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How to Choose the Perfect Speaker for any Event

The 'How to choose the perfect speaker for any event?' ultimate guide.
Patrick Nelson blog post

Table of Contents

Choosing the right speaker for your event is essential. Get the wrong speaker and not only can it have a detrimental impact upon your event, it can also damage your reputation and that of your organisation.

We often get asked for speaker recommendations by our clients, event planners and event organisers.

The first issue that many people face is time: they leave it far too late in the whole event planning process before they start considering who their speaker will be.

I cannot stress enough how important it is that you identify your speakers as early as possible. Not only will this give you time to get fully organised and deal with any issues that may arise, but speakers are busy people with full diaries and you are more likely to have a wider choice of speakers available if you start the booking process as soon as possible.

Plus, of course, the more time you give your speaker to get organised for your event, the better prepared they will be and the better they will be able to serve your needs.

In short, it is much easier to secure the right speaker by planning 6 to 12 months in advance. And this used to be the standard practice. Today, bookings are commonly made only a few months in advance, but often at the expense of discovering that your first choice of speaker simply isn’t available.

So, let’s get started. Exactly how do you make sure that you choose the right speaker for your event?

Post How to Choose the Perfect Speaker for any Event

Event Goals and Objectives

Begin by establishing the purpose of your event. What is it that you want to achieve? What are your goals for the event? What are your organisation’s goals in holding the event?

Speakers are available from just about every walk of life and each can offer your event and your delegates something different.

Often we’re told “we’re looking for a motivational speaker and once we dig deeper we discover that they have not clearly defined their goals for the event. This always makes it much more difficult to suggest the most appropriate speaker.

By getting clear on the aims of your event, it’s easier to choose a speaker who can align with those objectives and who can then deliver a memorable speech that has impact and long-lasting change.

What are your objectives? Is this a brand awareness exercise? A product launch? An executive retreat? Are you looking to educate people on something specific? Is it a celebration? A motivational event for employees?

Whatever your goals are, get clear on them before you start looking at your speaker.

Event Flow

Secondly, consider how the event will flow. At different points of your event or conference, the energy in your venue will fluctuate and change. Understanding this and knowing the specific speaking style that will match it will also help ensure you select the right speaker.

For example, most keynotes take place either at the start of the event, after the break for lunch (if it’s an all-day event) or at the close of the event.

If your keynote speaker is to launch your event, select someone who can outline the big picture, set the tone and position the goals for the day in a way that your audience can relate to.

If, on the other hand, your speaker will be occupying the post-lunch slot, make sure you have someone who is dynamic and energetic and who can reignite your audience for the rest of the event.

And finally, if you intend to have your speaker close the event, you need somebody who can pull together the messaging for the whole day. Make sure you choose a speaker who can be flexible in their delivery as they may need to respond to and comment on everything else that has happened during the day of your event.

That said, it is always worth seeking out a speaker who is able and willing to adapt and tailor their presentation to your needs. Many of our speakers will research your audience and your event to tailor their talk. As the event organiser, this can be so valuable to you in meeting your event goals and objectives.

Your Audience

There’s no point in selecting a speaker based on their name if they are not going to appeal to your delegates.

To make sure that the speaker you select matches the needs of your audience, start by defining your audience in as much detail as possible, starting with their relationship to you and the organisation(s) behind the event. Are they clients? Prospects? Employees? Your executive team? Your sales team? Resellers?

Also, try and put yourself in your audience’s shoes:

  • Why are they attending?
  • What are they expecting to get from the event?

The two most common reasons why people attend an event (assuming it’s non-obligatory) is either to network or advance their career or for learning opportunities.

Whichever the reason, dig deeper. Why are they networking? Are they your clients who are looking to connect with peers? Business owners looking for clients? Employees looking to make cross-division connections?

If they’re coming to learn, what are they there to learn?

Think about what you want your delegates to take away:

  • What do you want them think, feel or do after they have heard your motivational speaker deliver their keynote?
  • What ideas and thoughts do you want your delegates to have when they leave your event?
  • Do they want to hear something light-hearted and amusing?
  • Or do they need no-nonsense advice, clear calls to action and perhaps some “tough love”?
  • Would a storyteller be best, or do you want someone who can provide insight with facts, figures and statistics?

Don’t underestimate the importance of understanding your audience: get this right and the whole task of choosing the right speaker will become a whole lot easier.

Speaker Objectives

What do you want your speaker to do? A good speaker will always be able to deliver on a number of key objectives. Get clear on what you want your choice of speaker to achieve. Do you want a speaker who:

  • Has a name that will attract attendees?
  • Will educate as well as engage your audience?
  • Will be able to inspire your audience to change their behaviour in a positive way?
  • Is entertaining and amusing as well as motivational?
  • Can provide fresh insight and perspective on topics related to your event?
  • Can provide a set of defined actions and changes for your audience to take away with them?

Ideally, your chosen speaker will deliver something that your delegates won’t find elsewhere, someone who will go the extra mile to keep your audience engaged.

What Type of Speaker?

Once you have your event goals and objectives, you know what the flow of your event will be and you know what you want your speaker to do for you, it’s time to identify the kind of speaker you want.

Certain kinds of speakers work best in different situations and for different events. For example, how important is it that your speaker has knowledge of your industry? If you want someone who is an expert in your field, this will obviously narrow the choices you have available.

