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Essential Tips for Better Speaker Selection

Fresh, relevant speakers and energizing entertainment are two of the best ways to deliver what your attendees want from your conference or event. According to the ICCA, PCMA and MPI, the top reasons people attend a meeting or event are:

  1. To gain information and learn
  2. Networking with new and old friends
  3. Sharing experiences

Attendees come for the active experiences and to learn. Speakers who can connect with your audiences on a personal and professional level provide information and experiences.

Well-chosen professional entertainment transforms networking into a shared experience and positive memories.

Before You Start Searching

Here are some key questions you should answer before searching for a guest speaker.

  • What are your key goals and objectives for the event?
  • What are the audience’s key goals and objectives?
  • What topics, issues or information would be most relevant and valuable to the audience?
  • When is the best time for the speaker in the schedule?
  • What do you want the speaker to accomplish?

Avoid the Temptation to “Go Fishing”

Of course, the biggest consideration is budget. This is where you need to be realistic and objective. Speakers and live entertainment can represent a big chunk of your event budget so think of them as an investment.

Let’s say you have $20,000 for a guest speaker. Avoid the temptation to “Go Fishing” and see what kind of speakers you can get for $8,000. You’ll end up doubling your search time and cutting your return in half.

Your goal isn’t to find the cheapest speakers and entertainment you can find. Your goal is to find the best speakers and entertainment you can find that meets your budget.

Choosing Fresh, Relevant Speakers

That’s the “On Your Mark, Get Set” part of the process. To find that fresh, relevant speaker you need to whittle down the choices. Here are five tips that will help you find speakers:

1. Ask Your Audience

Instead of guessing or assuming, contact several audience members and ask about topics that interest them most. Also, ask about whom they would like to hear. You’ll be surprised at the insight you’ll discover.

2. Ask Members of Your Organization

Check with people in your organization or company about speakers they’ve seen and heard. They can better view them from the perspective of the audience.

[Related Content: A 'Great Speaker' May Not Be Great for All]

I have a friend who is Director of Events for an international corporation. Over 90 percent of their speakers come from recommendations from other members of the organization.

3. Check the Bookstore

Check the bookstore for the most popular books on the topic or issue. This is one of the easiest ways to target some strong prospects.

You can also do this at a site like Amazon but being able to skim the book works best for me.

4. Check the News

Check the news and news sites for articles about your topic and issue. Who are the experts that they interview or quote? This works best for subjects that are very timely.

5. Ask Your Contacts

Ask your contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn. Just post an update and ask for recommendations for speakers that they have used or heard. Do the same thing in the groups you have joined.

This usually generates a pretty big response. The best thing is you can follow up with questions.

These tips will help you prepare a short list of people or topics and use it as a starting place for your search or as options you give an entertainment/speaker agency.

Choosing Energizing Entertainment

I know you really, really want to start watching videos and listening to music but you have to get the logistics out of the way first. If you try to hopscotch this part, you might end up spending more and getting less.

Here are five tips that will help you find live entertainment:

1. Think About the Goal

Basically, this is your reason for having entertainment.

What will the audience get out of having them there? Will this be a concert, dance, mix and mingle or background music? Once you decide the goal, it’s easier to narrow down the type of performance you need.

2. Think About How Much Space Is Available

This might seem obvious, but it’s the biggest restriction you might face. Bands and performers need space for a stage, instruments, sound, lights, etc. You might want a 12-member show band but only have room for a two-person duo. Then factor in your audience. How many people will be in the space and what will they be doing?

Unless your attendees are all under 25, it’s better to have the room feel a little open than to cram them into a mosh pit in front of the stage.

3. Think About the Length of the Event

If it’s background music for a reception and a dinner you might want to end after the main course. But planning major music and dancing for three hours is on the edge of overkill.

Keep the length on the entertainment in perspective of what happens the next day. Do you want your attendees to show up for the morning session looking like walking wounded?

4. Think About the Audience

Match your entertainment to the audience. I know it’s tough, but your taste in music doesn’t matter. How old are the attendees? Don’t assume anyone over 40 is up on current music.

What’s the ratio of women to men? Let’s say the attendees are 90 percent men and you want to have a rocking dance band; dancing isn’t going to work. Just like with speakers, ask some members of the audience about what kind of music and experience they’d enjoy.

5. Think About Your Contacts

Just like with speakers, ask members of your organization and your contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn. Who have they seen and enjoyed? This is the quickest way to develop a short list of entertainment that will work for your attendees and the size of your space.

Danger Zone

Take extra time to make sure the acts you consider are appropriate. Decide your organization’s policies for performers in advance. This is where an entertainment agency can really add value.

They can help you be sure that nothing lewd or inappropriate is included in your performance.

The Truth About Searching YouTube Videos

Diving into Google or YouTube to find your own speakers and entertainment seems simple but usually ends up being about 100-times more complicated than you ever imagined. Starting to watch endless YouTube videos is like walking into a library and picking up each book to skim the first chapter. It can go on forever.

That’s why you should use your short list of speakers and entertainment that fit your conference.

Can You Do It Yourself?

The biggest factors are time and experience. If you don’t understand what a rider is or what force majeure means you may want to seriously consider an entertainment agency or speakers bureau like Aquarian. They do the legwork of reviewing speakers and checking references. They locate entertainment near your conference location; check references and all the logistical requirements. And, the best entertainment agencies or speakers bureaus have a “deep Rolodex.” That means they have extensive contacts and connections around the country.

Choosing Fresh, Relevant Speakers and Energizing Entertainment

Once again, your attendees come to your conference or event looking for the following:

  • Information and to learn.
  • Networking with new and old friends.
  • Sharing experiences.

Thoughtfully selected speakers and entertainment are essential delivery systems for those priorities. They add credibility, impact and fun to your conference or event.

It takes some effort to find them, but they generate big returns.

Stuart Danneman, Shepard AV

Stuart Danneman is the executive vice president of Shepard AV. He has more than 30 years of audiovisual expertise servicing associations, tradeshows and corporate events.

Since joining Shepard Audio Visual in 2016, he has contributed to the company’s growth and expansion across the country, including the recent acquisitions of McCUNE and Production Associates.

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About the author
Stuart Danneman