5 Key Requirements for Speakers

How to help your speakers engage with your audience on and off the stage — and before, during, and after your event.

It wasn’t too long ago that becoming a professional speaker was the third step a thought leader took in his or her career. Many built their expertise in a particular industry or role, shifted to consulting, and then wrote a book to launch their speaking career. In the digital age, thought leaders establish a following by cultivating an online presence, thereby skipping a step on the path to becoming a qualified speaker. This is good news for planners, who now have more options than ever for speakers.

But having a more level playing field doesn’t mean lowering your standards. How your audience responds to a keynote speaker has a direct connection to your conference’s brand image and credibility, so choose wisely. From a conference-design perspective, it’s a smart practice to bookend your event by opening with a strong thought-provoking speaker and closing with an inspirational one. This sets the right tone to kick off your event and then sends participants home on an emotional high.

Five boxes you should check before selecting a keynote speaker:

1. RelevantContent must align with a major problem or opportunity facing your profession.

2. Current Speakers’ expertise must be fresh, and not be based on what they did 10-plus years ago.

3. CustomizedCanned presentations and stories don’t move audiences. Ask potential speakers how much time they will spend researching your audience and industry in order to deliver a relevant presentation.

4. PolishedA speaker’s delivery skills and stage presence matter a lot. Look for authenticity plus charisma.

5. EngagingIf speakers don’t have a plan for chunking content and making their presentation interactive, don’t hire them.

As you evaluate speakers on these criteria, be sure to check references and videos from the past year. Don’t just view the highlight reel — ask for access to a full-length, recent presentation.

Once you feel confident about potential speakers, ask them how they might add value to their stage time with pre-event content marketing — by contributing a customized promotional video or article for the organization’s newsletter, blog, podcast, magazine, or social-media channels; and by participating in an interview or webinar. Once on site, ask if they will allow their presentation to be captured on video and streamed; and if they will participate in sponsorship-recognition activities, book signings, social-media channels, and VIP experiences. And finally, once the meeting has concluded, ask if they are willing to engage in any post-event content marketing, such as a scheduled replay or follow-up articles, webinars, and social media.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.