Choose the Right Speaker for a Memorable EventAugust 15, 2019

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August 15, 2019

Choose the Right Speaker for a Memorable Event

Global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader Holly Dowling at “Women of the Vine,” an event she keynoted as  part of her Executive Women’s  Empowerment Program.

Global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader Holly Dowling at “Women of the Vine,” an event she keynoted as
part of her Executive Women’s
Empowerment Program.

Planners spend valuable time and a healthy slice of budgets searching for and hiring the right speakers. That’s why it’s crucial that planners maximize return on investment by getting the best speaker for keynotes, general sessions, breakouts, seminars and education and training meetings.

Speakers should do more than motivate, inspire, educate and set the tone for meetings. Planners should also expect speakers to create memorable experiences for attendees, generate buzz to build attendance and provide added value. Recruiting the right speaker can leave a positive impression on attendees even if other areas of a meeting don’t go well.

Making the best decision is especially important for financial and insurance firms, which need speakers who know a company’s often complex business lines and can relate to the meeting’s theme. A speaker’s presentation must be relevant to all attendees, including executives and managers.

According to global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader Holly Dowling, who frequently gives speeches to financial companies including Deloitte, one of the world’s largest accounting companies, “It’s about delivering a current message, addressing the challenges they are facing and what’s really going on in the corporate landscape. That’s a huge issue for financial companies.”

Perception is Key

Another significant speaker-related issue for financial and insurance companies, according to event planners and others in the industry, is perception.

Greg Jenkins, partner, Long Beach, California-based Bravo Productions, an event planning and production company, has worked with several financial and insurance clients, including Farmers Insurance Group and Transamerica Life.

According to Jenkins, “The financial and insurance industry often must exercise more reserve in the appearance of lavish spending. In addition, the scrutiny of misconduct and wasteful spending may be of even more concern to those industry planners.”

As a result, Jenkins adds, “A financial planner will want to choose a speaker who does not reinforce any negative stereotypes or perceptions of the industry. The selection of a speaker who is most appropriate for the specific purpose of the event while defraying cost is a step that should be taken in making the choice.”

Overall, there are certain basic practices that planners, especially those who work for financial and insurance companies, should follow when choosing speakers.

Pick speakers based on the characteristics and needs of each meeting and audience. Planners may need different types of speakers for different purposes — keynotes, seminars, motivational talks, inspirational speeches, breakouts, training and education and new product launches, etc.

Follow the Basics

Meet with stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of the event. According to Lisa Warren, a partner at San Diego-based SpeakInc Speakers Bureau, planners should ask themselves the following questions: “Is the event primarily educational, meant to inspire, and/or to attract attendees? Is there an overall event theme you’d like the speaker’s content to compliment? What are the topics that would resonate within that theme, or in general help meet the objectives of the event?”

In addition, according to experts, planners should take the following basic steps:

Create a program committee and crowd source its members and participants.

Examine industry trends.

Create a process to solicit the scope and content for the speaker to cover.

Conduct a peer review by the program committee for topics and content.

Ask for a contract rider, which covers topics such as advertising, lighting, video and other required equipment and supplies.

Know Your Audience

Understand audience demographics including professional and personal challenges and share the information with prospective speakers.

According to Barbara Myers, CAE, CEO of IMN Solutions, an Arlington, Virginia-based meeting and events company that works with financial clients, “Ensure understanding and clarity with your speaker about why the audience is being brought to the event and what you want to achieve.”

Warren agrees that knowing audience demographics is paramount. “Who is in the audience?” Warren asks. “What are their age ranges, job titles and percent male and female, etc.? All of these factors should be considered prior to embarking on the selection process.”

Make sure a speaker can connect with an audience’s demographics. According to Jenkins, “It’s wise to review your group’s historical patterns and determine who in the past were successful speakers and who bombed.”

Ask questions such as the following: “What made the speaker’s presentation dazzle your attendees?” Jenkins asks. “What was the audience reaction? In addition, has your audience demographics and interest changed over the past few years? Surprisingly, some planners assume their audience’s tastes and interests are entrenched.”

In addition, ask speakers to do their own research on your financial or insurance company and its issues to contribute unique ideas to the meeting and its audience. The more information a speaker knows about the group, the better job the speaker can do. Look for speakers based on the fresh and relevant ideas they can present to an audience.

