Choosing a Keynote Speaker: 6 Steps to Better Company Events

Do you need a keynote speaker for your middle market company's next event? How do you go about finding one who will work best for your budget and overall goals? Start with a clear understanding of your objectives and a realistic idea of what your resources will allow. You likely don't have the financial wherewithal of your larger rivals, so creativity can be a great equalizer here because enterprises aren't as flexible as you are.

Here are some steps your middle market company should take before you agree to engage any keynote speaker:

1. Know What You Want to Cover

If you're holding a sales conference, you'll probably want an inspirational or motivational speaker who can fire up your middle market company's sales force. If the event is centered on technology or product innovation, choose a speaker who's working at the cutting edge. Similarly, if your goal is to impress investors or external stakeholders, go after a marquee name. This is the kind of well-known speaker who draws a crowd, but who also might drain your entire speaker budget in one shot. If you're not exactly sure what kind of speakers you need, create an internal process to define your objectives and develop a short list of speakers who can help you reach them.

Getting input and seeking feedback can also energize your middle market company. Involve your workforce in picking speakers to get your people thinking more clearly about the outcomes they expect to achieve. Do you want the speaker to inspire or motivate, impart technical knowledge, teach your employees something (e.g., how to give feedback or how to improve client relationships), or provide best practices for your people to adopt? Send out a companywide survey to see what your employees think they need most. Also, make sure to define the ROI your company expects and the desired key takeaways from the presentation, and then communicate those needs clearly to the speaker you choose.

2. Decide on a Structure

Again, this will depend on your goals and desired takeaways. A series of speaking events, such as "Innovation Every Wednesday," may do the trick, allowing your middle market company to focus on a different topic every week. A series also lets you organize a major theme into subtopics. For example, you might create an four-week speaker schedule that tackles innovation. The first speaker might focus on generating ideas, while later speakers could tackle development issues or marketing new products.

Alternatively, you might concentrate your resources and have fewer events, but bring in bigger-name speakers who will have more impact. There's no single one-size-fits-all answer here, but you'll want to carefully consider your company's needs and resources and go with what works best for you.

3. Vet Your List

Just because a person has sold 5 million books or is an influential online personality doesn't mean they are an effective speaker, nor does it mean the talk will be customized to align with your middle market company's particular needs. You'll want to make sure the guests you choose have the relevant know-how and can communicate effectively with your employees. Have a process to rate each speaker's expertise, ability to engage audiences and willingness to address your goals, perhaps by asking for references, watching videos of previous speeches and conducting an interview regarding needs. If you have a speaker committee, divide the work of rating guests among individual members and implement a standard way to measure the quality you expect.

4. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Like any business investment, you need to know what you're getting and ensure that you're not overpaying. Write down your requirements and send them to the prospective speaker, and then discuss with the person or the person's agent how expectations should be met. Do you want audience interaction? Do you want the speaker to focus the talk on your middle market company or your industry? Under no circumstances should you give the guest a blank slate or check. Research the speaker's rates, ask other companies what they paid and look for alternative options if the person isn't sufficiently flexible. You're footing the bill, so don't rest until you get what you want.

5. Promote Your Event

Have a plan to market the talk. Getting the most bang for your buck involves engaging and motivating your employees to listen. If the speaker gives a perfectly customized and inspiring talk to a half-empty auditorium, have you really achieved the impact you expected? Make sure your people know about, and take full advantage of, the opportunity you've paid for. The speaker may already have the marketing materials you'll need.

6. Collect (and Use) Feedback

You need to know what your people liked and didn't like. If they didn't get the message you wanted, maybe the speaker's approach was ill-designed. If they didn't like the speaker, don't invite the person back. If they loved him or her, consider hosting another event with the person. Feedback is important from start to finish, so collect and use it wisely.

Have you ever attended a company-sponsored speech? What were the speaker's objectives, and what tactics did the person employ to address them? Tell us by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+ and visit his website.


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