How to Attract Great Speakers for Your Events

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Published on
March 26, 2018

A quality speaker can make or break your event. If your entertainment can’t deliver a solid presentation and keep the attendees engaged, your event (and future events) will suffer. That said, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a high profile speaker. There are plenty of people in every industry willing to present on a variety of relevant topics, often for free. The real challenge is to find great speakers – quality presenters who know how to impress and engage a crowd. These types of talent can help you create an amazing event, but they aren’t always well-known, so you have to take steps to attract them.

Build your event around an idea, not a person

People rarely show up to an event to hear the wisdom of one person. If you organize your event around one person, you’re leaning on that individual to carry your entire event. If they put on a poor performance, the event’s reputation suffers.“That’s why memorable events are built around ideas, not individuals,” says Chelsea Kahle at Zeetings. The best presenters can offer insight, perspective, and thoughtfulness. They create energy in the crowd. A well-known player in the field may be available, but can they create an experience for your attendees? Are their ideas worth sharing. An event with a clearly defined idea (whether it’s cloud computing, responsive web design, law firm growth, or a new dental technology) will attract interesting people who can add value to that idea. Just make sure you’re focused.

Put the word out as early as possible

The best speakers in most industries are booked well in advance of their engagements. The standard used to be a year, but event organizers have reduced that runway, according to professional speaking coach Dr. Nick Morgan. “Now it can be as short as 2-3 months. [Event organizers] will do even better for themselves if they try booking 6 months. This way you can book the best speakers and get the most out of them in terms of promotion and preparation.” If you wait until the last minute to schedule a speaker, the only ones are available will either be undesirable or unprepared. The moment you’ve picked a date and registered the venue, you should be aggressively seeking speakers. (Knowing your speakers helps your marketing too.)

Be prepared to offer something for their time

Yes, you can absolutely find free presenters who are willing to speak for just the exposure. There are plenty of people who are building their own brand or raising their own profile who would be happy to stand in front of a crowd for an hour for free. But the best speakers know their value. They know their audiences want to see them. They know their presence brings people to the event. The best speakers customize their presentations depending on the time they’re allotted, the type of event, and the makeup of the crowd. If you want someone like that, you should be willing to compensate them in some way. Every speaker will take cash. How much you pay will depend on your industry, your budget, and the fee the speaker commands. You’ll have to negotiate that with the potential speaker (or their manager). However, some speakers will accept other forms of compensation. If your event is popular and well known, your speakers may be happy with a free ticket to the entire event. You can sweeten the deal by throwing in a free meal or a $100 bar tab. Some speakers will prefer an opportunity to promote their brand, book, service, product, charity, etc. Make sure you give them a chance to promote themselves to the audience. Be flexible with their presentation topics.

Some event organizers like to choose presentation topics before they have secured speakers. This happens when they suspect the audience would like to hear about a hot topic, a new technology or strategy, or something in the news. While pleasing your audience is smart, that’s not how the best speakers work. Quality speakers want to choose their own presentation topics. They have their own preferences and goals. For instance, a B2B enterprise app developer may be capable of discussing the rise of cash-shop based game apps, but that doesn’t help him find customers for his development firm. Basically, the best speakers will only participate when their goals can be aligned with yours. If you put restrictions on what they can present, you’ll greatly limit the pool of potential speakers. Before you set your event topic, issue a call for proposals. “A call for proposals, also known as a call for abstracts, gives potential speakers the chance to directly submit their ideas for talks,” says Ryan McGeary, founder of BusyConf, a tool that lets you request, rate and review proposals from speakers. “This gives you a large pool of qualified speakers interested in speaking at your event. You can then assemble a review panel to review the proposals that are submitted.”

Smooth out the logistics

Make it known that you’re willing to support your speakers by solving as many logistical problems you can. Your goal is to make the experience as simple as possible for the presenters. Here are some ways you can solve logistical problems for your speakers.

  • Provide a ride to and from the airport.
  • Give them plenty of time to set up and rehearse in the presentation room.
  • Make sure they have whatever technology is necessary for their presentation.
  • Give the speaker your direct cell line to answer any questions.
  • Give them a privileged seat, so other people can find them.
  • Keep bottles of water on hand during their presentation.
  • Ask them directly what they need to put on a good presentation and stay engaged with the audience.

Build a community and create your own speakers

This method takes some time, so it won’t work if you’re hosting your first event. But it’s a powerful method over the long-term and something you should always keep in the back of your mind. Keep a close watch on the people who attend your events. Does anyone come often? Is anyone especially engaged with your speakers and activities? Are there any evangelists in the group who encourage new people to attend? Start grooming those enthusiasts to become speakers themselves one day. Find out about their specialities. Do they have anything interesting to say? Are they capable of speaking in front of the group, or would they be better leading a smaller session? Plant the idea of speaking in their heads long before they actually have to get on stage. Keep them in a special email list to reach out to when you need to fill a time slot or when their experience/knowledge would be useful to you.

Going forward

Finding a great speaker is only one piece of the puzzle. You can’t expect your speakers to do all of the work to make your event great. Make sure you take steps to actively engage your audience so they leave satisfied and look forward to your next one. Most importantly, you should learn from the mistakes and success of others. “If a conference has had success with a certain guest speaker in the past, you should use that information to choose the next speaker,” recommends business strategist Justin Kemp. "Look at the things that made that speaker successful." When you’re ready to boost your audience engagement, take a look at Superevent. Our platform will create a customized app just for your event, full of features to keep you organized and your attendees engaged. Get started for free.

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