Saturday, July 09, 2011

Five Questions To Ask When Hiring A Speaker

Finding the right speaker for your meeting is important.  The speakers set the tone for the entire event, and too often the keynoters and breakout speakers can leave the audience flat.

There is an ongoing argument about "content vs style" when it comes to speakers.  I think this is a bunch of baloney.  It is not too much to ask for BOTH.  I recently talked to a meeting planner who said she had instructed her to avoid "motivational" speakers, and instead only put "experts" on the stage.  She hated the mandate as she worried about getting blamed for a boring day.

Every speaker must be a motivational AND have expert content. There are plenty of people who can provide you with content and style... it is not an either / or situation.

During the planning stage it is easy to say you only want content, but when the audience is in the chairs they do not want an speaker who is just a talking spreadsheet. (This is true even at technical conferences.  People are still people no matter what the subject matter).

What is the opposite of motivation?  Lazy? Dull? Lethargic? Sluggish?  Who would want a speaker on their stage who does not motivate, entertain and inspire an audience? A speaker who sucks the energy out of the room never makes anyone happy.

One client told me about the reviews of the previous year's speaker were "great content but I could have just read his white paper and saved myself an hour of pain".  Ouch. That is not the type of feedback you want after your conference.

No speaker will advertise themselves as mediocre, so you must dedicate time to vet those you select.  My mantra is "Just because someone is smart or has done something cool (or has a title like CEO) - It does NOT mean they belong on the stage".

Here are five questions to ask that can help you when interviewing a speaker:

1.  How many presentations has the speaker given to groups in the last year (or two years...or throughout their career)?

Speaking is a skill.  The more someone speaks, the better they get. I have heard there is a magic number of 300 career presentations that is similar to "Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 Hours Theory".  At that level they are usually vetted through experience.  Experience has value that is hard to match.  Those who are good and connect with audiences will be invited to speak at other events.

2.  Have any groups invited the speaker to come back?  

Groups only re-hire speakers to come back or address other audiences in their organization if they are very impressed with the all aspects of the relationship (on and off stage).  A quality speaker is more than just what they do on stage.  If they are difficult to work with off stage they will not be invited back.  Ask for references of clients who have used the speaker more than once and call them.

3.  How does the speaker's subject (the meat of the talk) impact the audience?  Is it a good fit for your specific audience and why?

Certain topics are universal, others are specific based on the demographics of the audience.  Making sure that your audience will be impacted by the speakers words is paramount to success.  Ask the speaker and their references this question.

4.  How long will the speaker be present before and after their presentation? 

This is most important for multi-day events.  There are speakers who leave immediately after their presentation, while others see their role as more than the "stage time".  Meeting planners and audiences vary on their opinion of how important it is for the speaker to socialize with the audience.  Some feel cheated if the speaker does not participate with the group at breaks, meals and happy hours.  Make sure you know the speaker's policy up front, as if you expect them to stay for the day you need to have that negotiated up front.

5.  Will the speaker be selling books, CD's or other products?

Selling product is not always appropriate at every event, but it is often a a great opportunity for the speaker and audience to further their connection.  If the speaker will be selling something, have a conversation about their selling style and how much time they devote to their "pitch".  There is no right or wrong answer, but if you have opinions on this issue you need to talk about it with the speaker early.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

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