Why You Need a Keynote Speaker For Your Conference or Event

June 24, 2013 6:00 am1 comment


Whether you are planning a conference for work, an event for your local charity or non-profit, or even if you are involved with a political convention, hiring a keynote speaker can be critical to your event.

What keynote speakers do is literally in their name – a keynote sets the tone in music and a keynote speaker sets the tone of an event.  A great keynote speaker can also potentially get people in the door to attend your event if the person is somebody your organization’s members would be interested in seeing. In fact, your choice of keynote speaker can make or break your event.

When and how to pick keynote speakers

The sooner, the better, is the general rule for keynote speakers. After all, this is the person that can make your event. By planning ahead, you may have a better chance to get an in-demand speaker. Believe it or not, some people in charge of finding keynote speakers may look a year or more ahead of time in order to do so.

So how do you find a good keynote speaker? There are speakers’ bureaus out there that can help you get started. It also depends upon your individual situation. For example, if you are a local animal rescue group, perhaps a veterinarian or animal activist that may be a great fit for you. One important thing to do when looking for keynote speakers is to make sure you know as much about them as possible, and that you take the time to actually hear them speak. You do not want to find out after the fact that their style really is not for you.

Interview and investigate your keynote speaker

It is important to spend time checking out the speaker before you choose someone for your event, just the way you would a prospective hire. That means checking out what the speaker has done in the past, reviewing past speeches and events, and talking to other people who have hired the person. A keynote speaker who has no internet footprint of YouTube clips, and/or a website may be too risky to hire.

In addition to getting a good sense of what the speaker is like, you want to talk to the person first, explain your expectations, and learn his or her own expectations.  You may be able to get a sense of the prospective speaker’s personality, and whether he or she is a good fit for your organization.

Ideally, you also want somebody who has at least some knowledge of what you do, or somebody who took the time to learn a bit about your company or organization. If you set up an interview with a keynote speaker and the person has not bothered to spend 10 minutes learning about your organization, that does not bode well for the speech.

What to do–and not to do–with keynote speakers

Imagine if you hire a keynote speaker that is a bad fit for your business or organization—if you have a company related to one sort of business, hiring a keynote speaker that is connected to your competition would not make sense. For example, you would never see Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, speaking at an Apple convention.

You also do not want to have the same keynote speaker every year Doing so may increase the chances that people will not attend, because  they may feel they have heard it all before. In some cases, if you have the same keynote speaker, it will sound like they have said it all before, because they have; that may not be very exciting for your group, nor sell a lot of tickets. However, there is a happy medium: you want to find a buzz-worthy keynote speaker, somebody that will excite people, but not get them too outraged.

Image: iStockphoto

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Paul Ellul
Paul Ellul

Lisa, great tips on how to find a keynote speaker. I just want to add the importance of knowing your speaker budget and event dates (it's okay to have a few dates in mind). These are the two primary pieces of information both parties need to know in order to move forward with a potential booking and save a tremendous amount of time.

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