Delivery, Content Rule

Hire a speaker with good delivery, style and content. All three are needed for the best results. Audiences may like speakers with good delivery and poor content, but not necessarily with poor delivery and good content.

Don’t select speakers who give “canned” speeches. Choose a speaker who is dedicated to achieving event goals and can tailor a presentation to a specific meeting.

“Ask for examples of a speaker’s ‘thought leadership’ in areas of finance and insurance through books, blog posts, articles, etc. to determine how well he or she knows the industry,” Myers says.

Budget, of course, is always a top consideration.

“Budget is a key factor which, combined with the other considerations helps, narrow the focus on appropriate speakers,” Warren says. “For example, if one of the purposes of engaging a speaker is to draw attendees, the budget may need to be in the higher range to secure a well-known personality.”

However, keep in mind that famous, highly paid speakers aren’t necessarily the best fit for a group simply because of celebrity status.

“A great speaker may not be great for your group,” says Lynne Wellish, CMP, CHSE CHO, a speaker, trainer and consultant for planners and others in the hospitality industry. “On the other hand, speakers who aren’t household names may be just what an event needs.”

Seek Added Value

Planners should want more from speakers than a great speech. Look for people who can provide value to a meeting beyond the speech itself.

According to Myers, “Depending on the objectives of the event, and the specific speakers being considered, it’s always a good idea to think about what additional value they might bring to the event. However, added value that speakers provide voluntarily or upon request will vary.”

For example, Myers adds, “Some speakers love to come in early to mingle with guests and get a feel for the culture or write a blog to share on a company site. Others won’t agree to do anything but speak for 60 minutes.”

Here are other examples of added value some speakers provide:

They are available for pre-event phone calls.

They participate in audience meet-and-greet and photo sessions before speeches.

They provide a written summary of crucial takeaways for distribution to attendees.

They promote information about the meeting on their own social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

According to Myers, “Speakers can be an influencer via social media in terms of attendance promotion if they have many followers. Celebrities or high-profile speakers can attract media attention and attendance to the event and lend credibility. Also, a famous speaker can reinforce the event brand through social media.”

Vetting is Crucial

Start researching early in the planning process to avoid having to choose someone who isn’t a first choice, and give the selected speaker ample time to prepare.

Conduct thorough interviews. Dowling thinks planners can learn much about a speaker from a phone interview. “You can determine if they are interesting, authentic and compelling,” says Dowling, creator of the podcast “40 Absolutes for Every Meeting Planner.”

“You can tell a lot about a speaker on a phone call — the person’s energy, attitude and the way they talk,” Dowling says. “Also get the speaker on the phone with the stakeholder to establish a comfort level.”

Planners and professional speakers recommend including the following questions in interviews:

Has the speaker been successful with similar groups in the past? Request examples. “Ask for past attendee surveys and feedback from previous speaking engagements,” Myers says.

What approach does the speaker take to learning about the audience and the event’s goals?

How does the speaker go about researching the audience, including their business lines and responsibilities in finance and insurance?

What are the speaker’s ideal audiences?

Can the speaker make a short promotional video, specifically for your meeting, and post it to the event’s social media sites as well as the speaker’s?

Can the speaker provide goals, objectives and messaging for the meeting?

Will the speaker provide bullet points of how the content would enhance the meeting’s message?

There may also be unique circumstances to consider when interviewing prospective speakers.

For example, Warren says, “Does the event location require lengthy travel or take place on a cruise ship? Most speakers charge a premium when an event necessitates taking additional days off their calendars for travel or otherwise takes them out of circulation for multiple days.”

On the other hand, some speakers may be motivated to retain their standard fee if the location is enticing enough for them to combine it with a vacation, Warren adds.

Get References

Get recommendations from planners who have worked with speakers under consideration. “They are the most important thing because they have heard the speakers and experienced the reaction to their groups,” Dowling says.

According to Warren, “The best way to vet a speaker is through a recommendation from a trusted associate or peer in the industry, coupled with reviewing their materials (high quality video, topic descriptions and bio).”

Also get references from other professionals in the meeting and hospitality industry. According to Wellish, “Reach out to staff and board members of industry associations, industry peers and industry partners.” In addition, inquire about credentials such as certified public speaker and other accreditations and professional affiliations.

