Last year, I traveled to more than 25 events. I've gone to conferences for entrepreneurs, conferences about leadership, conferences about marketing, and more. Everywhere I go, I see speakers who nail their talks. They capture and maintain their audiences' interest, they share great lessons, they're gifted storytellers. They make conferences memorable.
That's tough to do, and not every speaker is able to pull that off. Just like most people who've been to their share of conferences, I've seen some big names take the stage and deliver talks that fall flat.
Conference organizers often spend a lot of money on high-profile speakers thinking it will draw crowds to match. In reality, a good event that offers value and that's marketed well is what brings the crowds. To put on an event your audience will love, ask yourself these six questions as you're booking speakers:
1. Are they able to mold to your audience?
When I started out as a speaker, I only used to speak to marketing audiences. But as I became more experienced, I realized referrals were coming from other places, and I started getting booked as a keynote sales speaker. Rather than keeping all the same content from my go-to marketing keynotes, I had to rethink how my messaging would resonate with this new audience. When you book speakers, make sure they're able to deliver targeted, unique content for your attendees.
2. Are they easy to work with?
The first thing to note about potential speakers is how they interact with you and your team during the process of getting to know each other. How are their communication skills? Do they respond quickly and thoroughly? Are they helpful? Do they ask what you need and keep your priorities on their radar, too? These aren't difficult things to uncover, so don't allow yourself to get starstruck and make a decision without getting a read on these things first.
3. Do they have content that can engage audiences before and after the event?
Find out if your potential speakers have (or can produce) engaging content that you can share to warm up your audience before the event. Do they have consistent content they've published that you can pull from, or have they written a book you can have for sale at your event? Speakers can provide value to your event audience before and after they take the stage, and content marketing is one of the best ways to do that.
4. Are they available to interact with attendees outside the traditional speaker stage?
Sometimes, schedules just don't work, and you probably don't want to rest your entire decision on whether someone's available for extra activities -- but it never hurts to ask. Consider asking whether speakers can attend a dinner with valuable partners or clients of yours or whether they mind sticking around for a group happy hour. The look on attendees' faces when they see a speaker they admire and respect in a more normal environment is priceless. Making the ask can give your audience that opportunity.
5. Does their speech content have actual takeaways?
Some speakers are great performers. Almost like actors or musicians on stage, they're able to deliver a performance that captivates audiences. But when the content isn't there, it doesn't really matter how fun it was to watch. These types of speeches can be enjoyable in the moment, but when your attendees leave, they should leave with something actionable and helpful.
6. Do they understand your goals and how they're going to help you accomplish them?
A lot of speeches are based more on what the speaker thinks is most valuable than what the organizer says is most valuable. Event organizers know their audience better than anybody, so if potential speakers aren't willing to hear you out and help you meet your goals, then there's a good chance they aren't going to put in the work to deliver a presentation that resonates with your audience.
It's easy to know where to start off when looking for a speaker. You can search on Google for keynote speakers in your niche, you can reach out to speakers that impressed you at past events, or you can ask friends about engaging speakers they've seen. However you go about it, be sure to keep these questions in mind as you decide on a good fit for your event.