Event Management keyboard_arrow_right

10 Signs You Are Hiring an Awesome Conference Speaker

By Julius Solaris
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

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.

10 Signs Your Are Hiring An Awesome 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.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

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.

In Conclusion

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.

about the author

Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker, author and consultant.
see all articles
  • Brilliant. I can no longer recommend booking a speaker who won’t agree to participate to some extent in the event’s social media. And I very much appreciate those who bring a “show” to liven things up especially since they are often scheduled after shall we say more boring speakers.

    • Wholeheartedly agreed

      • Thanks for your post Julius. Engagement is such a hot topic in the workplace it only stands to reason that conference attendees would also want to be highly engaged throughout the event!

        • Thanks for the feedback Kelly

          Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • Eithne Jones

    Hi Julius
    thanks again for bringing thoughtful insights together in a handy and persuasive overview. I think you’ve nailed it with your points above, and particularly with your conclusions. As you know, I run a speaker bureau and my days are filled with bringing speakers and audiences together, and I have a couple of comments I’d like to add.
    – one speaker I work with uses no slides, has no social media footprint, doesn’t ‘do’ slideshare, but his is consistently rated ‘best speaker ever’ by the senior exec audiences who engage him because he’s authentic, experienced, inspirational in style and he knows the client and audience inside out before he takes to the stage. Awesome can still be found in a simple commitment to excellence at every stage of the engagement.
    – while some speakers would like to help promote an event in their own social media streams, they can be hampered by professional limitations around what they can be seen to endorse (e.g. journalists, celebrities). So be patient with them, and let them help you in whatever way they can.
    – partner up with a trustworthy speaker bureau. Of course I’d say that. But I absolutely believe that when a bureau that is committed to a long term relationship with speaker and client, it will make the whole process of finding the right speaker for your particular event less stressful. Preferably a bureau that is not tied to promoting only those speakers they represent exclusively, but one that will search out the right speaker no matter what their affiliation. And preferably a bureau that will link you up directly with the speaker for a ‘no obligation’ conversation BEFORE you have to sign a contract .
    You might have your own thoughts on the above?
    best
    Eithne

    • My thoughts are that I agree. Charisma, presence and ability to deliver will always prevail but will they be enough for senior execs 5 years from now?

      I believe the package that the speaker should offer must be more comprehensive. Of course it’s not vital to be on Slideshare but it will be somewhat weird if they won’t be there in the future and slides is what they do.

      I can’t speak about bureaus as my knowledge is limited but they can be surely great catalysts between the two parties. Balance is very much required here as event professionals have few responsibilities when selection goes wrong.

      • Eithne Jones

        fair points. My favourite big data/ innovation/futurist/leading change style speakers are all strong on visuals and on social media platforms. I guess we’re looking also at different demographics and events drivers – majority of my work is on exec in-house or invitation-only client events where promotion isn’t a priority.
        Thanks again for a thought-provoking piece

  • Alfred Poor

    While I am a professional speaker, I am first and foremost a partner with the event planner. The job does not start and end with my time on stage. I am an active participant in the promotion of the event, using social media, broadcast interviews, or whatever it takes. I’ll donate give-away items for door prizes or other incentives. I’ll show up early (and help move chairs if needed) and I’ll stay late, mainly so I can mingle with the audience and get to know them before I say my bit, and so they will feel more comfortable about engaging me in discussion afterwards. So if you hire me for an event, you’ll hear me ask “What else can I do to help make this a huge success for you?” Because I can’t be a success as a speaker unless the event is successful as well.

    • That’s a great approach

      Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • Excellent article Julius!

    • Thanks Juraj

      Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • williamevents

    Julius this is a great list. I think event planners have to look beyond the job title and company to see the real person who is speaking. Great speakers do all these things and you can tell. Less is more is one of my event mantras and this year I decided to live by if for speaking slots. At the start of the year I decided that I wouldn’t take my place in the line up of usual suspects at our big industry trade shows. I decided that it was no longer worth it to put the considerable time and effort into a session only to appear on a noisy show floor. We need to select and treat our speakers with care.

