Hiring conference speakers ain't no walk in the park. In the socially-techy world we live in, requirements for hiring speakers changed dramatically. Here is what you should look for when hiring a conference speaker.
Do you remember when selecting speakers was super easy? Most of the traits of the successful conference performer were known: charisma, presence, eloquence, storytelling.
These are still very valid characteristics, yet the changing nature of the attendee's requirements is impacting the speaker selection process. Attendees want more from your conference. As a result finding awesome speakers is not as straightforward as it used to be.
I feel privileged to have been both an eventprof and a speaker, therefore entitled to share some tricks I learnt about this complicated chemical reaction.
More Tech, More Participation, More Interactivity
The message conference profs around the world are getting is crystal clear: no boring, low-tech, frontal sessions.
I believe that the requirements for speaker selection are being redefined by three clear trends:
- Technology: there is a growing demand for smart use of technology during conference sessions. By 'smart' I mean timely technology that solves issues instead of creating new ones.
- Connection: Social media is impacting the way we consume events and attendees demand a strong and punctual presence on social media.
- Interaction: the 17/18 years of education most of us complete (between primary, secondary and tertiary school) taught us one simple thing: frontal lectures are dead boring! Attendees require different stimuli, want to participate and interact with their peers.
The Awesome Conference Speaker
If you are looking for a speaker for your next conference, with these macro-trends in mind, watch out for the following signs. If you spot one or more of them, it means you found someone who is aware of the changing nature of events, therefore a safe bet for your event and attendees.
10. They Have a Healthy Presence on Social Media
One of the new requirements of the modern conference speaker is that they understand and harness the power of social media. That does not mean having millions of followers, which can easily be faked.
A good speaker has a healthy and engaged following on different social networks. What you are looking for here is a sign of positive engagement and meaningful content.
You are also on the lookout for support of the events they attend. A good speaker recognises that it is vital to back up the event that invested in them by showing support on their social media channels.
9. They Require to Be Paid
Many times I've exposed the flaws of not paying speakers. From the discussions I've had online and offline with many of you, it is apparent that both the event planner and the speaker are guilty of this horrible sin.
Event professionals who sell elusive 'exposure' in return for a freebie, should change their modus operandi. Alas speakers who offer their speaking for free are equally to blame.
The end result is usually a bad experience for the attendee.
The modern conference speaker puts effort in their talk, spends time researching the audience and the subject and is deeply committed to the success of the session. All of the above cannot come for free.
If a speaker does not charge a fee, I would be very skeptical of hiring them. I would question what I can expect from their talk.
8. They Have a Strong Presence on Slideshare
If your event involves giving presentation with slides, it is counterintuitive that the guys and gals you are hiring should be on Slideshare.
Would you hire a blogger who does not have a blog? It just does not make sense. A social media savvy speaker who presents with slides at events knows the importance of publishing slides on Slideshare immediately and cultivating a presence there.
Also look at the engagement and responses and, why not, numbers they have on Slideshare. It will give you a qualitative and quantitative idea of the reaction of your attendees.
Remember that Slideshare is not an indication of the actual live performance or speaking skills of your performer, there is Youtube for that 😉
7. They Know Their AV
I want my speaker to know exactly what AV they will want at the session. I want to know that in advance and in detail, because the last thing I want for my session is a tech fail.
A technically savvy speaker would ask you for the projector display ratio, if there is wifi in the room, if a mobile app is being used, if there is an audience response system in place, if there is technology to support the Q&A session.
While, once again, this has nothing to do with the actual performance of the speaker, it is a clear indicator that the person on the other side is serious about what they are doing. It also signals that they are aware of the technological aspects making average sessions become flawless experiences.
6. They Use Professionally Designed Slides or Clearly Design Them
There are no excuses for black and white slides with unreadable bullet points in 12pt font size. No excuses. A presentation is not a book and it should not be designed that way.
Using Comic Sans and 1994 WordArt effects is not acceptable. We live in a well designed, interactive Internet in 2014 that has raised our eye candy expectations as attendees.
Modern speakers recognise the importance of proper slide design in conveying the message of the talk. I would prefer someone with no slides over someone with poorly designed presentations.
I am sure a lot of you are wondering how you make sure that your speaker delivers good design when presenting. See item number 8.
5. They Ask For The Audience Opinion
Incorporating Audience Response Systems (ARS) or polling during presentations should be a requirement of your event.
When selecting a speaker, you should ask them if they've used polling in the past and to provide some examples. Modern attendees want to be involved and asking their opinion once in a while during the presentation is a great way to let them digest the content presented so far.
An awesome conference speaker would ask you if you have an ARS system in place or if they have to bring their own. Speakers should be proactive in suggesting polling as means of interaction and engagement.
4. They Know Everything About Your Audience
I would be wary of speakers who do not ask who is attending the event. I would actually wander away from them. The likely result of such indifference could only be a boring presentation probably recycled over and over again.
Targeting content to your audience should be your key priority. And so it should be for your conference speaker.
You are definitely talking to the right guy or gal if they ask you extensively about who is attending, their job role, their age group, their level of education and most of all the expected education objective of the session and events at large.
Failing to investigate such key content drivers will inevitably result in a shameful and boring content demise no attendee would want to witness, let alone pay for.
3. They Stimulate Horizontal Interaction
We all know how tough it is to listen to one person for 45 minutes. Modern speakers understand that their role is not only performing but also moderating.
They understand that the need to facilitate conversations and horizontal interaction.
Discussing the session topics in groups enhances critical thinking and moves attendees to take responsibility of their learning. That usually translates in much better attendee satisfaction. A good conference speaker knows that.
2. They Engage With the Event Mobile App
There is a lot of talk about event mobile apps adoption. Speakers should be the champions (together with your staff) of your event mobile app.
They should be there, be active, talk to other attendees and use it in full. They should be the stars of your backchannel.
A wise speaker would recognise the importance of being active and establish a meaningful connection on the app before the event actually starts. A wise speaker understands that most apps have session rating embedded in the apps and that engaging with the audience early enough could mean better rating.
1. They Contribute With Meaningful Content
Content is king. Your speaker is the king's servant. They must obey and provide for their king.
Events are becoming incredible content powerhouses thanks to the amplification power of social media. A good speaker is committed to provide blog posts, Tweets, Vines, Youtube Videos, Pics and whatever piece of content your event is engaged with.
They understand the opportunity of being protagonist of your event beyond their session, before during and after the show.
Ask more from your speakers, demand awareness of what your job involves and what your objectives are.
Be respectful of those speakers who try harder and choose awareness over narcissism.
You cannot give up charisma, presence and storytelling for any of the above but if you are able to combine them with modern requirements you'll end up with a powerful weapon of mass engagement.