Your speakers play a critical role in the success of your event. Great speakers can make your event attractive to attendees. They attract guests who want to learn and network.
But enlisting the right speakers is difficult, especially if you’re hosting your first event. 89% of conference creators say finding quality speakers is their biggest challenge. Unfortunately, reaching out to event speakers isn’t as simple as blasting out a quick email.
If you want quality speakers, you’ll have to approach them strategically by following these best practices.If you want quality speakers, you’ll have to approach them strategically by following these best practices. Click To Tweet
Reach Out to the Right Speakers
Most speakers aren’t in the “professional speaking business.” If they do speak for a living, they’re likely expensive.
Most speakers are people who do it when the right opportunity arrives in their inbox. They might limit their public speaking to a narrow range of events, or only attend events that suit their schedule. You’ll get the best results when reaching out to event speakers by targeting the ones who are most likely to respond to your event.
This means you’ll have to do a bit of research, which will take some time. But ultimately you’ll spend less time researching than you would cold pitching speakers who aren’t right for your event.
Here are some ways you can research for quality speakers:
- Browse online discussion forums.
- Scroll through Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
- Poll your current registered guests.
- Poll guests from your last event.
- If you work in-house, ask people at your company for recommendations.
- Look for upcoming book releases in your niche/industry.
- Browse popular blogs in your industry. Take special note of authors of guest blogs, as those people are actively looking to expand their reach.
- Comb through your LinkedIn contacts or make a post seeking recommendations.
For more information, check out these two guides:
- How to Tell If a Speaker Is the Right Fit for Your Event
- How to Attract Great Speakers for Your Events
Establish Your Value Proposition
Your first step is to determine how the speaker benefits from speaking at your event. You’ll need to know this when you reach out the first time.
Your value might be as simple as a generous payment. There are plenty of people who speak for a living who consider compensation a critical part of the deal. (Things like free travel, accommodations, food, and drinks count as compensation, too.)
It’s also helpful to include some reasons the speaker would benefit by attending your event aside from money. If they’re busy, they’ll need to know why they should choose your event over another one.
For instance, you might let potential speakers know who else you’ve already lined up. The speaker might get excited if he thinks he’ll get the opportunity to stand next to some influential people.
Whatever you do, don’t use “exposure” as a benefit. Creative people don’t appreciate being offered exposure as compensation. You found them, so they clearly don’t need exposure.
Lay Out the Details Clearly
Don’t force potential speakers to read through paragraphs of information about your event that doesn’t matter to them. They don’t care why you chose to host the event in October. They don’t need to know your thought process for choosing a theme.
In your cold email, lay out your event details in easy-to-digest bullets. Here are some data points you’ll want to include:
- The theme of the event
- The date, time, and location
- Who else will be speaking/presenting
- The size of the venue / How many people they’ll be speaking to
- Details about your expected audience
- The time commitment you’ll require
- How you’ll promote the event
- Whether you’re prepared to meet their technology needs
- Whether you’ll help with their travel and accommodations
- The kind of talk you’re looking for
- Any deadlines you need them to meet
Be absolutely clear about your expectations. You don’t want to undersell their commitment to get them onboard, otherwise they could pull out at the last minute when they realize you need more from them than you originally stated.
Most importantly, explain why you’re hosting your event. What’s your goal? What’s the point of all of this? If you explain the purpose of your event well, potential speakers may be willing to forgo other opportunities to be a part of your mission.
Give Your Speaker Some Latitude
As an event planner, you naturally want to control the event down to the smallest detail to make sure it goes well. You might be tempted to assign topics to your speakers, but that would be a mistake.
Speakers have their own expertise, interests, and goals. If you instruct them what to speak about, there’s a good chance they’ll pull out of your event. Even a strong recommendation can come across as too controlling.
It’s okay to make some suggestions, but do so by offering some information on the type of audience you expect to attend. For instance, you might say, “From our early polling, our registered guests say they’re interested in AI, machine learning, and practical applications of virtual reality.”
This kind of approach gives the speaker something to work with so they can create content or tailor their usual talk to please your audience, but it’s not micromanaging.
“Feel free to give feedback on presentation titles and abstracts, but don’t play creative director when it comes to their deck,” says Susannah Shattuck, a marketing manager who helps speakers create presentations. “The chances are that your speakers have given some version of their presentation before. Trust them to deliver their message the right way.”
Connect Through Professional Organizations
There’s a professional organization for everything. In fact, there are likely several organizations in every industry. Many of them apply to specific regions.
These kinds of organizations can be fantastic resources to reach speakers. They have thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of members. They can put you in touch with people you haven’t heard of or people who have never spoken in public before. Since many professional organizations host events themselves, you could also ask for their personal recommendations.
If you don’t have much luck with a professional organization in your industry, explore a general speakers’ bureau, such as…
- American Program Bureau
- Keppler Speakers
- Macmillan Speakers
- National Speaker’s Bureau
- Washington Speakers Bureau
- Premiere Speakers Bureau
If you host regular events in the same industry or niche, you’ll want to make some connections in the related professional organizations. Over time, these can be lucrative sources of speakers and attendees.
Follow Up a Few Times
Some speakers are quite busy, especially if they travel a lot. They may not be able to respond to your email immediately. If they don’t know you, they might disregard your email unless you’re persistent.
Follow up if you don’t get a response within a week. Send a simple, friendly reminder to let you know if they’re interested or would like more information.
It’s alright to send a second follow up (which would be your third email) after another seven days, but avoiding sending any more. If you get too pushy, they might get annoyed and complain. You definitely don’t want them telling other speakers not to talk at your event.
If your third email goes unanswered, assume the prospective speaker isn’t interested and move on to others.
Take Your Rejections Gracefully
You’ll undoubtedly receive a few “No thank you” replies. That’s to be expected. Potential speakers will decline for lots of reasons. Some won’t like the compensation. Others won’t think they’re right for your event. And some will decline because they just don’t want to come.
Face rejection with your head held high. Thank them for their consideration, ask them if they can recommend anyone, and move on to the next potential speaker on your list.
Don’t waste your time trying to woo a speaker who doesn’t want to speak at your event. Even if you somehow convince them to speak, there’s a good chance they won’t give it their best effort.
As you can imagine, reaching out to event speakers can take some time. It’s best to start this process as early as possible so you have time for the inevitable back-and-forth. These best practices will help you find great speakers who will make your event a success.