How to Find the Best Keynote Speaker for Your Event
Searching for a guest speaker for an event of any size can be overwhelming. No one wants a presentation to flop, no matter how many people are listening, but when you start searching for keynote speakers, you’re flooded with options. The key to finding awesome candidates starts by narrowing the field, which makes vetting and securing the right professionals much easier. Here’s how to find the perfect speaker (or speakers) for your next corporate event:
1) Start with Your Event Needs
What topics are the most relevant to your event? Which types of speakers do you need to have? Will they be moderating a panel or giving a keynote presentation? Clarifying these questions will quickly narrow the field of your search. If you can identify some key topics you need covered, you can start looking for experts in those areas. You may also want to ensure that potential speakers have experience with the type of speaking your event needs; moderating a panel is quite different from giving a keynote address.
Another detail to assess here is which types of speakers will get attendees through the door and entice them to return next year. If you’re planning a professional development event, you’ll have a hard time convincing bosses that software developers need Brené Brown to talk about the future of cloud storage. Instead focus on your audience’s expectations of the event: are they coming to learn? Give them a subject matter expert. Are they coming to grow in some other way? A celebrity might pull people through the door.
2) Get Real About Your Budget
The next key to narrowing your search field is settling on how much of your event’s budget is reserved for speakers. You don’t want to find the perfect person, only to learn later that your budget won’t come close to their fees.
If the magic number is simply $0, you should only look at speakers who can gain something from presenting to your audience. Celebrities (whether they’re famous in general or in your specific industry) and professionals will likely require a fee, and while that can be negotiated, it won’t just go away. And even if you scrap by without a fee, the expectation is often that you’ll pick up the costs of travel and accommodations. On the other hand, a professional in your field who could benefit from the exposure might provide a compelling talk without the added cost.
As conference organizer Erica McGillivray points out, if you have a budget of any amount and multiple speaking slots, you should also divide the budget before searching for speakers. How much will you put toward the keynote address versus a workshop session leader? Your speakers don’t need to make the same amount of money because they’ll inevitably be contributing varying levels of value to your attendees. It’s also okay to pay some speakers and not others, if you can find free options (just don’t broadcast pay disparities to everyone involved). A mixture of experience levels works well and stretches your budget, as long as you place your speakers strategically in your agenda.
3) Build the “Maybe” List
If you have a huge budget, go ahead and think big with a Google search for the giants of your industry or fan-favorite celebrities. However, if you have limits, start building a list of potential candidates by checking out competitor conferences and exploring LinkedIn and related industry groups. Local networking groups or industry-related societies will likely have lots of ideas for speakers who are relevant to the industry.
You can also use local organizations, like The Texas Speakers Bureau or National Speakers Association Austin to find great candidates who reside right here in our city. The American Genius has even put together an amazing list of women in tech who are willing to speak at Austin events. And if all else fails, search YouTube for “person talking about [insert desired topic here].”
4) Narrow Your List
While you might be willing to take a chance on an inexperienced speaker who comes with glowing recommendations, you need to be sure that your most important speakers have the experience to deliver. Most seasoned speakers will have examples of their work on YouTube, which allows you to get an immediate feel for their style and if it will be right for your event.
From there, check out their other social media profiles for reviews and recommendations. Once you’ve vetted the speakers, arrange your agenda strategically. If one speaker is weaker than the others, put them in a less significant slot, and plan to spend some time ensuring that they’re prepared to do the best job they can. With some guidance all of your speakers can shine, and less experienced presenters may become the keynotes in the future.
5) Don’t Cross Everyone off Your List Right Away
Go ahead and dream about a speaker who is just beyond your budget — it’s perfectly normal for you to negotiate fees. Know your ideal and max prices for a speaker and bring them an offer. But don’t assume you’ll be able to get every person on your list this way. Just in case you can’t get all of the perfect candidates, keep a list of the people who almost made the cut, so that you have them to fall back on.
- Hold onto your “maybe” list (with contact details) for future years, so that you can check in on speakers to see if they’ve come up to par for future events.
- Even great speakers who aren’t given any direction can perform poorly at your event. Be sure to participate in choosing the topic and to give direction as you see drafts of their outlines and final decks. You have the birds-eye view of all of your speakers, so it’s up to you to see that they flow well together and are focused on the target topics. Also, be sure to give speakers a stage tour before the event takes off so that they are familiar and comfortable with their surroundings.
- Once you’ve got your speaker all lined up, check out our next post on Stage Rentals for help determining what size stage to rent and what furniture & decor is available for your event!