1. Choose an expert. An expert who has published books or papers on the subject of the conference may have great specialized knowledge but that does not mean that they can communicate it effectively to your audience. Expertise can be a barrier to communication. Ideally you want someone with great delivery of great content tailored to your participants and your conference.
2. Choose someone well-known. Many event planners will book a celebrity, a sports star, a TV newsreader, an actor or a politician to give the keynote. They may be able to speak clearly (or not in the case of some sports stars) but often they are poor at listening to your brief and tailoring their material to your audience. Their stories from sports or stage may be entertaining but what relevance do they hold for a business audience?
3. Choose on price. Cost does not necessarily correlate with effectiveness when it comes to keynote speakers. Many of the stars listed above command high fees but that will be money wasted if your delegates get little value from the talk.
So how can you choose an ideal speaker? First define the objectives for the event and the objectives for that session. What degree of expertise is needed? How much emphasis should be placed on entertainment, stimulation, motivation or information? Do you want the speaker to open people’s minds on a topic or to give them specific instructions? What would you like delegates to say about the speaker afterwards? What represents success for you?
The best ways to assess a speaker are these (in order of preference)
1. See them live in action. This is not easy given logistics and timescales but if possible try to see speakers and then you will know their style, approach and content.
2. Speak to other event organisers and get their recommendations. You can ask what impact the speaker had on the audience and find out how easy or difficult they are to work with.
3. Watch video clips and show reels. Most speakers have clips on YouTube and these are well worth watching. Many are edited to give the best impression but they are nonetheless useful indicators.
4. Read testimonials and comments from other event planners and from speaker bureaus. The speaker agencies can definitely help though they have their own agendas too.
Try to get a short list of say three or four potential speakers and then chat to them over the phone. See how they would approach the brief. Do they ask intelligent questions to understand what you want from them and from the event? How can they tailor their material to make it as relevant as possible to your audience? Will they be easy or difficult to work with?
Finally discuss price. Most speakers can be flexible so be prepared to haggle a little.
There are plenty of excellent speakers out there who can challenge, inform and entertain your audience. Taking the trouble to choose the right one can make the world of difference to your conference.