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Navigating the World of Keynote Speakers

Over the years I have seen more keynote speakers than I can begin to count. Speakers whose message continues to inspire years after, whose industry knowledge breaks down barriers, whose humor ignites a lively spark, and others who only seem to motivate an audience to find the exit.

The task of finding the right keynote speaker for your event can feel daunting. Many candidates are phenomenal in their own right yet can be totally wrong for your audience.

Consider an external audience compared to an internal one; the focus is completely different. When selecting a speaker for an external audience, you are going to be more concerned with finding an individual whose name creates a draw. Whereas, with an internal audience, the focus is more on content that inspires them to be better people, employees, teammates, etc.

Knowing what type of speaker to look for is half the battle. Their message and delivery need to match your objectives all while appealing to an audience made up of different generations and possibly different cultures.

Feeling the pressure yet?

Here are six simple questions that will help you get your selection process off on the right foot.

  1. Is your audience external or internal?
  2. Who have you used in the past?
  3. What is your budget range?
  4. What is the purpose of the event?
  5. What do you want attendees to learn, think, or feel after your event?
  6. Is your organization or industry facing any particular circumstances, issues, or challenges?

The next step is to take your answers and use them to help identify the best type of keynote speaker for your event.

  • Celebrity Keynote Speakers: This is your well-known politician, professional athlete, media personality, entertainer, or business mogul. This individual’s name provides value by sparking interest and adding a sense of glamor to your meeting.
  • Educational Keynote Speakers: Also known as a content speaker, this person focuses their message on a specific subject. Their delivery should be exciting but informative.
  • Entertainer Keynote Speakers: Entertainers are commonly sought after for general sessions, dinners, and special events. Their objective is to delight your audience while delivering an impactful message. We often group humorist and mentalist, among other acts, into this group.
  • Industry Keynote Speakers: Someone with a reputation for being an expert in a particular industry or field. They do not tend to be professional speakers and often lack the entertainment or motivational value. However, industry speakers make up for these areas with their knowledge and ability to provide an in-depth perspective on a topic of value to your audience.
  • Inspirational Keynote Speakers: A person who has achieved success despite all the odds. They share their life story, the obstacles they overcame, the hardships they pushed through to inspire your audience towards greater goals and accomplishments.
  • Motivational Keynote Speakers: Motivational speakers focus on enthusiasm. They invoke a feeling of get-up-and-go or you-can-do-it in your audience. This speaker gets people excited about themselves and your company.

Once you’ve determined what type of keynote speaker is best for your event, you will want to consider all of their potential costs. By doing so, you will be able to narrow down your options even further.

  • Speaker Fee: Typically includes the cost of a 60-90 minute appearance.
  • Travel and Hotel Accommodations: Should the speaker have to travel, you could be responsible for their transportation to and from the event as well as the overnight accommodation. We recommend having them arrive the day before to avoid any travel problems or delays.
  • Personnel Travel and Hotel Accommodations: Depending on the speaker, you could be responsible for the travel and overnight accommodations for their personnel (writer, agent, security, etc.).
  • Speaker’s Book: Most professional speakers are published authors and will require the purchase of their book for attendees. Consider negotiating this purchase in exchange for their fee. We also recommend asking for a book signing. It’s a little extra that goes a long way with attendees.
  • Surcharges for Recordings: This cost has everything to do with your speaker and the intentions of the recording. Regardless of the reason, many will refuse consent, others will request compensation, and the rest will see it as an opportunity for new prospects. Our recommendation is always to be upfront about your intentions and remember filming someone without their consent is illegal.
  • A/V Equipment: Every speaker has different audio visual requirements that will be your responsibility to provide.

Now comes the fun part, sorting through the candidates. This process consists mostly of looking at speaker’s glamor shots, biographies, reviews, and associations.

During this step, it is important to remember not to judge a book by its cover. Take, for example, a Harvard Professor we brought in to speak on the subject of Change Management. On paper, he looked like an awkward snooze fest. However, when we saw his presentation the traits that appeared awkward on paper turned out to be the characteristics that made him uniquely captivating. The point is you just never know how someone will be until you see them in action.

You also never want to underestimate how a person’s personal or political connections can set off your audience. Herschel Walker, a former star running back and now a professional speaker, has been experiencing this first hand by losing out on gigs due to his support for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Sometimes big names come with controversy, which is why it is always important to do your homework and consider your audience when making your selection.

Before you book your keynote speaker you will want to do the following:

  • See the speaker in person, or at least a taping of their speech.
  • Talk with them or their agent individually.
  • Ask to what level they can personalize their speech.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss the purpose of your message between the speaker and your meeting owner (CEO, VP of Sales, etc.).

Every organization has a different need for hiring a keynote speaker. Some want to be motivated, others want industry feedback, and the rest just want to be entertained. Your job is to navigate through the world of keynote speakers and find the one that best meets your objectives.

Until next time!