I very much enjoy watching and listening to a great speaker at a conference.
I have spent most of my life learning my craft by observing those who take the stage. I created "Speaker University" in my own mind over 15 years ago, and I promote anyone who is addressing an audience to "professor". I learn as much from the speaker's ability to connect with an audience as I do from the content they deliver.
Not matter if a speaker is good or bad, you can learn something from them. But nobody comes to a keynote or breakout session hoping the presentation is awful. We all want the speakers to have some skills in how they speak. Audiences love it when they are moved by a speaker. They hate it when the presentation drones on and on without any purpose.
Then why do so many conferences come up short? Because the method for speaker selection is not in line with the purpose. Too many speakers are selected because they are smart or have done something cool. Little time is invested to discover their level of experience presenting. Additionally, too many organizers fill speaking slots with vendors or others who are their to promote products and services.
Some think "Content is King".... but I disagree. If people only desire content when they attend a meeting they can stay home and read a white paper. I believe people want inspiration, explanation, and motivation in addition to content. I hate it when people raise the argument of "content vs. motivation"... as there should be both. It is hard to define what makes a good presentation, so people hide behind the desire for content. Author Cory Doctorow said it best, "Conversation is king.... content is just something to talk about".
Speakers need to do more than just speak. They need to engage the audience to think and feel. Without some type of movement, there is just words being tossed out to those in the chairs.
The new style of speaking is conversational. This does not mean it is always interactive, but the days of a speaker being the expert who preaches knowledge to an audience are past. The best speakers seem to talk with the crowd, not to them.
You can feel the energy level shift when a speaker connects with the audience. Without this connection the tone of the whole conference can be "blah". In the planning stages speakers need to be vetted and their experience with moving an audience discovered. Calling yourself a "speaker" is easy (and in today's world common), but there must be something real behind the label.
How can you discover if a speaker has the right ability? It takes a lot of time. It is easier just to hire anyone who has a pulse. Really vetting means attending a lot of events with an eagle's eye on watching speakers for both content and style. It requires many phone calls to others who hire speakers to learn who they have had on their stages. And it requires taking risks. Sometimes the best speaker is not an industry leader or celebrity in your field.
To find the best speakers for your events, you must be looking for them all the time. In the 60+ presentations I delivered in the past 12 months, few came through an internet search or other random connection. Almost every single time the client found me from word-of-mouth (once removed) or they were in an audience where I was a featured speaker.
Have A Great Day.
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. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com