But, at the same time, an industry thought leader will add value to your event because what they have to say will be highly relevant to your delegates. They should be able to give insights into emerging trends as well as share data and offer opinions and actions that will have a genuinely positive impact.

Conversely, a speaker with little or no industry knowledge can fulfil a different purpose entirely; engaging and inspiring your audience. If you want to go down this road, consider more general areas that are still related to your event theme.

Similarly, your audience might respond better to a message if delivered by someone outside of the organisation. Or you might want an expert who can educate your attendees in a particular area such as a leadership speaker or a talent management speaker.

celebrity speaker is ideal if you need someone who will provide the wow-factor and one of your objectives is to encourage media coverage or for your attendees to respond to your celebritys’ endorsement or support.

And a motivational speaker is ideal if you need your message to be valuable and inspirational or your event is based around a theme such as team-building, overcoming adversity, resolving conflict or handling change.

Additional Activities

One of the most valuable parts of a keynote address from your delegates’ point of view will always be the Q&A after your speaker has delivered their speech. And it makes perfect sense: when a delegate gets to ask questions, the answers they get will relate directly to them.

Consider whether or not you are going to include this in your event format. If you are, make sure you select a speaker who is flexible enough to accommodate this and are prepared to handle a Q&A session.


Some people still believe that speakers will jump at the opportunity of exposure that their event will give them and be happy to speak for free. Whilst this may occasionally be true for speakers who are new to the circuit, professional seasoned speakers will not speak for free.

Nor should you expect them to.

It takes time and effort to deliver a great talk. It also requires a wealth of experience to deliver value in a talk.

Also, if you have decided that you want a speaker who will customise their presentation to your audience, bear in mind that he or she will want to learn as much about that audience as possible.

They’ll want to know what challenges they’ll be facing, understand fully the issues that are important to them and will adapt their material to suit.

Whilst this is great, consider that it also means your speaker will be spending extra time altering slides and tailoring their speech. And that usually means a higher fee.

In short, make sure that you know exactly what the cost of your speaker is going to be. The fees we quote for a speaker are always exclusive of expenses or accommodation but not every speaker agency works the same way.

In addition, some motivational speakers have specific technical requirements which may equate to additional costs for you. Wherever possible, you do not want to compromise on these requirements. Technology plays such an important role in presentations and many speakers are skilled in using it to enhance their talks in powerful ways, engaging and interacting with their audience.

Pay attention to these requirements if they’re within your budget so that your speaker can do the best possible job for you.

I recommend that you clarify every cost up front so you have no hidden surprises. At Speakers Associates, we always make sure that our clients know all the costs involved.

Don’t Compromise

Don’t compromise on the goals and objectives you set for your event and your audience. Make sure you select a speaker who can deliver what you’re looking for.

Whether it’s having them turn up early to do a meet-and-greet, attending a lunch or a dinner the evening before or being prepared to do an interview as part of the event, be clear on exactly what you need and specify everything when dealing with your speaker or speaker agency.

If you have found the ideal speaker but they cannot or will not meet your requirements, try and understand why not. You may then decide that you are willing to lower your expectations or you decide to look for an alternative speaker who can deliver on everything you need.

Picking the right motivational keynote speaker for your event is never as simple as selecting a famous name. There is a strategy and a process involved in making sure that you get the best possible speaker to achieve the aims you have.

Follow this process and you will end up with a great speaker who will have the desired impact on your audience and your event.

How to find the right speaker at Speakers Associates

We have more than 700 speakers on our website and a further 2,500 on our books. The fastest way in which you can find the right speaker for your event is to access our knowledge and experience of thousands of speakers.

All you need to do is give us a few details about your event and we’ll give you a personalised shortlist of recommended speakers.

If you want to have a go at finding the ideal speaker for your event for yourself, here’s a quick breakdown of the process we recommend:

  1. Visit our speakers pages. You can access these at any time from the menus at the top of every page.
  2. Browse the speakers in the section that you are interested in.
  3. On most pages you can filter the speakers shown by criteria such as gender, the region the speakers come from, their fee range and their themes. Consider narrowing the field by selecting a fee range within your budget.
  4. Hover over each of the speaker photos to view their fee guidelines. From here you can also add them to your shortlist or view their profile.
  5. When you see a speaker you like, you can view their profile by clicking the button in the preview. If you want to view the profiles of multiple speakers, simply open each one in a new tab in your browser.
  6. Once you have a number of speakers that you are interested in, go through each of their profiles. Most of the profiles contain videos of the speakers in action. Read the bio and look at the topics that the speaker covers. Use the information you find to determine if they would be right for your event and to narrow down your potential speakers. Once you have the list down to a manageable number (perhaps 3 to 5), contact us and ask us to check their availability and fees for your event.
  7. You should now have a shortlist, perhaps of 2 or 3 speakers whose fees are within your budget, who you know are available and are interested in speaking at your event. The next step is to have a direct conversation with your selected speaker. This is what is known as a “briefing call”. This gives you the opportunity to ask them key questions and to form an opinion as to how well you might be able to work with them.
  8. Usually, your briefing call will allow you to make that final selection and choose the speaker that you know is ideal for your event. All that remains is to finalise the details with your Speakers Associates’ agent and go through the paperwork. We will guide you through every step of the process and make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Contributed by

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson

Chief Marketing Officer, Speakers Associates