    I also declined a couple of non paying slots at conferences and one invite deserves special mention. The request to speak for an association event was accompanied by a note that said “you will be expected to cover your own travel expenses”. Now there’s respect for speakers and content eh?

    • I hear you William, it makes lots of sense

      Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • Excellent tips! As a speaker myself, it is imperative that we communicate our value and benefits by demonstrating these 10 elements – and by being a charismatic, inspiring, educational storyteller! Thanks for sharing! I’ve shared it with my fellow speaker friends so they can up their games!

  • Becky McCrary

    Sorry, Julius. If you find it impossible to listen to a speaker for 45 minutes, you are hiring the wrong speaker. A professional engages the audiences with every word, every movement, every pause. Are there opportunities for activities/polling/exercises/simulations? Yes, in training. Not so much in a presentation.

    I don’t share my slides, because without my stories they wouldn’t have the same impact. As you said, a slide deck is not a book. And while the audience is talking among themselves, they aren’t getting the content-rich presentation I was paid to bring. And social media? Are you kidding? Requiring me to tweet, blog, link, hangout, pin and face about your conference is going to seriously drive up your cost. I’ll share what I want because of my interest and how you treat me. Not because a client REQUIRES it.

    My audiences laugh. They raise their eyebrows. And they record their AHA moments. For 18 years, I’ve been rated among the best speakers at every conference. My mantras: If we can’t have fun, I’m not coming AND It has to make a difference on Monday. When a speaker is sincerely interested in the audience, you’ll have an amazing event. And that is the one thing you can’t require.

    • Hey Becky – of course I don’t agree with most points but my argument is that charisma, speaking skills, storytelling are unbeatable but not enough anymore.

      I remember having encountering the same criticism 7 years ago when I said that Twitter was going to be a big hit at events. Mostly by people who call themselves today Event Social Media Experts.

      Nothing beats a super engaging speaker, but the changing nature of events is screaming for more than that.

      I guess we’ll wait and see what happens.

      Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • Julius, I do not agree with the “require to be paid” point. Let me share a 100% different perspective.

    Speaking is one of the most expensive sponsorship opportunities at great events. I have seen sponsored sessions (non-promotional) which are much better than sessions for which the speaker has been paid. Quality is not related to paying or not paying – quality is related to the speaker.

    I’ve worked with over 300 speakers and I’ve had all kinds of scenarios and arrangements. I recently had an expensive professional speaker who agreed to get paid for one event and do another event for free. It’s all negotiable and it all depends from the target audience.

    Right now we have a call for speakers open for Eventex Congress 2015 (http://eventex.co/call-speakers) and I believe the terms and target audience is an excellent opportunity for any speaker. I think the exposure will be all worth the efforts contrary to your suggestions. Sorry for the “promotional” bit, but I think this case perfectly illustrates my point.

    Great article on the other 9 points btw. 🙂

    • Hey Ovanes,

      of course I don’t agree at all. Probably this is the single most important point of it all.

      Usually you get what you pay for. I would seriously question the quality, relevancy and bias of free gigs. I would also question what preparation went into it, what targeting was to it.

      The stupidest presentation takes at least 3 days of preparation between concept, design and rehearsal. Either there is no time in the preparation (and as a consequence the quality will be very low) or it would just be a self-promotional stunt. In either case the real loser is the attendee.
      While I can accept this format for product pitches and competitions, this makes no sense if your objective is to educate or entertain. Think about an unpaid lecturer or comedian, the result would be really bad.

      I am sure your event will be great, but I remain 100% convinced of my point.

      Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

      • I understand your point, but don’t agree either.

        I don’t see why your conclusion is that a speaker will not prepare or will prepare a self-promotional speech. These are just assumptions that might be true in some cases but are definitely not a rule.

