Conference Speakers: the ultimate guide

by | May 25, 2022 | Business Growth

Conference speakers

In this guide we look at Conference speakers and their role, helping event managers and speaker bookers know exactly what to expect. You can read the whole article, or just click the links below and go straight to the section most relevant to your questions.

What are Conference speakers and how are they different to other types of speakers?

Conference speakers, like keynote speakers, set out the central theme of a conference. Conference speakers are usually thought-leaders or experts in their field and have extensive knowledge of an industry or topic.

Conference speakers may be known by other names such as:

In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter whether you call the speaker a conference speaker, keynote speaker or other. However, what is important is the function the speaker is expected to play at the conference.

One of the functions of a speaker is to open the event. Here the speaker is hired to set the tone of the event and get people inspired and engaged for what is to follow. As an agency, when we are asked for speakers to open a conference the booker is generally looking for someone who can provide fresh insights on a topic. This could be a topic effecting the company or the industry.

Another function of a conference speaker, is to close the event. The aim here is to ensure the audience leaves on a high. This is important because if the audience leave the event with a buzz, they will remember how they felt, and look favourably on future events.

In these scenarios speakers are often asked to provide something motivational, inspirational or entertaining. As an agency, when we’re asked to provide motivation, inspiration and entertainment, we feel all speakers should be able to provide this, so we encourage you to take this thought to a new level…

Understand the purpose of hiring conference speakers

In our view, whether a speaker is opening or closing an event, we expect then to provide motivation, inspiration and entertainment for the audience. This then begs the question: ‘If motivation, inspiration and entertainment are a given, what else should we look for?’

We believe this is a great question, all event managers should be asking. If you truly want to get return on investment (ROI) from your event this is a question worth pondering.

When we say ROI, let’s be clear about what we mean. We mean ROI on:
1.The investment in all your people taking a day to attend
2.The expense of travel for everyone to attend, or stay over
3.The expense of the venue, production and the speakers
4.The time it took your event manager or event team to put it all together

But that’s not all…

Flip this on its head for a moment. Rather than just looking at the conference from a cost point of view, look at it from the perspective of ‘opportunity’.

Ask yourself, ‘What opportunity does this event provide the company with at this moment?’

For example, a conference could be used to:

  • Educate
  • Develop new objectives
  • Bond people to an idea or each other
  • Build relationships internally or externally

What is key here, is the purpose of the event, and we encourage you to think deeply on the purpose and ensure that the event has a clear and disputable purpose. To help you develop a crystal-clear event purpose we’ve put together a guide called 3 Secrets of Successful Event Creation.

Having considered your event purpose, the next consideration is how you find a good conference speaker for the topic you choose?

What makes good conference speakers?

The big mistake many event organisers make is that they decide on the conference speaker, based on who the speaker is. This could happen when the organiser decides to book a celebrity speaker. The idea is that the speaker will be a draw and create all the necessary interest. Thinking like this is a big mistake…

True – a celebrity speaker can provide a bit of excitement. But when you decide on your conference speaker based purely on celebrity you limit the outcome from that session to the celebrity’s knowledge and understanding and create a superficial experience for the audience.

In all honesty, the audience feel this. Sure, they may laugh, cry and feel inspired, but those feelings will evaporate very quickly when the audience leaves the room.

It’s also true that these days, almost everyone can be a celebrity, and what people really crave is a deep and memorable experience that provides lasting something of value and worth from the time invested. This has to be more something greater inspiration.

Keynote speaker, Steve Sims is known as the Real Life Wizard of Oz because of his ability to make the unexpected happen through open communication. He says, “Many events try to seduce you with Mr X or Ms Y as the draw. The ideas is that the seduction of the speaker draws you to the event. Doing this means you miss the point of getting together, and you fail to focus on the issues sitting in the audience. Just solve those and the event will have been beneficial and a lot more memorable.”

Conferences that are successful select speakers based on the bigger picture. They look for speakers that support an annual goal or theme and align the annual company event to event speakers. Doing this increases buy-in and motivation to attend and achieves greater ROI.

What you should expect from your conference speakers? (and what you shouldn’t expect?)

All conference speakers need to be excellent communicators. They need to be able to take a complex idea and make it simple to hear, memorable and shareable. It’s using this skill to breakdown an idea that enables organisations to use the information shared by conference speakers over a longer-term.

