In this blog series we’ll be going over the process for picking guest speakers, how to get them to want to speak at your event, and some best practices for working with them.

Never underestimate the power of having skilled guest speakers, or the damage that can be caused by a poor ones.

Take, for example, the running joke that Steve Ballmer has become in the tech industry. While you can’t deny that the former Microsoft CEO had a great deal of personality, his passion on-stage often seemed to border on uncomfortable fanaticism. Rather than breeding enthusiasm for his brand, he more often than not left attendees feeling confused, bemused, and perhaps just a little bit dismayed.

While there can be no doubt that Ballmer knew what he was talking about (one doesn’t become the CEO of one of the largest, most powerful organizations in the world by being ignorant, after all), he wasn’t particularly skilled at communicating it. Besides, he must have done something right to net a $1 billion severance package.

Though Ballmer presumably knew what he was doing, he probably would have been better off if he’d hired someone else to do the talking. A good collection of keynote speakers is—no pun intended—the key to a successful event. It’s imperative that you make the right choices when selecting the people who are going to represent you.

Picking guest speakers

Step one

The first step in this process involves both looking inward, and at your existing plans.

  • What’s the daily event schedule like?
  • Where will the event be located?
  • What’s your objective—what are you hoping to achieve?
  • What audience are you working with, and what are their interests?
  • Lastly, what do you expect/desire of your guest speakers? What does getting them for your event accomplish for you?
  • Most importantly, what’s in it for them, and how much are you willing to spend in order to accommodate them?

Never underestimate the power of a skilled guest speaker—or the damage a poor one can cause.

Step two

Once you’ve answer all of those questions, it’s time for the actual selection. There are a few avenues through which you can do this, and we’re going to look at each one in turn. The first—and simplest—of these options option is to go through your event planner. Chances are high that if they’ve worked in your industry before, they’ll have a network of professional speakers and experts that they can connect you with—saving you the trouble of having to seek them out yourself.

Another possibility is to go through an organization such as the Goodman Speaker’s Bureau, which hosts a comprehensive list of different keynote speakers and experts across several different industries.

Associations such as the GSB will assist you in selecting a speaker whose style, personality, delivery method, skill-set, and price range are tailored directly to your needs. What’s more, if you’ve a speaker lined up that you’re entirely sold on; many of these same establishments will evaluate them for you based on how well they fit with what you’re looking for.

Last, but certainly not least, you can take to the ‘net—more specifically, to blogs and social networks.

Look around at some of the top-rated publications related to your industry, and see if you can get in touch with any of the writers there. Check out sites like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter to track down some of the best-known experts. Look at the people who frequently (and accurately) answer questions and the people with the most karma/followers within communities relevant to your brand. Once you’ve tracked down a few of them, approach them with your offer.

Getting guest speakers to want to speak at your event

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. You want to start by focusing on what you can do for them. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself why they’d want to attend your event as a speaker. Start with information regarding how your brand can help them—then follow with the details about your event. With any luck, they’ll be interested in attending, and you’ll have netted yourself a keynote.

Never underestimate the power of a good guest speaker. By selecting the right people for your keynotes, you can transform a mediocre event into an incredible one.

In part two, I’ll be taking a look at what’s involved in maintaining a good working relationship with your guest speakers (and anyone else involved in your event).

Ready for more? Read part two, here.