The Event Planner’s Guide To Being A Better Guest Speaker

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Forget paying for an advertising spot or schmoozing around at a trade show; guest speaking is among the best ways to promote your event management firm. As a guest speaker, you’ve an opportunity to engage with an entire room filled with prospective clients – provided, of course, you fully understand what the job involves.

As a result, there are too many guest speakers who are boring or irrelevant, even among event organizers. You want to avoid being one of those. You want to be exciting, interesting, and informative. You want people to leave your presentations passionate, interested, and engaged.

How can you ensure that you’re the kind of speaker everyone wants at their events – and that your own event planning business thrives because of it?

Let’s go over a few tips.

Give Great Presentations

Naturally, the best way to be a memorable guest speaker – and to get hired – is to give amazing presentations. But…what exactly is involved in that? How can you be amazing?

An old piece by Barbara Nixon of the Public Relations Matters blog offers up a laundry list of ways you can avoid being a bad guest speaker. That’s as good a starting point as any. We’ll get into more depth as we continue through the piece, but for now, let’s have a look at Nixon’s advice:

  • Learn as much as you can about the audience.
  • Find out how speaking engagements normally play out with your client.
  • Make your a/v needs clear as far in advance as possible.
  • Plan out your presentation so that you can extend or reduce it by fifteen minutes.
  • Allow for extra travel time to arrive at the meeting location.
  • Research the technology you’ll be using – and learn how to use it.
  • Have a contingency plan for when your tech fails you.
  • Don’t show the audience anything they don’t need to see – only show them the presentation, not your desktop.
  • Provide contact information on each slide or at the end of your presentation.
  • Create social bookmarks that allow your audience to access all the links in your presentation from one URL.
  • Upload your presentation to Slideshare or another similar site.
  • Be prepared to speak as soon as your slot begins, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Always keep your speaker’s toolkit in order, and make sure you have everything you need.

Build Yourself A Profile To Show Off

As an event organizer, you already understand the importance of having a great portfolio and making a good first impression. This is even more vital if you’re looking to get involved in guest speaking. It’s worth your time, for example, to invest in a professional videographer to record yourself speaking at an event or two, according to Ginger Public Speaking. This will let you strut your stuff to prospective clients, and show them that your presentations have teeth.

You should also put together a profile that you can use to display your experience – both in guest speaking and in your own career. This should include a brief biography, any media coverage you’ve had to date, information about the speeches you offer, recent speaking gigs, links to any relevant videos or sites, client testimonials, a headshot, web links, and finally, details about your professional life outside guest speaking.

Don’t get too wordy here – this is basically your resume as a speaker, meaning it should be, at maximum, only one or two pages.

Consider Giving Out Some Freebies

There are few things people like more than getting free stuff. As such, one of the best ways to get yourself hired as a speaker – or to inspire people to come to an event at which you’re speaking – is to offer them some free swag. This could be anything from a free book or pamphlet to a reduced rate on the next event you organize.

The important thing is that you offer something you know the audience will love. That way, you’ll not only inspire people to come, you’ll also make it more likely that they’ll leave satisfied. Do some research on the group that you will be speaking to so that you know they will be interested in what you have to offer. And as you well know, a testimonial from a satisfied client can go a very long way.

Tap Into Your Network

If you’ve spent any time in event management, you’ve probably got a pretty impressive network of contacts built up – including a few colleagues working in the same field as you. Why not put some feelers out and see if any of those contacts have work for you? You put in the time to build your network so you might as well use it to give yourself a leg up as a speaker, right?

Be Active On Social Media

You’re probably noticing a trend here at this point: a lot of the practices that make you likelier to be hired as a guest speaker are things you should already be doing as an event management professional.  That includes having a healthy, active presence on social media, whether a highly-trafficked Twitter feed or a popular Facebook page.  I’ll simply leave you with this advice – you need to use social media, no matter what your profession.

Use Professional Materials

In guest speaking, appearances are everything. That rule extends to the materials you use in your presentation. Your slides need to be readable and they need to be free of noise. They need to look professional.

But most importantly, they need to look good.

“There are no excuses for black and white slides with unreadable bullet points in 12pt font size,” writes Julius Solaris of The Event Manager Blog. “No excuses. A presentation is not a book and it should not be designed that way. Modern speakers recognize the importance of proper slide design in conveying the message of the talk. I would prefer someone with no slides over someone with poorly-designed presentations.”

Ask Questions Of The Audience

Questions are a natural part of conversation – and at the end of the day, that’s what the best keynote presentations are. They’re a conversation between the speaker and their audience. As I’ve said in the past, modern audiences – modern attendees – aren’t interested in simply kicking back and passively absorbing information.

They want to be involved. They want to be active. They want their presenters to address them; to question them and engage with them.

This shouldn’t be too difficult for you to do, really. It’s already part of your job. You just need to translate it to the stage.

Start Small

This piece from Entrepreneur offers some of the best advice I’ve ever heard as far as getting started in guest speaking goes. Don’t expect to be speaking at thousand-person events right off the start. Your initial presentations are probably going to be relatively tame affairs, attended by a few hundred people (if that).

That’s perfectly acceptable. You can work your way up to larger crowds once you’ve made a name for yourself. For now, focus on the events you’re able to gain access to as a speaker, then follow up with them in the same way you would an event management client.

Don’t Check The Equipment During Your Presentation

Check all your equipment beforehand if at all possible. You want to make sure it’s in working order before you’re onstage. It won’t do for you to be doing a mic test, booting up your computer, or fiddling with USB devices when you’re supposed to be talking to the audience.

Plus, most venues have people for that. It’s not your job to maintain the equipment. It’s your job to show up and wow the audience.

Always remember that.

Recall What Annoys You About Guest Speakers – And Avoid It

As an event organizer, you have unique insight into some of the most aggravating foibles guest speakers tend to fall prey to.  Before you head out to your first presentation, make a list of everything that your speakers have done to irritate you in the past, and then avoid doing anything on that list. That could include the following:

  • Making things all about you. You’re here for someone else’s event, after all. You need to make sure you’re presenting in such a way that you don’t overshadow that fact.
  • Aggressive advertising or marketing. Remember, you’re a speaker, not a salesperson.
  • Bad jokes and the overuse of bullet points.
  • Tardiness.
  • Leaving the room like it’s on fire once your presentation’s done.
  • Not promoting your event on social media.
  • Trying to exert too much control over the room – eg. “turn off your phones.”
  • Disrespecting the event’s schedule and running your presentations for way too long.

Above All, Be Meaningful

The most important thing about guest speaking is that your presentations have something of substance to them. Not only should they be great; not only should you research your audience and prepare everything in advance, you also need to give your audience a keynote that’s worth their time. Whether you offer unique insight, valuable information, or simply entertainment is up to you – but regardless of what form your presentations take, the audience needs to leave happy.

“Content is King,” says Solaris. “Your speaker is the king’s servant. They must obey and provide for their king. Events are becoming incredible content powerhouses thanks to the amplification power of social media. A good speaker is committed to provide blog posts, Tweets, Vines, Youtube Videos, Pics and whatever piece of content your event is engaged with.”

Closing Thoughts

Guest speaking can be a great marketing opportunity, and event management professionals are uniquely suited to the job. Provided you go in with an understanding of what’s involved in being a speaker, you’ll ace your way though. After all, event planners are natural storytellers – keynotes are just a new medium.