HOW TO CHOOSE A KEYNOTE SPEAKER
We’ve often hired and worked with a number of keynote speakers – from those individuals who are ‘less known,’ but have a firm grasp of their industry subject matter to celebrities.
In particular, I’ve found a common with sports figures or professional
athletes who speak to a largely male audience.
From Magic Johnson to Bill Walton, these former professional athletes
continue to inspire greatness. They share their wisdom, experiences,
inspirations, business success strategies, providing a unique motivational
approach to conference attendees.
While these sports legends are talented and motivational, the largely male
audience only peppered these legends in a Q&A with questions about
particular games, referee calls, who’s going to win the championship,
basketball statistics, etc. The attendees appeared to lose sight of the
speakers’ overall message and could only focus on the sports trivia. It’s
almost as the attendees reverted from sales managers back to ‘idol
worshippers’ or ‘groupies.’
One professional sports figure, who will remain nameless, was hired to
participate in a program. They are a true legend. The client spent a
fortune to have them appear. Well, they appeared, but had nothing
relevant to say. In addition, the sports legend was guarded and
accompanied by an entourage. Instead of taking questions, conversing with
the client and hanging around for photo ops at the end of the program,
this sports figure buried himself among his entourage and left in a hurry.
You can imagine the dismay of the client. And a 6’9″ tall individual is
hard to miss surrounded by men of average height and stature.
THE DOS FOR SELECTING KEYNOTE SPEAKERS
If possible, see the speaker first-hand at another engagement, prior to
hiring them for your meeting. Get feedback from colleagues and peers who
have used them for their meetings and events.
Ask yourself is the speaker the right fit for your audience demographics
and avoid letting your personal bias affect your decision making.
Perhaps, even conduct a random sampling of individuals you trust to gain
their feedback about the keynote speaker, prior to actually contracting
them for your event. If celebrity appeal works best for your audience,
perhaps that’s the direction to proceed with securing the speaker. If
content is more important, perhaps a lesser known personality will be
Authenticity is something that a planner should consider in selecting a
speaker — especially when the group is comprised of millenials. Just
because you have a celebrity with appeal doesn’t mean they are authentic
on stage and communicating a message to a group. Remember, actors are in
the profession of ‘acting’ and speaking the lines from writers. That may
not always translate into authenticity in a different forum.
Consider the size of your group. If your event is attracting an
international audience and you can fill a larger convention hall, a
celebrity with international appeal may be a better fit. If it’s a group
of 500 – 1,000 attendees, that lesser known talent with an exciting
message would probably work best.
If a regional event, sometimes a regional personality is the best person
to connect with your audience. Depending on the nature of the industry or
subject matter, some might think of a keynote speaker coming in as a
‘carpet bagger,’ who may live in their own bubble. There is great
regional talent who can be just as effective as a celebrity who resides on
Read the fine print in their contracts. Are all of the requirements in
the contract worth the cost for securing this keynote speaker? Are the
request reasonable and how much flexibility do you as the planner have in
modifying the terms.
Make sure the speaker can connect with your audience demographics. It’s
wise to review your group’s historical patterns and determine who in the
past were successful speakers and who ‘bombed.’ What made the keynote
speaker’s presentation dazzle your attendees? What was the audience
reaction? In addition, has your audience demographics and interest
changed over the past few years? You have to know your audience.
Establish key messages points for the speaker to address and inquire if
the presentation can be an interactive experience for your attendees.
Most attendees have a short attention span and getting to the point
quickly is something you will need to make sure your keynote speaker can
do. Long dissertations can bring about boredom early. And don’t think
this can happen if you select a celebrity.
Set clear and written expectations and responsibilities of your keynote
speaker, prior to hiring them for your meeting or event. Not only do they
need to meet your expectations, they should be in a position to exceed
Ask for references and check them — both for celebrity and less know
speakers. Shiny, glossy, sleek sales kits don’t necessarily mean the
keynote speaker is dynamic.
Be leery of booking comedians as keynote speakers, unless you can book a
celebrity like Ellen Degeneres. Whether celebrity or lesser known, comedy
is something very subjective and what is funny for one person may not be
funny to someone else. Audience taste is quite diverse. Every skit on
SNL is not funny to everyone watching the telecast.
Don’t be afraid to ask the speaker for a reduction in their speaking
engagement. Planners often avoid asking this of agencies with a celebrity
Don’t just rely on their ‘celebrity’ status to carry your meeting.
Don’t rely on a tape recording or CD of them speaking to an audience to
hire them. Naturally, the CD or tape recording will be of one of their
Don’t expect the speaker to do more than what was contracted, unless you
put the request in writing and both parties have agreed to the terms.
Those are just a few considerations.