Don’t Let a Bad Speaker Ruin Your Event

Post authored by Todd Belebczuk, Marketing Specialist at Experient
Coauthored by Neal Shiller, Vice President of the International Speakers Bureau

A few years ago, I had the unfortunate displeasure of attending a college commencement ceremony that had a terrible keynote speaker. The speaker, owner of a local car dealership, had no prior speaking experience and seemed to be an odd choice for the event. In an auditorium full of recent college graduates and their families, she stumbled through her uninspiring speech, reading it word for word from a collection of wrinkled papers. Full of awkward pauses, stutters and mispronunciations, her monotone delivery and uncaptivating message (that was strategically peppered with shameless plugs for her car dealership) quickly lost the attention of the audience. A few minutes through the ordeal, I looked around the auditorium and noticed that a majority of those in attendance seemed disengaged: yawning, reading their programs, texting on their cell phones or even whispering to each other. This was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and these people clearly deserved better.

While every aspect of the ceremony, from the opening procession to the after party, was well thought-out and executed flawlessly, the keynote speaker ruined the overall experience. If you’re planning an event for your organization, don’t let this happen to you. As a meeting planner, your performance is not only gauged on budgets and ROI, you are expected to deliver an exceptional experience for your audience at every event, and a speaker can either make it or break it for your attendees.

To make sure you don’t get stuck with a bad speaker, Neal Shiller, Vice President of the International Speakers Bureau, shares five key questions to ask yourself when conducting a talent search:

  1. What are the objectives of the speech? Does your audience need to be motivated or inspired? Do you need an expert or guru who can inform your audience and help them gain specific knowledge? Should your audience be persuaded or convinced to take a particular action? Do you just want your audience to be entertained by someone who is famous, interesting, or humorous? Will there be audience participation or will it simply be lecture style? Make sure that the speaker you choose will firmly match up with your objectives.
  2. Who is your audience? This question simply can’t be overlooked. Your speaker MUST be appropriate for the people attending your event, so it is important to conduct thorough demographic research of your audience. Do your best to determine the typical characteristics and requirements of your average attendee and use this information to help you choose a speaker that will appeal to a majority of your audience without coming across as boring, unqualified, improper, or worse yet, offensive.
  3. Is the speaker engaging? No matter who makes up your audience and how well the speaker aligns with your objectives, if they are unable to capture and hold the attention of your audience, their speech is doomed. The speaker you choose should be a compelling storyteller who is able to get the point across in an entertaining fashion. One of the best ways to find out if someone has the dynamic you’re seeking for your event is to watch a video of them from a previous speaking engagement.
  4. Did you research the speaker? Make sure that your speaker is qualified to cover your material. Do they have experience giving speeches before an audience of comparable size for organizations and events similar to yours? Is the speaker a member of any professional associations in your field? Have they authored a paper or book on topics relevant to your audience? Have they won any awards? Does this speaker have client testimonials from other engagements? Search for them online, look at their website, check out their social media profiles, and if possible, talk to someone who has attended one of their speeches to get their opinion of the speaker.
  5. Did you cover all of the details? So you think you’ve found someone that fits your criteria, now it’s time to examine the details. Is the speaker available for the date of your event? Are they in your price range? Do they require any special arrangements? Will they work with you to create a customized speech? Are you permitted to record them? What is the cancellation policy? Don’t miss out on the right speaker simply because you didn’t do your homework.

After you’ve answered all of the questions above and found a few candidates, you should contact them to set up interviews. Just as an HR manager interviews applicants for a job opening, you need to perform due diligence and make sure that the speaker you select is right for your event.

Bonus Tip: Once you’ve booked a speaker and finalized the arrangements, don’t forget to conduct a pre-event call with them a few weeks before the event. This is a critical opportunity to make sure that all the content requirements for your event will be met, as well as addressing any special A/V requirements or other key issues.

Remember, your speaker is one of the most important parts of your event and can really make a difference in the overall experience for attendees. Whatever you do, don’t let a bad speaker ruin your event.

Still need help? Check out EngageTalent from Experient. With EngageTalent, our team of experienced content consultants will provide you with extraordinary talent suggestions and guidance through the talent selection, booking and contract signing processes, helping you to find the right speaker for your event quickly and easily.

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