Create an Organizational Barometer for Selecting Your Next Keynote Speaker

Posted by Sheldon Senek

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pick a keynote speaker like you would a candy bar out of a vending machine – or buying a song on iTunes? We are in an automated age, but those of you who book speakers for your conferences know you can’t switch to autopilot, as there’s too much at stake.

Just having a goal to find a great speaker is not enough for meetings these days. Your eye has to be set on value points that you can talk about in your speaker selection meeting to help select the right speaker.

Whether you’re in a group-committee setting, or working directly with company leadership to develop value points, you need to turn on your organizational barometer to have a successful meeting. You must ensure there’s internal buy-in with the speaker selection and everyone involved is on the same page (for the good of your company or association).

We are often asked which value points should be included when selecting speakers. Here are five value points you can implement immediately for your next speaker selection meeting.

1. Generation Gap
If you are a corporate group, take a deep look into the age of your employees attending, which speaker will connect best them? For associations, your are retaining attendees for future conferences, and hoping to grow with new attendees. Don’t take your eye off the ball – serve your membership – which speaker will best help them? By providing the value for your current members, you will have a much easier time selling value to potential new members. However, make sure you have real data on what generations you serve in your membership. Expectations between Baby Boomers and Millennials can be vastly different.

2. Education (big message vs. nuts and bolts)
This barometer is not only about input vs. output. It’s a deep look into each session and determining where you will provide a broad message for a large group compared to a higher-level thinking in breakout/concurrent sessions. When putting the meeting together, you have to understand when your attendees need to be inspired and presented with big concept ideas in a keynote, and when they need an interactive session and deep-dive education in a workshop. Too much of each could have the attendees wanting more education, or feeling like their brain will explode. You should talk about what goal you have for the entire conference, and then each session. Balance in education is an art and science.

3. Revenue or Expense
This is a question of filling the seats vs. a built-in audience. Are your attendees company employees and MUST attend the conference (hence, it’s an expense)? Or, is it membership driven and you’re working to retain and grow (revenue for the association)? In both cases, the speaker must have value. Are you looking at a speaker to get your employees excited about being present – and more importantly will be able to deliver true value to them? Or, will promoting a specific keynote speaker play a part in getting your members to register? Above all, your members AND employees expect continued education and actionable items to help be successful in their industry. Remember, if you’re a corporate group, the conference is an expense, but the ROI is employee performance, which you hope provides revenue in the future.

4. Budget vs. Sponsorship
Most keynote speakers have quite a range in their fees. A general rule of thumb is, the more you know a speaker’s name (celebrity, sports star, best-selling author), the higher the fee. That is half the reality – the other half is what will your budget allow? Again, it comes back to what kind of speaker will bring the most value to your attendees. One of the big reasons our clients work with a speakers bureau like us is because we know who the best speakers are in their budget range. In your internal meetings, you have to decide how much you can allocate towards a speaker. If the one you desire is above your budget, you will have to determine how you can obtain the money. Is your budget going more towards your attendees’ hunger or learning? We’re not advocating one less meal, but take note of what is most important. If you need extra funds for a specific speaker, you should talk about sponsorships – finding unique partners to help offset the costs for the right keynote speaker (and yes, more food).

5. Past Feedback
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over – and expecting the same results. The past has value, and if your team examines it, you have the ability to make successful changes for the future (after all, that’s what you’re trying to promote for your attendees). Keep data on who your home-run speakers have been, or not-so-great speakers. Most organizations provide evaluations for their attendees. Don’t ignore them. Put aside any personal feelings on how you selected the last speaker and listen to your attendees. Also, if you’re working with a speakers bureau, listen to them about past experiences with speakers you’re considering.


There are many other variables to consider in your speaker-selection meetings, but we hope this gives you a framework for a more actionable meeting. If we can help your team with this process, let us know.

Posted by Sheldon Senek
Sheldon Senek is the President of Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau and writes about expert keynote speakers and Motivational Speakers, as well as tips for corporate meeting planners.

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