Seducing presenters ― how to attract great guest speakers to your event

Conference speakers can be the make or break of your event. High profile, expert or celebrity speakers are not only an effective drawcard and boost attendee numbers or ticket sales – they can also be the difference between an event which fires the audience up, and one that falls flat.

So how can event organisers keep their audiences engaged by attracting the best possible talent to take the stage? We’ve rounded up some of our best tips on how to identify great speakers – and how to woo them to your event.


Firstly, focus on ideas not people

Before you get too carried away trying to seduce a particular speaker with promises of money and exposure, take a step back and think about where they fit with the theme of the event. It sounds obvious, but many event organisers make the mistake of pooling their resources into one major keynote speaker who, despite having a significant public profile, might not necessarily have the knowledge-base you’re looking for.

That’s why memorable events are built around ideas, not individuals. The best presenters are those who can offer innovative ideas, provide new perspectives, engage their audience and get people talking about their presentation. Unfortunately, just because someone is well-known in the public eye, doesn’t mean their ideas are worth sharing.

As one of the most influential idea-based event organisations in the world, TED sum it up perfectly in their tips to event organisers:

“It’s actually not the person you should be searching for, but the person’s idea or innovation. What will the audience walk away knowing – that this person exists, or a new idea?”


Plan your people ahead of time

As you can imagine, there’s a huge demand for high-profile speakers in the events industry – but they’re a limited resource. If you want the best speakers for an event, you’ll need to approach them well in advance – or else risk getting turned down.

But planning your talent ahead of time is about more than tackling busy schedules. If you do manage to add speakers to your conference on short notice, it leaves little time for that person to prepare for their presentation. That’s not only unfair to the speaker themselves (no matter how much expertise they have in the field, throwing together a presentation at the last minute is always stressful), it’s unlikely to deliver the best possible experience for your audience either. Without careful planning, nobody wins.

While some event planners secure speakers as little as 2-3 months before an event, most experienced organisers aim for at least 6 months advance notice when selecting their keynote panel. This gives speakers time to work on their material, rehearse and feel comfortable about their presentation on the day. It also provides organisers with time to factor in transportation and logistical considerations, and those little obstacles which inevitably come up in the lead up to the big day (“My computer crashed and I’ve lost the presentation! There’s no hotels available near the venue – everything is booked out!”. You get the idea).

The key here is to minimise any potential stress for both your presenter as well as those on the event team. The more you can remove these obstacles and make the experience a seamless and enjoyable one, the more likely it is you’ll get your desired talent on board.


Finding talent through your online networks

One of the more common places to look when recruiting great speakers is popular networking platform LinkedIn. A hybrid of social media and professional connections, LinkedIn makes it easy for event organisers to identify the themes and commentators which their audience is most interested in. It’s also a sophisticated way to browse talent before getting in touch with the speakers you think are right for the role.

However, the hunt has only begun. There are countless other avenues for sourcing incredible conference speakers. Youtube is a favourite, since the most prolific speakers are likely to have a backlog of other speaking materials you can enjoy. Many speakers also upload their presentation slides to Linkedin’s sibling Slideshare, so it’s a good spot to continue your research.

Depending on your industry and objectives, checking out several speakers bureaus may also be the way to go. Speakers bureaus, such as the ICMI, often feature the bigger names in the business. However, if you’re casting a wider net for more emerging authorities in your field, a quick search on Quora can yield some good results.


Speakers sourced from social media

For many years marketers have had access to rich analytic data about the people who engage with their brand. But as social media metrics have become more widely available to the general public, businesses and organisations across all industries have begun to use them to connect with their audience – including event planners.

Facebook Insights, Google Analytics and products such as Iconsquare (which rounds up the top Instagram influencers from around the world filtered by topic) can all be used to find out what topics interest your audience most, and the types of people they most like to hear from.

To take out the guesswork and make things even easier, you can even ask your target audience these questions directly by conducting an audience poll – using interactive presentation software.


What’s in it for the speaker?

Yet to confirm that dream presentation panel? If you want to get the ideal speakers for your conference, you’ll need to consider what you can offer them in return for their help. This could include:

  • Financial compensation. It’s not always possible to offer keynote speakers large sums of money to appear at your event – especially if you’re representing a non-profit organisation or small business. Best speakers will want to learn more about their future audience, what challenges they may be facing, and will change their speech to address those issues. This means extra time adjusting those slides and tailoring their message and story. And extra time means extra money. So keep the behind the scenes work in mind when creating a budget.
  • Promotion. If your speaker is launching a project (such as a book, business, charity or exhibition), or is working on building their public profile, providing them exposure through your own event marketing may sweeten the offer.
  • Speaker support. Public speaking can be nerve-racking, and no matter how much experience a person has, it can still cause anxiety. You can help to alleviate this stress by offering technical and personal support to your speakers, such as providing transport to and from the airport; making an after-hours emergency contact available in case anything goes awry; and giving presenters access to cloud computing software so that their presentation can be updated on the spot no matter where they may be.


Finding the right speakers for your conference or event is only half of the equation. To truly engage your audience, you need to balance out that presentation with live audience engagement. If you’re keen to know more check out our zeeting on “Questions to ask your audience“; designed to boost participation and keep the crowd buzzing at your next event.



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