How to Choose The Right Speaker For Your Event In 5 Questions Or Less

A great way to drive registration, attendance, and participation for any event is by selecting a speaker. But, do you know what questions to ask when trying to make the perfect match to your event?

In early July, Margo Dunnigan and I hosted a roundtable during Swapcard’s Evolve Homecoming to share what those five questions should be, along with a few other tips to help planners find and secure the best possible speaker for their next event.

Here are the five most important questions you need to ask when selecting and booking a speaker. 

1. What’s your budget?

Determining your budget for speakers and talent is the first step before you reach out to an agency or speaker to book. Speakers bureaus can provide approximate ranges for speaking fees, but individual speakers are the ones who set their actual fees based on the format of the event and audience size. 

With hybrid events on the rise, speakers are factoring in how they will be delivering their content (virtual or in-person), and they are also pricing their services. to include the expanded audience sizes that hybrid events can attract. Give your speaker an accurate estimate of audience size and location before you contract to avoid any issues afterwards.

Before you engage with a speaker, determine whether you will be asking your speaker or talent to participate in any additional requests beyond their keynote or moderated discussion. For example, if you plan to host VIPs onsite during a hybrid event, do you want your keynote speaker to attend a special session with them? Or, do you want your speaker or talent to be available to meet the press or provide interviews in advance? Discuss all of these requests in advance before you extend an offer to the speaker or talent. 

Another factor that is greatly impacting everyone’s budget right now is travel. The desire for us to return to activities in person is causing increased demand for travel, and the travel industry has not completely recovered post-pandemic. This means travel delays, room or venue shortages, increased costs, and more overall logistical complexity than pre-pandemic times. Having one or more contingency plans is key.

2. What is the goal of your event or session?

Start with your goal; then, find a speaker. Determine whether you’re looking to entertain, educate, or motivate your audience. Speakers on the same topic can vary greatly in their delivery style, so start with determining what the end result should be for this session, then work backwards. On the topic of Black History Month (celebrated in February), you may prefer a speaker like Angela Davis to provide a social justice perspective, versus Daymond John to provide a more business-geared entrepreneurial message on the same theme.

We work with many associations, and their goals are often to educate their membership on a topic or theme. However, they may also be hosting a keynote speaker whose goal is to kick off the event with an abundance of energy to excite the audience. If you base your speaker selection solely on industry knowledge, your keynote might not land as you expect. Knowing what you want the specific session to accomplish will help you shape your request and get you closer to finding the right talent for your session.

Another factor to consider here is event format. Are you looking for a keynote speech, a moderated interview, or a panel discussion? Speakers often excel at one of these formats, but it’s rare that they will excel at all of them. If your goal includes having an engaging discussion with varying opinions, find speakers who excel at that format. If you prefer a keynote, find speakers who are experts at delivering those.

Oftentimes, we work with clients who have specific speakers in mind, and that’s understandable, especially when the client has a clear picture of their audience and what will resonate with them. Keep an open mind in case you discover that your initial speaker choice is not available within your budget or doesn’t excel at delivering the format you prefer. There are many fantastic, experienced speakers who are ready to deliver to audiences when given the opportunity to do so. An experienced talent booking agent can help you identify potential speakers and talent that fit both your goals and your budget.

3. Do they have expertise in your topic and industry?

Look for subject matter experts who are dedicated to the craft, continue to learn and grow, and have some longevity as a speaker. A great way to get an understanding of their influence in your industry or topic is by looking at books they’ve authored, featured publications, awards, or industry news.

Evaluate each potential speaker based on their depth of knowledge on the topic you’re looking to feature in the session or keynote. Search for videos of their presentations, interviews, and appearances. One valuable tip shared during our roundtable session was to also consider recency of their videos, which will be more representative of their current capabilities.

If you are looking more for celebrity name recognition versus topical expertise, it is still a good idea to make sure that the celebrity has a clear understanding of who your audience is, so that they can be as prepared as possible to deliver a great and customized presentation. Look to see if they’ve appeared at events in a similar industry.

4. Will this speaker fit with your audience?

Have you ever been to an event where the delivery of a session didn’t match what you expected? Me too. I attended what I thought was a high-level topic presentation, and it ended up being a highly technical training module in a programming language that I did not understand. It was definitely a mismatch between speaker expertise and audience expectation.

Once you understand your audience and effectively determine your goal, you can then plan session content that will resonate and captivate. Ideally, finding a speaker should happen after, not before, you’ve done this.

On any given speaking topic, there are many different ways the content can be delivered. Are you looking for a more entertaining and funny delivery, or one that’s more serious to challenge the audience’s thinking? Should the speaker be highly informative, delivering valuable insights and actionable takeaways, or someone who is an experienced storyteller who can engage and build emotional suspense towards a thought-provoking ending? 

The best way to determine which direction to go with your speaking session and talent is to know what your audience prefers. What other events similar to yours do they attend year after year? Where is your audience going to be located – live at the event, connected virtually, or a combination of the two as a hybrid event? Select a speaker who is both magnetic and experienced delivering in the method you choose.

5. What do others say about this speaker?

As you’ve likely narrowed down your speaker options at this point, read reviews from peers and on speakers bureau websites. Look for speakers with multiple reviews for consistency. As you consider the review, look at the company or organization providing the feedback. Are they of a similar size and in a comparable industry? Those will be the best indicators of potential success.

Another great way to collect feedback is by working with a speakers bureau or talent booking agency. Agents often have insights on speaker performance that might not be provided publicly based on personal experience working with each speaker.

One last tip on speaker reputation is to do your homework. Once you’ve narrowed down your speaker options, do a little research yourself on Google. Ensure that your potential speaker or talent has not been involved in public controversy, recently or even well in the past, especially if this controversy might be offensive to your audience. This small bit of research can help you avoid last-minute headaches and changes leading up to your event.

While these are the five questions I recommend starting with before booking your next speaker, there are definitely more considerations in every talent booking transaction.

I’d like to know from our readers: What question do you always ask yourself before booking a speaker?

Jennifer Best: Jennifer Best is the Head of Marketing for All American Entertainment. Jen has been featured in print and digital publications, including, on digital marketing trending topics. She is a former SBA award-winning entrepreneur for her digital marketing work with small businesses. When she's not geeking out on Google Analytics and marketing automation, you'll find Jen cooking for her growing family or enjoying a great book.
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