A Simple Guide to Finding the Right Speakers for Your Events

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By John Hall

It’s easy to find yourself attracted to big names when you’re looking for speakers for your events or conferences, almost like they’re shiny objects or something. But I’ve been to enough conferences (as both an attendee and a keynote speaker to learn that organizers can put themselves into some pretty bad positions by getting distracted by celebrity and not thinking through the right speakers for their events.

When you select someone to speak to your audience, you place your audience’s trust in you onto that speaker. You need to do everything you can to avoid destroying that trust because once it’s broken, it’s hard to rebuild.

To maintain trust and host an event with speakers your audience will love, here are seven questions you must ask yourself when selecting the potential speakers:

  1. Are they going to deliver something your audience won’t find elsewhere?

It frustrates me when I speak at events and run into people who never change anything about their speeches. Look, I get it. They probably spent days in front of their mirrors at home practicing over and over until they really nailed their speeches. But why should someone attend your event if he or she can just sit at home wearing pajamas, eating a bowl of Cheerios on the couch, and watching the same speeches on YouTube? Ask your prospective speakers exactly what they’ll deliver to your audience to keep them engaged.

  1. Are they too cool to stick around, or do they care enough to make the effort?

When I was a younger speaker, I learned something from my friend Jay Baer that changed the way I approached my future speaking engagements. It’s a simple practice, really: Stick around with your audience afterward and humanize yourself. Audiences often put speakers on pedestals, and that puts those speakers in a position to make attendees feel special. There’s only so much speakers can do in 45-minute keynotes, but they can make a difference by chatting one-on-one or in small groups afterward. Ask whether your speakers are willing to stick around to connect with your audience.

  1. Do they go out of their way to be helpful?

If you think certain speakers will automatically draw thousands of attendees to your event just because you book them, think again. I’ve seen organizers rely on a speaker’s fame to attract an audience for ticket sales, and those conferences go under because they don’t market effectively. However, if the speakers you invite offer to go above and beyond to help you attract attendees — by spreading the news with their networks and getting other influencers involved — you can more easily justify the cost of booking them and getting them to your event.

  1. Does their content connect with the goals of the event?

It’s great when presenters give amazing speeches that get everyone pumped up for a while … but then what happens? Your speakers have to be able to connect the content of their speeches to your goals for the event because aligning those goals and tactics is what will make your event successful. The best speakers will ask you what that success looks like, and they’ll marry their content with those goals. (If entertainment is what you’re looking for, you might want to go the “Blue Man Group” route.)

  1. Are the content and delivery of their speeches authentic?

I quit using podiums when I speak because I tried walking through the crowds a few times and heard feedback that my audiences felt it was more authentic that way. And I felt the connection, too. Audiences want to connect with speakers; they want people who will be real and share honest stories and present themselves naturally. I’ve seen people decide to become speakers one day and start speaking with no real-world experience at all. But the best ones have true examples of failures and successes and share their knowledge and real experiences in an authentic way. There are actors out there who pretend to know, and there are teachers who really do. You want the latter.

  1. Are they flexible?

Your speaker room is not Mariah Carey’s ready room, and your speakers shouldn’t expect to be pampered. I’ve seen some well-known names make ridiculous demands, and they end up becoming more trouble to host than they’re worth. Think of it like dating: If your first few interactions give you the impression they’re divas, just cut ties. Those problems usually only get worse, so pay attention to your gut feelings about those signals.

  1. Can you count on them?

I spoke at BOLO last year, after an agency executive let the organizer know three hours before his speech that he couldn’t make it because a big business deal arose. Maybe it’s the Midwest values in me, but if you commit to something and others are counting on you to follow through, then you do it. If you absolutely can’t, do everything you can help fill the position. The right speakers for your event will be there when they say they will, and they’ll offer solutions or backup speakers to step up in case of emergency.

When it comes to speakers for industry events, the most well-known speakers aren’t always the right ones. As you evaluate your options and select people to speak at your next conference or event, ask yourself these seven questions. Your audience will thank you.


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