Determining the Correct Number of Keynotes for Your Event

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

I’ve already spoken at length about what’s involved in hiring and retaining a guest speaker. Today, I’d like to focus on something a little different: events with multiple keynotes (and speakers). More specifically: how can you tell how many speakers your event should hire? Is there such a thing as too many presentations (or too few)?

When determining the number of presentations you should ideally run (and the number of speakers you should generally hire) there’s actually a pretty significant list of details you need to take into account, and questions you need to ask. Failure to consider any one of these factors could easily see you stumbling headlong into a scheduling nightmare.

How Long Is Your Event?

Firstly (and I’d argue most importantly) is how much time you have. Are you running a conference that takes place over the course of several days, or a one-night soiree? Are you managing a weeklong trade-show, or a daylong networking event? The amount of time you’re able to devote to presentations is directly tied to the amount of time you’ve got for your entire event. Single-day events should probably just stick to a few presentations, where you have a bit more freedom with longer conferences.

How Much Space Do You Have?

Next up, how many different presentation rooms do you have? If, for example, you’re renting out Calgary’s BMO Centre, you’re going to have access to significantly more conference halls and presentation rooms than if you were simply renting out the Scotiabank Saddledome. As a general rule, I’d say you should have at least one speaker per room – possibly more. Again, it depends on length.

How Many People Are Attending?

Of course you need to consider how many guests you’re going to have. At an event with twenty-five thousand attendees, it’s likely many attendees won’t be able to attend a particular keynote. Check your attendance rates to help determine whether you are overlapping or staggering speakers. Your aim is to accommodate attendees’ various interests and/or scheduling conflicts. Your logistical plan will help you decide whether you double book the same speaker or hire two different speakers.

Hint: ask your individual presenters to participate in a group panel discussion – creating yet another interesting event activity.

How Much Information Do The Speakers Need To Cover?

Another thing to take into account is how much information each one of your guest speakers needs to cover. A few issues to look at: how many topics must be covered and by how many individual speakers. Then look at the time slots allotted. Good speakers can often adjust their presentations based on how much time they’ve been allotted, but you have to hammer out what they are expected to cover in the time frame you have given. More information will naturally take longer to convey.

Give your speakers the parameters and ask their feedback in advance – this way you can make logistical and hiring adjustments as need.  

How Dense Or Complex Is The Information Being Covered?

If you’re planning an event where the speakers are likely to be covering topics which provoke a great deal of thought, debate, or consideration, you’re not going to want to schedule too many keynotes. You may be better off having one killer speaker followed by breakout groups or an interactive Q&A session. Your guests might need a bit of time to absorb the information they’ve been given; over-schedule your speakers and you could very well see people checkout early due to fatigue.

What’s Your Budget Look Like?

Last but certainly not least, there’s the question of how much money you have available to bring in speakers. Offer an event with value and an engaging audience and the right speakers will want to be there. Yet, it’s expected that you’ll provide for your presenters, offering them room, board, and travel expenses. Keep that in mind when scheduling your event, and only bring on as many speakers as you can actually afford.

Parting thought: be very cautious of being “that” event planner offering speakers ‘exposure’ or ‘publicity’ in exchange for participating in your event.