Keys to Choosing the Right Keynote Speaker
A keynote speaker is an important part of the success, engagement and take away of many team meetings and conferences. With more and more teams working remotely, these in-person meetings are more important than ever, and how you spend this time is critical.
These special events should be used to inspire your team, to show them they are valued and to provide them with skills and tools to work effectively together. Training and team building are important areas to focus on to improve skills, culture, communication, trust and collaboration. A keynote speaker can add to the success of all these initiatives.
Table of Contents
- What is a Keynote Speaker?
- Planning Your Event
- When do you start?
- What is your event theme and objectives?
- Where will you host the event?
- What will the content be for your event?
- Selecting a Keynote Speaker
- What kind of speaker are you looking for?
- How much will it cost?
- How do I find one?
- How do I select the right one?
- Does the speaker need a book?
- Should the speaker customize the presentation to your event?
- How much time should you budget for a speaker?
- How important is audio/visual and room set up?
- Speaker Dress Code
- What kind of add-ons can I ask my speaker for?
What is a Keynote Speaker?
A keynote speaker is a person that will present to your audience for the purposes of entertainment, education and inspiration. S/he can be an industry expert, a person who has achieved great success in a specific area, a person who has a life experience to share, or a great storyteller. All are valuable, the key is for you to select the right person for your event.
Planning Your Event
When do you start?
The first step is to start planning well in advance. We used to say a year in advance is best, but these timelines have reduced in today’s work environment. You may not be starting to plan a year out but 4-6 months is a good place to start.
What is your event theme and objectives?
Before you make any more plans you first need to know why you are meeting. Who will attend and what do you want them to get from the meeting? Is there a specific theme that ties into current company goals, challenges, transitions, experiences? An example of a theme for a sales conference may be “Standing on the Summit Together”.
You then need to determine the purpose for the event. Is it to educate, to inform, to train, to team build, to inspire, to celebrate, or to reward people? Once you decide that, you can narrow down your specific objectives for the event and what you want people walking away with.
Where will you host the event?
Selecting the appropriate venue to host this event is a very important step as the venue environment will influence the participant experience to a great extent. You need to consider what kind of experience you want your participants to have. Is the event designed to inform, train, celebrate, reward, team build, or educate?
Depending on your objectives, different venues will provide the appropriate atmosphere to help you achieve your goals. Create a short list of venues and set up a site tour with the sales and conference team at the property. Make sure you gather information about accommodation, dining, recreation, entertainment, meeting rooms, AV, team building options, accessibility, and more.
Ask for a sample tasting of the food as we all know food quality can help make an event memorable and more enjoyable.
What will the content be for your event?
Now you need to start to design the content, events, meetings, sessions, workshops and discussions that will achieve your objectives. In many cases these conferences are the only time in a year you gather your entire team. Don’t squander this time downloading copious amounts of data on them. That can be done by phone, video meeting and smaller local and regional meetings.
This time needs to be special and memorable and build engagement and commitment. As you design your various sessions also build in time for socializing, team building, dining, and entertainment. What do you want your participants to learn and talk about? What do you want them to take back to their day-to-day work?
The content should act to transform your participants in some way, to enhance personal and team performance and increase engagement and commitment.
Selecting a Keynote Speaker
You have finally arrived at the point where you can start to look for a keynote speaker. This speaker should be someone that can add to your event and help to make it a memorable experience. The quality of a speaker will also demonstrate that you value your team members and want to provide them with an experience that will be of value to them personally and professionally.
What kind of speaker are you looking for?
You need to know what you are expecting of your speaker so you can select the appropriate person. Are you looking for an industry expert to educate and share best practices, an entertainer to dazzle, a comedian to provide fun and levity, a storyteller to share life experiences, or are you looking for an educator to teach?
Regardless of what you are looking for seek out a professional. The office branch manager or local accountant may be smart and successful but are they an experienced keynote speaker who is able to engage an audience?
Professional keynote speakers have spent years honing their craft and are very talented in imparting information in a way that is memorable and effective. The time of day and place in your schedule will also influence your speaker choice. Are you looking for a conference opening speaker to excite your participants and to get them thinking in a certain way?
Are you looking for someone to close your conference with a bang? Will they be scheduled first thing in the morning (energy and direction), after lunch (a tough time slot and you need the right person for this), closing the meeting day (someone to leave your people thinking), or after dinner (not too heavy on content and thinking)?
How much does a keynote speaker cost?
In so many cases you get what you pay for, to a point. If your keynote speaker is free or below $5,000 they are likely not a professional keynote speaker. They may be successful individuals, but that is different from being a professional speaker. We would generally avoid going in this direction. You could also elect to hire the celebrity for $50,000-$75,000+ speaker.
If you are looking to wow and impress your audience with a big name this may be the right choice, but so often the ROI from this big-ticket speaker is limited to the wow factor. In many cases you will find a great keynote speaker in the $7,500-$15,000 range. You will also need to take into consideration speaker travel, meal, and accommodation expenses.
How do I find a keynote speaker?
