So you need to hire a keynote speaker?
Your conference, trade show or corporate events are big deals. So much time, energy, and money will be spent entertaining and educating your audience.
And now, your reputation is staked on the success of the keynote speaker you select, wow.
Hiring the right keynote speaker is challenging enough if you’re a professional meeting planner or CMP (Certified Meeting Planner).
In many cases the task of finding a keynote is a first-time-experience that falls to an entry level Human Resources person or a company admin.
Fortunately, there are guidelines that will keep you from an epic fail.
Know your basics, such as the date, location, and budget of your event.
The first question the speaker will ask is, “What is the date of your event?” Honestly, it’s surprising how many people call me all excited to do business and don’t know the answer to this deal-breaking question.
Have an event date or at least a probable event date, so the speaker knows your invitation is real and not just a “what if.”
Another early question from most speakers will be, “Where is the event taking place?” If the speaker lives in Boston and your event is in Los Angeles, she’s going to travel on the day before and after your event, which could affect availability and price.
If the speaker is popular, he or she will not be traveling to or from home, but from another keynote engagement.
The event location also comes into play with regard to airport proximity. Is your conference at a hotel near the airport or will the speaker have to rent a car and drive two-and-a-half hours to a remote resort location?
At some point during the negotiation, you’re going to want to talk money. In order to forward this conversation, you’re going to need to know your budget.
Some speakers are inflexible on their fee and will present the dollar figure as a “take-it-or-leave-it” scenario. Many speakers will work with you, but only if you know how much money you have to spend.
These three factors, date, location, and budget will play an important role in determining the pool of keynote speakers available to you.
Know what you want
Be clear on why you want to hire a keynote speaker.
You just don’t need anybody to fill a time slot, correct? You may want a keynote speaker who can do one of the following:
- Shift behavior
- Initiate a change
- Raise funds
- Promote a cause or organization
I work with clients to “bake a pie” that has a combination of ingredients. Last week, for example, I offered a client a combination of the above bullet points and together, we fashioned a customized keynote speech theme that was 60% motivational, 20% leadership and 20% change.
When you know exactly what type of speaker you want, you’re more likely to find the perfect speaker.
Hire a speaker who cares
This is tricky because almost all speakers will tell you that they care. You only want to consider the ones who show it.
Some time back, I developed the habit of interviewing people who will attend the event to learn more about how they feel about the keynote topic.
The information that they share is invaluable in helping me sharpen my presentation.
Listen carefully to keynoters who talk about:
- Customizing the keynote
- Researching your organization to make sure he or she is a good fit
- Arriving early and staying late to mingle with attendees
- Having access to information and people at your organization
- Helping to promote your event
For example, I give my clients a tip sheet on how to increase event registrations.
Watch keynote videos
All speaker websites look pretty much the same.
Look for speakers who engage the audience in various ways. Interaction is key; otherwise you’re just hiring a “talking head” who may earn low ratings from audience satisfaction surveys.
How do you know in advance if the speaker is engaging?
Start by monitoring how he or she behaves on the Internet. Look for speakers who are “alive and well” online with freshly updated blogs and social media pages.
Followers can be faked. Engagement cannot.
Speakers who interact with the audience are worth their weight in gold. Every orator has different way of doing this. Some years ago, I developed a reputation for speaking “in the round.” I not only leave the podium, I leave the speaking platform and walk among the audience. I use a hand-held wireless microphone and get individual attendees to stand up and have fun with me. Talk about engagement.
I also work without PowerPoint or a script. The audience comes alive and loves the spontaneity! Watch this video to see what I mean:
It’s not the money, it’s the amount
You get what you pay for when shopping for a keynote speaker.
Resist the urge to pinch pennies. The lowest bidder is usually not a bargain.
Instead of trying to pay less, try to get more. After all, if the speaker has to be there anyway, consider having him or her provide a few extras that might take the edge off a super-sized fee.
For example, I often provide the following “extras” to clients:
- Deliver a companion workshop before or after the keynote
- Provide digital info products that reinforce the keynote message
- Record a video testimonial for the organization and/or sponsors
- Give a quick pep talk/thank you to the conference committee prior to the event
- Grant an interview for the media to promote the event
- Give permission to record my speech and re-purpose the content
I usually ask for a copy of the video so I can re-purpose the content, as well. Clients love it when I promise to tag them in the video and drive traffic to their website.
The devil is in the details
You want to work with people who look after the details, yes?
A technically savvy speaker is likely to ask you the following questions:
- What is the projector’s display ratio?
- Will there be WiFi in the room?
- Is there a mobile app being used?
- Is there an audience response system (ARS) in place?
- Is there is technology to support the Q&A session?
- Will you be using real-time tweeting and an event hashtag?
While this kind of dialog is not necessarily a leading indicator of speaker performance, it is a clear indicator that the person on the other side is serious about what they are doing.
It also signals that the speaker is aware of the technological aspects of keynoting and has experience in transforming an excellent speech into an unforgettable experience for all concerned.
Content is king
Be on the lookout for speakers who have original content and perhaps even more important–an original delivery.
If you’re going to pay a keynote speaker, you deserve to hear information that you haven’t heard before.
Avoid speakers who use cliches on their websites and in their videos. Don’t hire keynoters that use phrases such as:
- Nobody likes change
- Think outside the box
- Tell’em what you’re gonna tell, tell’em, tell’em what you told’em
- Shoot for the moon; if you miss you’ll hit a few stars
- Any reference to “the dash” between your birth date and date of death
Ask more from your speakers and you are likely to get more.
Also, check the recommendations section of the speaker’s Linkedin profile to see what others say about his or her work.