So your client (or company) is in the middle of planning their signature event or company meeting, and they’re turning to you to come up with ideas on who the speaker should be that will inspire the crowd, while also not costing a fortune. If you’re anything like me, you know that speaker vetting can be, at best, a time-consuming process and, at worst, a frantic, soul-crushing search for someone who is going to both deliver AND make your client or boss happy. While I can’t help you meet your next best speaker, below is the tried and true process I use with all my clients, that often yield them better results than pricy search firms and mass press releases.
Create a list of the top three “success metrics” for your event
While most companies go into the speaker negotiation by asking what the speaker can bring to the stage, it’s equally as important for you to help your client articulate what the goals are for your company to feel like they’ve got the right person inspiring the crowd. When you start doing your research, create a running list of ideal qualities that you think your speaker should have (sense of humor, wild style, passion for veterans organizations), so that when you start pitching them, you can make the connection between their personality and your event’s strengths. These success metrics will make it easier to evaluate potential speakers as their nominations come through from the executive team — and you can easily negate popular but poorly suited choices by saying “Does this person fulfill the ideas of success we came up with via our metrics?”
Action: Make a list of the top three unique opportunities your meeting, conference, or workshop brings to your industry. Are you a financial company that deeply cares about customer service? Are you an all women’s conference that promotes equal pay in STEM fields? Are you the first software company of your kind creating digital widgets out of whipped cream? Speakers resonate with personality, and sometimes, you can win over an otherwise reluctant speaker of you can make a case for why your event speaks uniquely to their passion.
Understand your speaker budget
If you’re asking a speaker to speak for free, you can be open about it, but only if they ask. Know that it is definitely possible to get certain speakers to speak for free, however, if they do speak for free, figure out how else you can make their experience wonderful. Can you pay for travel or hotel? Take them out to a speaker dinner? A gift from your company? The goal here isn’t to turn and burn new speakers year after year. It’s to build a relationship with great speakers who may be able to set you up with their community, while also helping them to speak to an audience that has passion about their topic as well.
Action: Think about how you can make this a win-win, including monetary compensation. Sometimes, that’s not all that speakers want.
Create a prospect list from the executive team within the company
Finding the best speakers who are going to have passion for your company’s event is going to start from within. Your executive team should be well connected and should be able to brainstorm a few people who would not only be excellent speakers, and who would be high profile enough to inspire your organization’s event attendees, but also, to whom they could call in a favor.
Action: Create a “script” for your executive team, and assign them 1-2 possible speakers to reach out to. Prioritize them and give each speaker a deadline that you need an answer by, so that you don’t have multiple asks out, and then get two yeses (embarrassing!). Also, stay on top of your executives by checking in weekly.
Choose speakers whose connection to your company will be evident from their talk
In my opinion, a speaker who has a connection with your company or your executive team is going to give a more passionate speech that is far more inspiring than one who doesn’t have a connection and doesn’t know a lot about your company’s mission. Sometimes, the “cool” factor of certain speakers is enough to make up for them delivering a mediocre speech, but I’d recommend revising
Action: Before the meeting where you finalize your speaker lineup, write on a whiteboard or on your meeting agenda the set of success metrics for your team that you listed, so that when you’re choosing your final speakers, your team can see the relationship between proposed speakers and success.
Create an email template, with two deadlines (one external, one internal)
Now that you’re getting back to your potential speakers, you’re going to want to make it easier on your executive team to make sure they transfer the relationship over, but also, get the definitive yes. Draft an email that asks the speaker to participate in the event AND that gets them to confirm no later than a set date. Additionally, set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with said speaker if you haven’t heard from them, asking them to let you know by the next day COB, so that you can inform the other speaker candidates that they weren’t chosen.
Stay in regular communication throughout the planning process
Once you’ve taken a speaker from pre-contact to confirmation, you’ll want to be sure that you provide top notch service to ensure your speaker has a great experience from beginning to end. Make sure to set up a regular, targeted communication schedule (once a month for the 2 – 6 months before the event, then maybe weekly leading up to the event) so that speakers know how you’re promoting them, and also, so they can get excited to speak at your event. Regular ticket sales updates, social media post suggestions, and attendee stories or case studies, as well as information about the logistics of their speech is really helpful so that they can make the relationship as beneficial as possible.
Action: Create a communication schedule for you and your team, and aim to connect with your speakers once every month until 6 weeks out, and then every week or as needed leading up to the event.
Director of Events, Lauren Caselli Events
Lauren Caselli works with online marketing companies and tech firms to create live engagements and community-based experiences that turn prospects into clients. She currently runs a course to teach small businesses how to strategize and execute their own events without hiring a dedicated event pro. Download her free event planning checklist at eventsthatconvert.com.
Headshot Photography Credit: Brooke Peterson Photography