        A professional speaker that agrees an opportunity is worth their time (paid or unpaid) will prepare adequately. A speakers won’t jeopardize their name nor brand if they have agreed to an unpaid arrangement.

  • Rosa Garriga Mora

    Hi Julius,
    As both a speaker and an event prof who has recruited around 200 speakers, I agree with some points, but I also agree with Ovanes and especially Becky. Maybe I’m the exception in Gen Y (I doubt it though) , but I’ve come across speakers that I could listen to for 1 hour without being bored or having to check my smartphone… Some of them didn’t even use slides either, or some were horribly designed. From my experience, these are the ones people enjoy the most. If you are lacking that kind of charisma (I probably do) to keep people so engaged, then yes I’d agree that the presentation may be shorter, technology should be used, etc.. Also, it depends on the objective of the session, the content…sometimes what makes more sense is to have a keynote presentation, other times is better a purely crowd sourced session. And, it depends on the audience too. I can think of many types of audiences who never use Twitter, so why should it be a requirement for the speaker? Otherwise, good points!

    • Thanks Rosa for chiming in.

      I am not sure where I made a different point. I wrote charisma and storytelling abilities cannot be substituted. Yet speaking at events it’s not JUST that. Audiences demand more than that. I quote:

      “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.”

      I never wrote Twitter should be required for speakers, so not sure where that is coming from. I think though that as public figures they should maintain some sort of presence on social media presence that could be a blog, a Youtube channel, a Tumblr, a Vine Channel, whatever. I quote:

      “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.”

      And I must add that it also gives an indication of the willingness to engage with the audience after the event, with content or interaction.
      Not sure where you are coming from with the points you made above? Was it something I wrote?

      • Rosa Garriga Mora

        Hi Julius,
        Thanks for your comments. Well yes, I refer to most points you’ve written, but especially points 1 (”

        A good speaker is committed to provide blog posts, Tweets, Vines, Youtube Videos, Pics”), 8 & 10. Maybe I understood it wrong, but at first I thought they were all musts. My point was just that it depends on the audience, so I guess we agree on that.

        • I see – probably I did not make the point clear. Was just trying to convey that if they have a social presence, whatever that is, they should use it in support of the event.

          Thanks for your feedback

          Social Coup Ltd, a limited company registered in England and Wales, registration no. 07600332. Registered office 32 Byron Hill Road, Harrow on the Hill, HA2 0HY, UK. VAT registration no. 182 5212 23. EventManagerBlog and EventManagerShop are trading names of Social Coup Ltd.

  • I both attend and speak at a lot of conferences and I hate when a speaker is not relating to the conference in a good way. One thing that annoys me is when a speaker is just there for the time when they speak, maybe I would like to have a chat with the speaker a bit later during the day, and then they are gone.

    It also happens quite often that the organiser have not briefed the speaker properly before the event. Say that the audience is mostly B2B and the speaker only uses B2C examples.

    Thank you for an interesting post! Cheers

  • Cyriel Kortleven

    Great piece again Julius. Totally agree. Whenever possible, I – in my
    role as a professional speaker – would be involved quite early in the
    event process. The reason is that a lot of times, you can give some
    extra tips and tricks to the event organizer to make the event even more
    remarkable. Eg my topic is stimulating a creative change-mindset and by
    implementing a few easy and cheap elements, you can create an even
    better event: do something special with the name badges; have a
    different room setup; involve the audience in advance by asking their
    favorite quotes (and put those on the walls); let people vote by using social media (or by throwing balls in a corner (see picture), … All very easy things
    where a speaker (who’s an expert in his/her domain) can really have an
    added value. Thanks for this great blog.

    • These are very good points Cyriel, thanks for sharing them.

  • I find the tips very helpful though I find that tips pertains to these generation speakers probably some speakers ahead of our time won’t agree with the provided list nevertheless change is inevitable and I think this is what we should learn to accept from this point of time. The industry is evolving and from these we learn different approaches.