Secrets to choosing a conference speaker

with Jez Rose

As one of the most established speakers in the UK, you would think I would get used to trends and expectations, in what we commonly call, the corporate speaking market. Up until the social economic crash of 2008 it was a vibrant scene and was the norm to be booked as speaker for almost every one of a client’s conferences. The brief might have been to be motivational, inspirational, simply someone from TV, or to talk about my books but sometimes very little thought went into the selection process. Client’s expectations were often not very high and budgets were rarely a problem.

Trends today seem to stem from TV programmes. Sometimes it only takes for an appearance on TV and the enquiries start to come in. This was especially evident in 2012 during the Olympics when all of my clients wanted an Olympian. Demand for them was excellent in 2011/12 and at almost every conference or event I spoke at, there was someone stood in a tracksuit with a huge medal, however, it peaked in 2013 and today it is back to pretty much what it was before the rise in 2012.

As an individual’s TV appearances become more regular, it has an effect on the corporate market and its hunger for the named celebrity. Of course this celebrity demand does inevitably drive up fees. However, you don’t need a celebrity to get a result.

More than just a name

What if you could spend your £5,000 on a complete unknown speaker and at the end of it, you see a positive change in your employees and everyone raving about the presentation. What if, weeks after the event, everyone is still mentioning the speaker’s name and the company has seen a rise in sales of 10%. It can and does happen and it didn’t need someone from TV to do it.

Secrets to choosing a conference speaker

Speakers who can refresh their content and their delivery, in order to cater for the changing markets and new emerging businesses out there – it is my responsibility, I believe, as a speaker, to surpass a client’s expectations, thereby offering them a greater return on their investment and this is exactly why I’m asked back so often.

Changes in markets and technology have seen a number of corporate clients being much more selective about who they have speaking at their event. Expectations are now much higher and budgets are leaner. A good story teller is not always what’s required and I still find it fascinating when a client tells me that they had a great speaker at last year’s conference but they can’t remember their name. Maybe that’s why the business celebrity or the Olympic athlete is an easy choice. It doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will be the best speaker but you will almost certainly remember if you had Sir Richard Branson or Sir Chris Hoy speaking at your conference. My clients are often looking for lasting and positive change when hiring an external speaker and I have to listen and guide clients more than ever before. Sometimes I’m not the best person to fulfil their brief and I’m always honest about that. After 14 years speaking and hosting at conferences literally all over the world, I’ve got to know my capabilities and strong points and I believe that it’s important I see those same things with my clients, ensuring the best possible result every time.

Choices, choices, choices

The choice of speakers today is dizzying; almost confusing and the last couple of years have seen a huge increase in new speakers. These are not necessarily complete novices or unknown speakers but it is a significant increase, which is indicative of a shift in the business. I’ve noticed that duplication is also becoming a problem, in that there are now many people who have climbed Mount Everest, or rowed across an ocean.

Even the choice of speaker bureau can be a problem. Who do you go to? Who do you trust? Are you getting the best deal? Maybe you should try to contact the speaker direct? It’s certainly a lot easier now to make direct contact through social media but I still maintain that it’s not the best way to approach it. I partnered with my management because I’m simply too busy to offer the service, advice and time that is required but also the speaker is unlikely to offer you other options or someone possibly more suited to speaking at your event. Contact a reputable agency, a member of one of the main associations, like the EASB or the Agents Association UK. A good bureau will help and guide you through the process, they will have lots of options and more importantly, the backup required to ensure everything runs smoothly. If the name suggested is not someone you know, ask to speak to the speaker before confirming the booking.

Insider secrets

Here are my insider secrets to choosing a good speaker for your next event:

  1. When choosing a speaker, remember to see it as the important investment that it is.
  2. Cut the speaker’s allotted time at your peril! Professional speakers have spent many years and much effort perfecting their presentation to create something powerful, which hopefully inspires and helps affect change. Reducing the time rarely results in the impact you had hoped for.
  3. Allow time for the speaker to check their slides and to sound check. This is critical because if the audience can’t hear them, the entire presentation will be tainted and the audience’s attention lost.
  4. Provide the speaker with plenty of information about your business, your event objectives and the audience make up, ahead of your event.
  5. Look online at your speaker shortlist and go with your gut instinct, guided by your chosen speaker agency. Remember that testimonials are endorsements from previous clients.
  6. Familiarise yourself with the speaker’s requirements to prevent any last minute stress.


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