Says Warren, “Industry message boards like that of the Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) is also a great way to request feedback from peers who may have seen a speaker you’re considering.”

Experts suggest asking the following questions to a reference:

Was the speaker accessible and responsive prior to the booking?

Would they hire the speaker again?

Is there anything you did not ask about the speaker but may be helpful to know, such as his or her professionalism or presentation?

Did the speaker make his or her content available for review before the speech?

Was the presentation’s messaging on target with the goals, objectives and scope requested?

What were the major takeaways for the audience?

Was there a post-speech assessment with feedback from the speaker and attendees? What were the results?

Know your Speaker

Seek videos of speakers to know their personalities and how they connect with audiences. “View raw videos, not edited versions, because they represent a better sense of the speaker and the audience’s reaction,” Dowling says. “Anybody can look good on tape.”

Watch the speaker give a live presentation if possible.

“Speakers love this and, as long as the meeting stakeholder is amenable, this is a great way to vet a speaker first-hand,” Warren says. If a live preview is not feasible, most speakers are open to a short ‘discovery’ call to help ascertain if they are a good fit.”

Research the prospective speaker online via Google, SlideShare, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sources. Before making a final decision, share the speaker’s background, prospective audience message and expected outcomes with meeting stakeholders to get their full buy-in.

Bureau Pluses and Minuses

Some planners hire speakers through speakers bureaus, which come in a variety of formats. Some bureaus allow direct contact with the speaker, while others act as an intermediary and handle the entire booking process. However, the bureaus offer advantages and disadvantages.

Wellish cites some of the pluses: “A speakers bureau organizes speakers according to their expertise and connects clients with the right speaker, just as a site selection company connects clients with the right venues,” Wellish says. “The bureaus make recommendations to clients based on their goals, objectives, budget, profile of attendees and branding and messaging of the event. Some even take care of all the logistics for getting speakers to the event.”

Not all speakers are represented by a speakers bureau. Many industry experts focus on research and not speaking; that’s why industry publications like this one are an additional tool for finding speakers.

Possible downsides of using a speakers bureau include high fees and commissions. Also, the bureaus may not include newer speakers on their rosters. In addition, “You may not be able to have open communication directly with speakers because they may have restrictions per their agreement with the bureau,” Myers says.

Avoid Common Mistakes

Following a thorough and logical strategy for choosing speakers can avoid mistakes. Here are some of the most common errors planners make in choosing speakers.

According to Jenkins, “Failure to provide the speaker with the key message points and demographics about your audience is a recipe for disappointment. Also, some planners hire speakers solely on a tape recording or CDs of them speaking to an audience. Naturally, the CD or tape recording will be of one of the speaker’s finest moments and does not demonstrate if they can connect with your audience.”

Another common mistake is allowing one’s personal biases to affect the decision-making process in selecting a speaker.

“For example, what a planner may deem as a dynamic speaker may not be dynamic to 200 attendees participating in your event,” Jenkins says. “Make sure the selection is based on what will work for your audience.”

Planners also shouldn’t expect speakers to provide “extras” that aren’t in the contract. “Unless you put the request in writing and both parties have agreed on the terms, don’t expect the speaker to sign autographs, take pictures or attend a post-event reception, etc.,” Jenkins adds.

Another common mistake is hiring sports figures, comedians and celebrities to draw big crowds and engage attendees. The name recognition typically boosts attendance, but doesn’t always succeed in achieving meeting goals or engaging attendees about a planner’s desired topics. For example, one planner hired a famous basketball player to give a sales motivation speech. However, nearly all the audience’s questions were about basketball, not sales.

Define Expectations

The best practice is to set clear expectations and responsibilities of the speaker prior to hiring. Put all expectations in writing, including items not directly related to the speech itself such as photo ops, signing memorabilia, etc. Selecting the right speaker can make or break a meeting. Indeed, some planners believe that securing the right keynote speaker is as important as choosing the right property, meeting date and theme.

On the other hand, hiring the wrong speaker can result in disengaged and confused attendees or overshadow a great event and reflect poorly on the person who did the hiring.

Obtaining the perfect speaker can make a successful meeting spectacular and make a planner look like a star.  I&FMM. 

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