Event organizers are some of the busiest people we know. Keeping track of all the moving parts surrounding corporate, association, or university event planning is one part of the job for the highly organized and firm-but-flexible set.

Featuring tips from experts with over a decade of booking speakers and talent in the event industry, this blog series will walk you through the stages of the speaker booking process so that you have the greatest likelihood of having an event that exceeds your goals and expectations.

We’ll walk you through the right steps to take when you first discover you’ll need to book a speaker. We’ll include advice on choosing speakers, recommendations for negotiating contracts, preparing to host your speaker, and closing the feedback loop after your event.

Let’s get started, where else but at the beginning! 

Do Your Research

Starting from where you want to end up can help you begin the event planning process, and it is nearly impossible to select the right speaker for your event without knowing the goals of the event itself. Define your event goals and objectives first so that you can set yourself up for success later.

Who will be in your audience? Oftentimes, this is a known variable; universities are often presenting to alumni or current students, and companies are often coordinating events for internal employees or customers. But, beyond that basic definition of your audience, what else can you use to define your target audience? Think like a marketer and the answer will become clearer. 

Marketers often start campaigns in a similar way, and whether they’re called personas or avatars, they are your target customer definitions, the demographic and psychographic pictures that are created help to define the types of messages that might resonate best with your audience. 

Explore Your Options

Mandy Lubrano, Vice President at AAE Speakers, shared this about what matters most when she’s selecting speakers for an upcoming event.

When I’m recommending speakers for my clients, it’s important for me to understand the client’s audience: who will be in attendance and what is the demographic of the audience. I also look at what other speakers have successfully spoken to this audience in the past. That way, I can make the appropriate recommendations. The more a client knows about the answers to these questions, the better and more accurate advice about speakers I can provide.

There are thought leaders and authoritative speakers on just about any topic or in any industry. In many cases, you’ll want to choose a speaker with experience in your industry or sector as they’re best suited to understand what terminology works for the audience in terms they understand. Speaker ranges for topic-specific themes can definitely vary based on level of experience and location of the event. 

If you choose instead to go the celebrity appearance route with booking your speaker, you are likely looking for name recognition, career or philanthropic accomplishments that resonate with your audience, or demographics that align with attendees, or perhaps all three. This is a popular strategy with conferences to draw registrations and attendance. Celebrity keynote speakers will cost a much higher honorarium than topical speakers in most cases, so budgets should be adjusted according to the goals defined earlier.

Narrowing Down the Field

You’ve identified a short list of options for speaking at your event. Next, you’ll want to look at them comparatively to determine how they might fit in your specific event.

The best place to start is looking at past event videos. As you watch, ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Does the speaker’s style and personality match with that of my desired outcome? For example, if you are booking a speaker for a Sales Kickoff event, you’re likely considering people who are high-energy and motivational. If you are hosting a speaker for a charity or fundraising event, you’re considering people who can garner empathy and a sense of community values that resonate with attendees. 
  2. Will the speaker customize their presentation? In the 2023 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report, the overwhelming majority of speakers said they would customize their presentation to avoid controversial topics if requested. If this is important to you, then knowing they are flexible might make the difference in which speaker to request. 
  3. Check reviews and recommendations. Many reviews are available online, but you can also work with a trusted speakers bureau who has insight into a speaker’s past experience with similar clients. That information might not be available publicly and can be invaluable when a tough decision needs to be made. 
  4. Do the speaker’s honorarium and travel costs work within your budget? If you plan to host your speaker in-person, it’s imperative to keep in mind that nearly 90% of speakers will not include their travel expenses in their speaking fee*, so you’ll want to consider those additional costs towards your total speaker budget. 
  5. What logistics requests does the speaker have? Does the speaker come with their own equipment or do you need to provide it? Does the speaker plan to share video or audio in their presentation, or do they plan to have interactive elements like calling attendees up on stage? Knowing these items in advance can help you decide whether a speaker is right for your corporate event. 

Ultimately, much of the decision about who to book for a keynote speaking event comes down to instinct. Whether deciding individually or collaboratively with an event team, a leading option often becomes clearer as you work through the steps above. And, an important distinction to make is that even if your top choice is not available to speak at your event, there are many highly-qualified comparable options out in the market once you’ve identified the criteria that matters most to you. 

In the next post in this series on how to book a keynote speaker, I’ll dig into the best practices for extending an offer to speak at your corporate or university event.  

* as published in the 2023 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report