Choosing a conference speaker

When organising a conference it makes sense to give careful thought to who you select as your conference speakers. These decisions can have a huge impact on the success of the event and if an inappropriate speaker is chosen it can result in large sums of money being lost due to audience members choosing not to attend next year's event.

Given the relative importance of speakers to the success of an event, spending money to obtain the most appropriate guest speaker shouldn't be something that people shy away from. Think of how much it costs to provide lunch for your guests and how much a speaker's fee works out at per head. The quality of the food is undoubtedly important, but the speaker is crucial if attendees are to leave feeling that they had a worthwhile experience.

On the other hand, there will be occasions where having a speaker from your own organisation or from within your network of contacts makes more sense. Some conference sessions require speakers with in depth knowledge of a particular industry. In these situations a more general guest speaker could put off guests who have turned up expecting detailed technical insights from the event.

In many situations, particularly where a keynote speech is required, an engaging generalist who can provide appropriate insights on topics that are relevant to your industry will be a good investment. Here are some top tips to help ensure that the speaker that you hire is the best fit for your conference:

Make sure that you've seen your speakers perform

If you haven't seen video of your speaker at the very least, then you're taking a big gamble by hiring him or her.  Ideally, you should watch the speaker perform in person. Having the speaker audition is usually not possible, particularly for high profile speakers. However, it is often possible to catch a speech that they're giving to another organisation. On our website there are videos of each speaker so you can do just that.

By watching the speaker in action you should get an impression of how able she or he is to engage the audience with relevant material. The ability of a speaker to read an audience and react to the mood in the room is a key determinant in their success or not as a public speaker. It's perfectly possible to be very confident and fluent on stage and yet completely unable to read the audience. People with these characteristics tend to be very hit or miss speakers.

When judging a speaker by their video reel you should look for lengthy clips with complete stories rather than little snippets. This allows you to get an idea of the speaker's ability to hold the attention of an audience.

Ask whether they've spoken in front of similar audiences to yours

This is a good way to tell if your prospective speaker can make their material relevant to your audience. If the speaker's claim to fame is in a field that is only marginally related to the theme of your conference then it would be a brave move to book him or her without some evidence that they can present a speech that will be of interest to your audience.

Make sure that they do their homework

Even if you're sure that the speaker is capable of delivering a speech that will interest your audience, it's worth checking up on the level of research that they plan to carry out in advance of your conference. Ideally, the speech should be tailored to fit in with your conference rather than the standard speech that the speaker has delivered many times in the past.

Take into account the extent to which the speaker can help sell tickets

Big name speakers can sell out an event. If you have the budget available to pay their fees then this can make them well worth hiring. However, be aware that the rules above still apply. A celebrity speaker can be just as capable of turning off an audience of professionals as a novice if their material is poorly targeted or they have been lax in doing their research.

Ask if they are able to mingle with the crowds pre and post-speech

A lot of the time, when a high profile speaker makes an appearance at a conference, he or she turns up immediately prior to the speech, speaks and then leaves. This gives the impression that the speaker isn't terribly interested in speaking to that audience. If at all possible it's always better if the speaker can spend some time mingling and chatting with the attendees who have paid to hear him or her speak.

Check if they have had audiences evaluate their performances

It is best practice to have the audience give feedback on the speaker at the end of the event. This can be done using a conference app in order to save handing out paper forms to attendees. In this way you can get an idea of whether or not the audience were satisfied with the performance and can pass this information on to the speaker.

Plenty of speakers seek feedback after every performance. If they have this information available then it is worth taking a look before you decide whether or not to sign a contract.

By following these principles you should be able to maximise your chances of selecting effective speakers for your conferences and help persuade attendees to return year after year.

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Jun 8, 2016 By webmaster