Leo Von Bülow-Quirk says choosing a speaker is one of the most crucial parts of event planning, so it’s important to get it right.
First, think hard about the audience and the event.
A speaker’s success is determined primarily by their compatibility with the audience, so it’s important to bear them in mind throughout the selection process. Think carefully about who the audience is going to be, as this will help you understand which qualities to look for and what type of speaker the audience will relate to: How old are they? Where are they from? Do they work in a particular industry, or have a particular role at work?
Equally as important is what you want your audience to take away with them. If you’re hoping to educate the crowd about a specialist topic, then choosing an expert with credibility in their field ‑ such as a journalist or academic – is a good starting point. But, if your main aim is to entertain the audience, then a comedian might work better. Another important thing to consider is whether you need the speaker to act as one of the main draws to attract people to the event. If so, you may want to go with someone who has a high public profile as well, rather than someone who is an expert but not well-known.
It’s also crucial to think about where in the event programme the speaker’s session will take place. For example, if you’re looking for an opener or closer, someone with a lively performance style will work to energise the audience. However, if the talk is a mid-programme performance, then an interactive format such as a workshop or seminar might work better.
Utilise a bureau
Knowing how to find event speakers is a great skill to have – which is why speaker bureaus are so useful. A good speaker agency will provide recommendations that take your budget and other criteria into account. Not only will they advise on which speaker style and content is the best match, but they can also provide suggestions on formatting ie, how much of the talk should be a speech and should there be a Q&A.
Bureaus can help you get the most bang for your buck by advising on whether to ask speakers to participate in other event activities, such as panel discussions or special lunches/dinners, and whether or not certain speakers are happy to be recorded.
Remember, most speakers should agree to a quick pre-booking scoping call to allow you to get a feel for their tone and personality – indicating whether they’d be a good fit for your event.
The post-booking process is key to making sure the speaker’s performance goes smoothly on the day.
Once contracted, be sure to brief the speaker 2-3 weeks ahead of time – allowing them enough to prepare, but not so far ahead that they forget what you’ve told them. Brief them about the audience, including which messages you want them to take away and how you want them to feel after the session, so the speaker can tailor their performance accordingly.
Also, be sure to iron out any logistics, ensuring you have the right technical equipment and checking the speaker’s presentation is compatible with your event’s AV setup. Finally, make sure the speaker arrives at the venue with sufficient time to spare, allowing them time to set up and get a feel for the room before they start the talk.
Leo Von Bülow-Quirk is founder and Director at UK-based conference and keynote speaker bureau, VBQ Speakers. He has nine years’ experience in the speaking industry, connecting globally-renowned thought leaders with audiences all around the world. Formats have ranged from public lectures and industry conferences to C-level briefings for the world’s biggest corporations.