There are four criteria to look for in great conference speakers. They are:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Impact
  3. Connection
  4. A reminder

It’s easy to gauge these 4 criteria with a speaker. The way we help you do that at Stellar Speakers is to arrange a call where you can meet the speaker before booking. This gives you the chance to discuss the event brief and get the speaker’s input about what they are likely to deliver from stage.

We work with our speakers to develop these 4 criteria and attend the briefing call too to help you achieve your event goals.

Critical to this conversation is the brief you give the speaker. They will want to know the purpose and theme of the event. They will also want to know a number of things about the audience attending the event so they can connect with them at a higher level and help them shift their understanding and learning on a topic.

There are a number of things conference speakers will want to know, including:

  • The key message, goals and objectives from the event
  • Company values
  • The company mission
  • The positions/ ranks/ levels of the people attending
  • The audience’s knowledge of this topic prior to the event, and any recent or prior learnings on the topic
  • Challenges the company is facing and any contentious and sensitive issues that should be avoided… or brought to the forefront

It’s important not to blur the lines with speakers. We are sometimes asked if our speaker can host or MC the event or facilitate questions. While many speakers will say yes to this, you must be aware that what you are asking the speaker to do is not their core skill and you should consider booking a separate professional presenter if you want to get the best out of your conference and the speakers.

What your speaker needs to know about your audience

It’s important to match the interests of the group to the conference speaker. In order to help conference speakers prepare for your event they will need to know some key facts about your audience:

  • In general, terms who are they? Are they all in a certain industry or job role? Are they mostly male or female?
  • What does the audience already know about this topic?
  • What knowledge do they need to gain?
  • What would most interest them?
  • What are the no-go ideas and content themes?
  • What would be the best outcome for the audience?
  • Who will be attending this event?

Clarify what kind of conference speakers you need for your event

Who speaks on your conference stage should be determined by:

A)The overall goals of the company
B)The event purpose, which links to the above goals

If you know the answer to both A and B you will have a great foundation for knowing who should speak on your stage.

Beyond company goals and event purpose it’s important for your speakers to be relatable to the audience. For example, if your audience is predominately women, you may want a female woman speaker. If your audience is mostly senior leadership, you will want a speaker who can speak to that level.

In some cases, it can be beneficial if your speaker has industry knowledge and expertise. In other cases, it may be more relevant to invite a speaker who knows very little about your niche, but offers outside knowledge and perspective on things changing in the world. For example, if your business is in finance, it may be relevant to understand more about how tech is progressing, so you can understand more about what your clients are using or investing in. Equally, the company may wish to support the Chief Sustainability Officer with their work, so it may be relevant to hire a speaker who can build awareness throughout the company about climate change, ESG reporting and how, as a company you can all make changes to support the company’s initiative to drive positive climate change.

Know how to find your conference speakers

There are five ways to find speakers. The way you choose will be determined by these four factors:

  1. Your budget
  2. How much time you have
  3. Your desire and love for research
  4. Your network (of people who know good speakers)

If your conference speaker budget is in excess of £5,000, and you are short on time, the best option for you is to use a speaker agent. Agent’s shortcut the legwork because they get to the point very quickly. Once they know what you are looking for, they can very quickly give you options.

Agents get the job done quickly and effectively and save you more than their fee! Agents are also realistic about budget and will tell you when you are dreaming of the impossible. They will put sensible, on-budget, on topic options in front of you.

Also, when you book through an agent, you have the assurance that the speaker has already been vetted, because agents tend to only take on the best speakers. They also have templated contracts and a process that make confirming the speaker and all the contractual arrangements super easy.  If you want to enquire about a speaker for your event, click here.

If your budget is under £5,000 and you have time you may choose to do the research yourself. Here are 4 options open to you:

  • Use Google – Google is your DIY option and almost the polar opposite of using an agent. Here you scroll through websites and social media profiles and you watch hours of video. It’s a great strategy if you have all day, or have a very small budget and are prepared to take a gamble on a speaker that’s not yet proven good enough to find representation.
  • Get referrals from your network – your peers and contacts may likely suggest a name you hadn’t through about, didn’t know about or forgot about. It will shortcut option 2, in that you can focus your search to the ideas your network gives you… but be prepared to go on a few wild-goose chases!
  • Ask in a group – If you are in a social media group that has an events focus, then ask the group who they would recommend. Occasionally this strategy will come up trumps, but expect a deluge of ideas and pitches and be prepared to do the research on each speaker, as in option 2!
  • Ask your audience – Email or ask your audience who they would like to see at the next event. This may give you suggestions, but again, like option 4, you may find yourself with a long list and still have to revert to the long-winded option 2.

