Anyone can call themselves a speaker, and there seem to be a plethora of them to choose from, on almost any given subject.
But how do you choose the right speaker so you can be assured that they will deliver, engage and wow your audience?
How do you know they will be the right fit and that they won’t bomb?
And what should you pay for a good speaker in order to know you are getting a professional?
You can of course use an agent or event manager who books speakers, and they should be able to totally understand what you need, know exactly which speakers fit the bill, and give you a list to select from. But you first need to know what you are looking for.
And, if you are handling this yourself - as many association or organisation event managers do, you will want to make sure you are 100% clear on who will be ideal for your conference or event.
Here’s a checklist to help you make sure you have the right keynote speaker on your short-list, and how to tell if your keynote speaker is going to be good, or great:
1. Industry speaker or keynote speaker?
Do you want someone to talk on a specific topic or give instruction/information to your audience, or are you looking to motivate, inspire and activate them? This is the difference between getting a speaker who is an industry expert or a keynoter.
Consider the purpose of the speaker - do you wish them to give your team or members knowledge and understanding, or do you want them to take action and implement the things they are learning at the event?
You may need both types of speaker, one to give information and the other to inspire action and implementation.
Is your speaker qualified in a particular field, a best selling author on the topic you want them to speak on, have they won awards for what they do, been in the media, written articles or created resources that show they truely know their stuff? Look for evidence of their capability on their LinkedIn Profile, see who they have spoken for before and what sort of reviews they have, and look at their qualifications and background.
If they have flip-flopped through a range of industries or have no real qualification, and no record of knowing their content or area of expertise, it’s probably best to go with someone who has won awards or been interviewed the media about their key topic.
Also beware of taking speaker organisation memberships for granted, they may have practiced more and learned how to present, just because they are a member of a speakers association, doesn’t always make them the perfect speaker for you.
Check their social media, showreel, YouTube…do they have a presence you know will be great on your stage? Are they funny, entertaining, insightful, positive, powerful or have the ability to resonate and interact with the audience?
Many speakers know their content really well, but do they have that ability to light-up your team or members, so they walk away from your event buzzing about how valuable, enjoyable and worthwhile it was to attend? Look for a personality and a fit with your audience - will your team or members like them, will they align with the speakers delivery style?
Can the speaker adapt to the audience and improvise on the spot to make sure there is engagement? Do they have audience engagement or interaction in their keynote presentation to demonstrate their ability to captivate an audience and hold them for 45 - 60 minutes?
Careful if the speaker you enquire about, comes back immediately as available, or who’s online booking diary is blank, this may be a sign that they are not very well booked, or may lack experience. Also be aware that you need to give good professional speakers plenty of notice, usually planning events at least 6 months beforehand.
Availability is usually one of the first questions to enquire about and, if it’s urgent and you need a professional speaker at short notice due to someone letting you down or an illness, be prepared to pay a little extra to cover the costs of the speaker who has had to drop everything to help you.
It’s great idea to have a list of go-to speakers that you know can deliver multiple topics or keynotes and who may be able to step in and help you out in an emergency - these are the real keepers!
Do they have resources available on their website to make your life easier?
Downloadable handouts, a Bio and intro the MC can read, easily accessible headshots, a brochure you can take to your committee or board meeting to help them make the decision to hire the speaker?
Will they provide social media content or video specific to your event to help you promote registration and attendance?
Do they have equipment and Av information to make your event teams life easier?
A professional speaker will have all of these and more to help you - they are there to make your event a raging success in any way they can.
There are horror stories of speakers who act like Divas, turn up late, leave early and are a nightmare to work with. To avoid having this kind of speaker on your agenda, you can check the testimonials on their website and contact the companies they worked for, but even easier, arrange a chat with the potential speaker as soon as you enquire about their availability.
Now everyone is happy to video conference call, you can get to know them a bit more and see their body language and style on screen. If the conversation is all about them, what they need, what they get, how great they are at speaking, or how vital it is to get your testimonial at the event, these are all signs that you are dealing with a potential diva.
Look for speakers who ask all about you and what you need first, talk about staying after they speak to help answer questions or attend sessions before they are on stage so they reference what the audience has already heard. And look for testimonials that mention how easy they were to deal with or how adaptable they are.
Do they have a calendar or an enquiry form on their website?
Did they respond to you in a timely manner?
Is their website, collateral, email all work and look professional?
Do they have standard operating procedures, like a questionnaire to go through when you make the initial enquiry, or a checklist when you are chatting with them, making sure they have written down what you need and have your core objectives listed so they know what to deliver on the day? Interviewing a potential speaker is like a job interview, what sort of questions did they ask you? Are they ready and prepared?
Do they have a contract ready for you, downloadable content to help you profile them, have they asked all the right questions, given you the right answers and confirmed everything with you?
These are the professional speakers who will message you when they arrive at your event so you can relax and know they are there, will have all their AV with them or leads for their laptop ready, back-up batteries for their clicker and they will focus more on making sure your event runs smoothly than adding drama to your day.
Yes, you do need to pay a professional speaker, just the same way you pay for the venue, food and AV. Please don’t abuse a possible speaker by suggesting they will “get exposure” or could “pick up work from the audience” when they speak at your event. A really good professional speaker is just that, A professional. They don’t have another business or income stream (well, they might, but it’s closely aligned with their speaking business, such as books, online programs and maybe coaching or running workshops).
The saying goes, you get what you pay for, and if a speaker is all over you to get on your stage without asking for a fee, be warned, they will do more selling than speaking! Know your budget and be clear about it early on when you approach a keynote speaker to see if they are available. Be prepared to negotiate, include travel or accommodation and if they do cut you a deal, make sure you don’t tell anyone about that, as it could ruin the speakers reputation and they are doing you a big favour by working to your budget
A good speaker agent will handle all of these types of negotiations, but, as a guide, in Australia/NZ:
- A good speaker, who might fall into the category of industry expert may charge $1500 - $5000
- An experienced keynote speaker may charge anywhere between $5,000 - $20,000
- A celebrity speaker (if you want to put bums on seats) can be anywhere from $20K plus.
When it comes to looking for great speakers, those who are professionals and will be a joy to work with, over delivering and leaving your team, members or audience slapping you on the back and telling you how great the event was, take the time to do your homework, don’t be afraid to ask the speaker to chat before you even toss their name in the ring and, when you pick a good one, expect to develop a relationship with them that may become a friendship and be of value to you and the organisation in more ways than you can imagine.