There are many ways you can go about finding a great keynote speaker. Think about past conferences you have been at and which speakers were memorable. Ask colleagues and industry experts for recommendations. You can contact a speaking agency, or you can do an internet search.
A direct reference from someone who has experienced the speaker is great and a speaking agency can help you find people you may have not found yourself.
How do I select the right speaker?
Whatever your source for speakers, you should create a short list of 2-3 speakers you think best meet your needs. If they are a professional speaker, they will have a website with sample video, presentation descriptions, personal experience and biography, testimonials and more. If they do not have a website, move on.
Read through their entire website to get a feel for who they are, where they come from and what they do. Watch their video and read the testimonials. Now set up a call with each of your potential speakers – a video call is best if possible.
At first, spend time getting to know the speaker, their style and personality. Ask about their background and how they got to be where they are. Then, tell them about your event, the theme, the audience, and your objectives and ask them how they can fit into this and what value they can provide.
If you have a few speakers who all have similar qualifications, you need to consider which person you connect with and who you feel will connect with your audience. You will obviously need to check to make sure your date works for the speaker and determine whether their fee fits within your budget.
Does the speaker need a book?
A book is similar to a website, but not quite. Most professional speakers have written a book, but just writing a book does not make them a professional speaker. A great speaker will usually have a book, but it is not a deal breaker if they don’t. If they do have a book this can be a great addition to your event to provide to each participant or to use as a give-away, prize or reward at the event. If you do not have a budget to purchase books for your participants, consider providing the speaker with a table at which they can chat with your participants and sell their books to interested parties post-presentation.
Should the speaker customize the presentation to your event?
If a speaker is not willing to customize their presentation for your event, I would move on. Also be aware of speakers that say they will customize, but then just present a canned presentation. Ask them for examples of how they have customized their presentations for previous events.
Now you need to spend time with the speaker to make sure they understand your company, your industry, your audience, your event theme, your goals and objectives for the event and what you expect from the speaker. Give them examples of current goals, challenges and successes.
Share with the speaker industry and company buzz words, key terms and phrases and a few acronyms. When the speaker adds these into their presentation, they go a long way to adding credibility to the audience.
How much time should you budget for a speaker?
Generally, a keynote speaker needs between 45-90 minutes for a valuable presentation. If it is less than 45 minutes, it is difficult for the speaker to provide the detail and depth needed to build their story. After 90 minutes many audience members start to lose focus.
Ask your speaker how much time they need to do the best job based on your objectives and then do not cut that in half. Give them as close to their ideal time as possible. Remember, you are investing a lot in your speaker and do not shortchange them in giving them the opportunity to do their best job possible by giving them an insufficient amount of time to speak.
Also, don’t double their time as they may not have the ability or content to engage the audience for that long and their value will be lost as people disengage.
How important is audio/visual and room set up?
Audio/visual (A/V) and room set up are critically important to initiating and maintaining audience engagement. How big the room is and how large the audience will determine how many screens you need and how big they need to be. Are visuals a large part of your speaker’s presentation?
Similarly, these factors will also determine if your speaker needs a microphone. Unless it is a very small room and a very small audience (less than 30) your speaker should have a microphone even if they say they have a strong voice. Ask the speaker if they will present from their own computer and if it is a PC or a Mac as you may need different hook up cables.
Do they have sound and/or video in their presentation that needs to be connected to the system? You will need to schedule a time for the speaker do hook up their computer and do a test of audio and visual. If the speaker is a professional this should not take more than a few minutes but build in at least 15 minutes to trouble shoot if anything unexpected comes up.
In most cases the speaker will want to present from their own laptop as when a presentation is transferred to a different system this can negatively impact transitions, font, animation and more. The last thing a speaker needs is for their presentation slides to not work as expected. It does not look professional for anyone.
Speaker Dress Code
Have a quick conversation about the dress code you require from the speaker. You do not want the speaker to be over dressed or under dressed, but if you want to err on the side of caution overdressed is always better. Is this a formal event with business attire, business casual or casual?
You may want to define for the speaker what each of these mean for your company as they can be very different from one company to the next. You want the speaker to feel comfortable and to feel they fit in and you want the audience to focus on their presentation not on how they are dressed.
What kind of add-ons can I ask my speaker for?
There are many add-ons that a speaker may or may not be willing to do. Will they do a Q&A after their presentation. This is usually a pretty easy one that no good speaker will turn down. It also gives your audience a bit of time to interact and connect with the speaker.
Lots of questions is usually a good indicator of the audience engagement with the presentation and speaker. You can also ask the speaker to hang around for a bit after the presentation to informally chat with your attendees. This is a great way to add a personal touch to the event.
A speaker may also be able to join you for a reception or meal before the event, but not all speakers like to do this as they like to use this time to prepare for the event and they do not yet know the audience so do not always fit in quite yet. Meals, drinks and reception after the event can work well provided the speaker travel schedule allows them to stay.
We realize there is a lot of preparation that goes into planning an event, but we hope this has provided you with some key insights into the keynote speaker world and will help you select the best speaker for your next event. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions regarding selecting the ideal speaker for your event!