Understand the different investments in speakers

A keynote speakers’ fees will vary depending on several factors. You would expect to pay more for a celebrity, a renowned industry expert or a professional speaker with a vast amount of subject matter knowledge on an in-demand topic.

Speakers who bring an experiential keynote or help facilitate a transformation will also command a bigger fee.

Meanwhile, a speaker who isn’t well known, or who meets the audience at a superficial level, sharing their truth, stories an anecdotes, with a dusting of inspiration, will charge lower fees.

Fees vary and a speaker will charge anything from a few hundred pounds to a six-figure fee depending on their profile and demand.

You can find a guideline for speaker fees in our article on the right speaker fee for your event.

How to spot highly professional conference speakers quickly

As speaker agents it’s in our DNA to assess speakers very quickly. This is due to the fact that we receive so many applications.

We turn down most application without actually even hearing a speaker speak. This is because we have a standard we expect from speakers and most applications don’t meet this standard.

Weak application forms have tell-tale signs. A couple of those signs that are relevant to look for if you are booking speakers are:

Professional Conference speakers also tend to have what we call speaker assets in place. These include a professionally presented 1-sheet, bio & showreel. The best speakers will also refer you direct to their agent because they don’t have time to handle enquries, logistics, negotiations and the contract process.

What this means is that when you book a speaker who has representation, you can be sure they have already achieved a high standard in the industry.

How to use a speaker before, during and after your event to build buzz and maximise your ROI

One of the challenges many event organisers have is ‘Developing buy-in’ for an event. This often happens when the events are seen as optional, and when employees are busy trying to meet deadlines.

The sad truth is, many of the events people choose not to attend are created for their benefit and designed to enhance their well-being and job satisfaction.

Even organisers know this is an issue and want to create a buzz around the event. This is one of the reasons many try to book celebrities. They mistakenly believe if they book a big enough name, everyone will flock to the event.

Again, we come back to purpose: when an event has a solid purpose, aligned to other business goals, an event organiser can save a fortune on unnecessary speaker fees and deliver a bigger ROI on a smaller budget.

Also, lesser known speakers, who are still subject matter experts, are more likely to work with you to build event buzz. They want your event to succeed and they are often willing to support you, if you ask for their help, and you are prepared to pay a little extra for their input. And remember, these speakers are professionals, generally excellent communicators, who speak for a living and tend to read an audience needs well. This means they may also have advice to share with you.

Know what to expect if you book your speaker via an agency

When you work with a speaker agent they will make quick assessments about your needs and your budget and point you towards the conference speakers that best suit your needs.

An agent will also give you assurance. They have already vetted the speakers in their own application process. An agent like Stellar Speakers will also work closely with their speakers and give them career advice. This often takes the form of helping them develop a deeper methodology and understanding of their topic, honing their craft as a speaker and developing an awareness of what a market or audience needs. What this means is that the represented speaker has extra professional help, guidance and insight, that a non-represented speaker does not have. It means you, as someone who books a speaker, is getting a superior onstage product.

When you work with a speaker agent, the agent will take care of contracts. This makes the process of booking a speaker simple and quick. For example, a few days ago, we had an enquiry for one of our speakers. In two days, we’ve discussed the opportunity, put speakers forward, negotiated the fee for the best speaker and completed contracts.

If you are looking for a quick and simple booking process, with a high-quality speaker Stellar Speakers are the answer. As a unique speaker agency representing change-making keynote speakers, we provide expertise to help you manage your budgetary expectations and provide realistic options. We provide a preferred partner’s service base, so that partner clients get everything they need, lowering your risk as a booker of speakers, so you can make your choice about your next speaker with confidence.

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If your next conference is around the corner it’s time to book a consultation with Stellar Speakers.

Let us help you find the right keynote speaker to deliver timely messages, fresh themes and introduce the latest methodology and thinking.

Because our speakers are thought-leaders, industry expert and change-agents we help bring out the best in your organisation. Our passion is developing your people.

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