Eight Steps to Finding a Killer Keynote Speaker

By Ronnie Wendt

A keynote speaker commands a lot of attention, and the wrong one can set a negative tone for an entire event. In the article, “Four tips for choosing the right speaker for your event,” Caroline Eimerman writes, “Even a well-staged business event can fail if the featured speakers do not deliver the goods.”

Who you hire to speak at your meeting or event is critical, but also critical is staying within the confines of your budget. Fortunately, Arizona is packed with dynamic and engaging speakers with messages to fit your unique needs. Best of all, many of these speakers charge very little, if anything, for their talks.

Did you know there are speakers in Arizona available to talk about the following?

  • Leading with your heart to influence others positively and with grace.
  • Interviewing with confidence and how to answer awkward/ uncomfortable/tricky interview questions with confidence.
  • Green business practices and marketing.
  •  Skills you can use to reach personal and professional success. • Empowering women professionally and personally.
  • Social and emotional intelligence.

Speakers come from colleges and universities, local associations and more. You just need to know where to look and how to go about scheduling them for your event.

But, booking the speaker is the easy part. There are other considerations and steps to take before you get to the point where you can book a presenter for your event.

  1. Carefully consider the event itself. What is the purpose of your event? Answering this question will help you set a theme for the event, which in turn will help you select a speaker who best fits the theme.
  2. Know your audience. What are their informational needs? What value might they be seeking from a speaker? Most speakers require information about your audience and the event theme to tailor their talks to your unique needs.
    Eimerman reports knowing the demographics of your attendees is essential to booking a speaker that is the right fit. “Remember, an edgy young maverick may not necessarily appeal to a group of conservative upper-management types, and vice versa,” she writes.
  3. Set your budget. Contrary to popular belief, speakers don’t always jump at the opportunity to speak just for the exposure. Seasoned speakers often won’t think twice about saying no. Develop a budget that covers lodging and meals for the speaker, and a stipend for their services should they require one.
  4. Determine what kind of speaker you are looking for. Are you looking for a subject matter expert, inspirational speaker or a comedian? Do you want your speaker to inform the audience, inspire them or make them laugh? Maybe you want all the above. This is critical to know as you research potential speakers.
  5. Check the speaker’s availability. Knowing that a speaker is available on the date you
    need them is only part of the consideration. Travel time also must be factored in. If it takes a full day to drive to your event, speaking there will take them more than one day. If they’re not free the day prior, they likely will be unable to speak at your event.
  6. Book far in advance. Though many speakers’ bureaus promise to line up a speaker for you within weeks, booking four to six months prior to you assures you of getting your first choice.
  7. Know where to find a speaker. Ready to find one? A wealth of possibilities exists in Arizona. Just about every Arizona college or university offers a speakers’ bureau. In most cases, the speakers’ bureau covers the cost of travel, while host groups may incur the following expenses: talk staffing or preparation costs, event space fees, audiovisual equipment costs, talk marketing and promotion.
    The speakers in these bureaus offer talks that run a full gamut of topics. Contact the University of Arizona speakers bureau (see all websites below) to receive a list of speakers and the topics they cover. Reach out to Arizona State’s School of Sustainability
    for speakers on environmental topics, or reach out to the Arizona Toastmasters, which maintains an entire directory of possible speakers for an event. Requesting a speaker is simple. Most organizations simply ask you to email or call and their staff will guide you through the process.
  8. Fully vet your short list of speakers. Your work doesn’t
    stop once you find two or three possible speakers for your event—that’s when the fun really begins. It’s important to contact your candidates and speak with them on the phone before signing a contract. In addition, review their demo videos. However, keep in mind, just as a trailer to a movie might make a movie look fantastic when it’s not, speaker videos do the same. A short, well-produced video is designed to cast a speaker in a positive light. They are effective tools to help you develop a short list of possible speakers, but a follow-up phone call will help you know for certain if a speaker is the right fit.
    Request several letters of recommendations from each speaker on your short list and call a media planner or two who have worked with your potential speaker in the past.

Doing all these things may create a handful of extra work for your speaker selection committee. But in the end, you’ll find yourself with a keynote speaker who meets the needs of your audience and sets the tone for a successful event to follow.

Speaker Bureaus

Ronnie Wendt is a freelance writer based in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She is editor of Wisconsin Meetings, a sister publication to Arizona Meetings & Events.