You need a guest speaker for your upcoming event, but you’ve never hired one before. “No problem!” you think as you open up Google, punch ‘speakers’ into the search bar and… 428,000,000 results materialize. “That’s okay,” you say to yourself, “just look for a recognizable name… Oh, there’s Kevin O’Leary! The Shark Tank guy. Yes!”

But no. Your event is a fundraiser for a local grassroots charity that supports underprivileged children, the unemployed and kittens. Not a good fit.

Martin Perelmuter is Co-Owner of Speakers Spotlight, a Toronto-based speakers agency that was recently voted Canada’s Top Speakers Bureau by Meetings and Incentive Travel magazine (M+IT magazine).

Our team has had the distinct pleasure of working with Martin and his team for several years. Here are our collective insights regarding the potential pitfalls in searching for–and selecting–speakers, and how to avoid them:

1. Don’t rush it.

Plan as far in advance as possible, especially because approval for the speaker budget can be delayed, which means availability of your ideal candidate may not match your event dates.

Tip: If it is difficult to get the approval team together to discuss the specifics, you can always put a tentative hold on a speaker and a decision won’t be forced until said speaker receives a request that conflicts with your dates.

2. Extreme Theme Focus.

There is a danger in being too literal in matching your speaker to a theme. Step back from the kitschy slogan and ask yourself: what is the objective of the speaker? Are you looking to change the behavior of your audience, to educate them, entertain or perhaps all the above? Sure, a successful mountaineer is a great match for your Peak Performance conference, but if your goal is to obtain peak performance by improving specific industry-related best practices, then possibly someone who has achieved success in your field is better to motivate your team.

Tip: Combine two meeting speakers: ramp up the adrenaline with the mountaineer and then draw direct comparisons with your industry expert.

3. What works for the Goose?

Just because your friend’s uncle’s sister’s daughter’s BFF said that speaker so-and-so is sick (in Millennial talk that means really good), doesn’t mean he/she will be sick enough for you. The audience decides who and what works, so know your audience. Share your goals with your agency of choice and describe to them the feeling you want to impart.

Tip: Look for unedited videos of past performances because staged and seriously edited clips can fool you.

4. Ask, don’t wish.

On occasion, after an event has ended, you might reflect and say, “I wish that…” This happens 99.999 percent of the time because expectations are not being fully communicated. Therefore, be sure to detail all your expectations before selecting the meeting speaker. If you want post-speaking photo ops or have the speaker break bread with the CEO, discuss this in advance. There are exceptions of course, but many speakers will happily add value and spend additional time with your team provided requests aren’t sprung on them at the zero hour.

Tip: If they can’t or won’t be there for the additional elements, then perhaps you need to select another speaker.

5. Don’t be a stranger.

Depending on the home location of the speaker, a face-to-face meeting prior to the event is not always an option, although it is highly recommended. The next best thing? A pre-engagement phone conversation between the key personnel who will be introducing or interacting with your guest speaker and the speaker themselves. The more your speaker understands the message that’s being delivered by CEOs, CMOs etc., the easier it will be for them to tailor their remarks.

Tip: On the flip side, mispronouncing a speaker’s name during the introduction doesn’t exactly get things off to a great start.

6. No secrets.

When working with a speakers bureau, be transparent.

Tip: Share your budget so that the right pool of meeting speakers can be reviewed without wasting anyone’s time–including yours.

7. Don’t stand alone.

Speakers bureaus are experts in matching speakers to audiences. Their days are filled with reviewing candidates, cutting through clutter and providing an impartial assessment. The decision is ultimately yours, but by allowing the experts to narrow the field, you will save your time, money–and your sanity.

Tip: On that last point (your sanity), remember the 428,000,000 Google results we mentioned at the beginning of this article? … ‘nuff said.


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