaker brings value to your event, your audience is happy, and your vision is fulfilled.