POSTED OCTOBER 1 2004
By Jeremy Lee
Sometimes when event organisers are asked to book a guest speaker, their first reaction is one of dread. It will take a significant slice of the budget, and besides, where on earth do you find the right speaker? If the request is for an entertainer, hasn’t everyone heard horror stories about celebrities going down the pan at corporate bashes?
The reality is that money can be wasted and disasters can happen, but only if you ignore the basic principles.
Consider what a well chosen business speaker can bring to your event. He (or she) will have an impartial view of how your business or industry fits in to the wider world, and he can pose awkward but very necessary questions. Are you meeting the pace of change? Are all your people onboard? Are you ready to meet the challenge of global competition?
Likewise, a powerful motivational speaker might have successfully led a team in the face of major obstacles. In hearing how he reach his goals, delegates can draw real inspiration and make useful parallels with the hurdles they meet in their own lives.
Above all, a seasoned external speaker will be able to communicate on the platform – unlike some of the senior team. They may be outstanding in their jobs and a real driving force in the organisation, but embarrassingly inarticulate when faced with row upon row of expectant delegates.
So how do you go about sourcing speakers who will add value and make a lasting impact? How do you sort the wheat from the chaff – and how much should you be paying for their services?
The first thing to do, as with most specialist requirements, is to find a reliable supplier: a speaker bureau or agency who understand your brief. Otherwise you risk ending up with a minor-league entrepreneur from a by gone era dishing up hackneyed management theories, or an end-of-the-pier after dinner speaker doing impressions of Michael Crawford doing Frank Spencer.
Brief the agency yourself; never delegate initial contact to someone who doesn’t have the full picture or who isn’t sufficiently familiar with the subject matter.
Once you have decided you definitely want to book a speaker, there are only four considerations to take into account: audience, objectives, venue and budget. The thing to ban from this list is personal taste – either your’s or anybody else’s.
Start by looking at the audience. Who are they? What level are they within the organisation or industry? What is the male/female ratio? Which parts of the country, or the world, do they come from? These are common sense questions, but they’re easy to overlook especially if someone, somewhere has a different agenda.
What about the objectives? Are you trying to encourage your people to sell more, embrace change and/or pull together more efficiently as a team? Do you want to peer into the future and open their eyes to new markets? Are you looking to get business partners excited in a new product?
Is the object of the exercise to impress existing clients, or to win new business? Do you want to recognise top achievers? Or do you simply want to reward hard work and provide an opportunity for everyone to let their hair down and have a good laugh – whilst ensuring that nobody is offended? If you never lose sight of the objectives, and communicate them clearly to the agency, you will both minimise the risks and maximise the value of a guest speaker.
Venue considerations are straightforward when it comes to choice of speaker, but they’re frequently forgotten. If you are planning to put 1000 delegates into an aircraft hangar of a space, and the keynote speaker is scheduled to appear in the graveyard slot after the lunch break, you must make sure he has the energy and presence to hold the attention of the back row.
Or perhaps you have been asked to arrange a client dinner for thirty in a private room in a smart restaurant. If somebody says let’s have a comedian, the sensible response is ‘no’. It won’t work. This audience is much more likely to smile than laugh out loud – they need a raconteur, not a gag merchant.
The final consideration is the most straightforward of all: money. Do not book the biggest name or the most expensive speaker you can afford. Ask yourself, do we really need a famous face?
If you want to flatter the audience and provide a so-called ‘wow factor’, or if the name will help ‘put bums on seats’, you probably do need the celebrity element; but if there’s a captive audience there’s no compelling reason to pay the premium any famous name commands.
The speaker circuit is teeming with lesser known but extremely talented and clever individuals who can provide a real highlight at your event. Just book the best person for the job.