How To Choose The Right Speaker For Your Next Conference

Would you like a keynote speaker that is engaging, inspirational and entertaining, while being knowledgeable in their field and relevant to your audience? What event manager doesn’t right?

There are many things to consider when looking for a speaker for your next event.

The trick is to know what is important and what will have the most significant impact on your audience. All of this leads to how successful your event is.

Having worked with hundreds of events managers as a speaker, they continually highlight these three challenges.

1. A speaker who has relevance to the audience

Many speakers have a story, but they need to have relevance to your audience while delivering value. They need to address the issues and problems of the audience with practical ideas in helping solve them. It’s about having a speaker who understands the audience’s needs.

2. A strong speaker that fits the budget

This is challenging with fees ranging from a few thousand to way into double digits. Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you pay for. Higher prices can be based on a “celebrity” status and not necessarily quality content or presentation skills, and then those at a lower fee are often not professionals and experts in their respected fields, making this task even more challenging.

3. A speaker who is an exceptional presenter and expert in their field

Experts in their field are often not engaging to audiences and storytellers don’t always have expertise. Finding the right speaker to meet both needs is a difficult task. Every group has a “personality”, so matching the right person to your group is as important as the right message.

Finding the right speaker

There are thousands of speakers, all of whom have extensive knowledge, expertise, and skills on their given topic.

I have seen the profound impact of keynote speeches within my time on and off the stage over the years. When choosing the right speaker for your event, it is essential to understand the role of the speaker, the skills each type offers and how to use them to achieve your preferred result.

When your audience takes their seats, they are far from focused. In fact, they are entirely distracted: by travel, budgets, e-mail, voice mail, office politics, life in general. To accomplish the goals of your event, you must have them focused and open, ready to learn and then to act in a way that forwards the events’ agenda. A great keynote speaker sets the tone for your meeting.

The right keynote can positively influence your audience for the entire event and beyond. This is summed up beautifully within the five identified categories of speakers:

The Freebie

Know anybody that works for free? Me neither. So when you hear that someone has engaged a ‘free’ speaker, you immediately start to wonder who is footing the bill. When that individual stands up in front of your audience, someone is paying for that hour. Even though they’re free, your company is paying the price.

How to use them

Is this a bargain? Consider how much you are paying, per person, for beverages for your event. If you agree that a self-motivated audience is essential, doesn’t it make sense to invest more in your keynote than in your coffee? Do not be surprised when their speech plays to the benefit of their benefactor, whether it be their consulting company, board of directors, business partner or publisher. I have seen instances where a single comment (which generated lots business for the benefactor) undermined the host’s entire event.

Corporate Executives

This is the group that loves to talk to your audience, tolerates little control from you, and believes that they are the best speakers. As a subset of the Free category, the same rules apply. Your company is paying for their time. If you think that you can control their message and they are articulate, let them talk (and give me a call because it’s a rarity).

How to use them

Your corporate execs are very important and have a pivotal role to play. They can be very useful for introductory remarks or as a follow up to the keynote with specifics on the new strategy. Their mere presence delivers a message to the audience that your event is a priority. Do not expect motivation, polished diction or even scientific enlightenment. Expect the audience to feel important and to pay attention to what they say and to what follows after their presentation.


These are technical experts from the research and analysis firms who deliver presentations developed and approved by their company based on careful research and subsequent reports.

No matter how new or dynamic the category, every person from that firm will deliver the same presentation. They will not be allowed to tailor the content to your meeting’s goals. Since they have to be objective, do not expect them to show favoritism towards your company.

How to use them

It’s rare for a Guru to deliver a compelling keynote speech. These speakers are knowledgeable reporters of facts, not motivators. Use them to follow up the keynote speaker. As authorities, they can be beneficial as authorities in generating confidence in a product category or interest in a new market. Understand that the demand they create is for their company’s reports.


Generalists are usually authors of a book from recent years or an executive from a previously successful company. You probably heard their speech at an industry conference within the past six months.

Chances are, if you engage that person for your event, you will end up with a similar speech. In fact, that speech may have been given at your biggest competitor’s event the previous week. The topics can be exciting or their delivery can be motivating, but the content is general.

How to use them

The more general the speaker, the more general the result. If you have a large audience (> 2000) and want to motivate them to embrace a topic (e.g. reengineering) or consider a new market (e.g. the e-Business), the Generalist can work. Do not use a Generalist if there is a specific action you want the audience to take, such as buying your product.


The hybrids, possessing the best of all the previous categories. The Advocate has the motivation skills of the Generalist, the authoritative knowledge of the Guru, and the polish of your best, most articulate Exec. Best of all, they are not Free.

They believe that it is their job to work for you, and with you, to make your event (large or small) a success. Unfortunately, they are not easy to find. Usually, their speeches are not a one-size-fits-all (like the Generalist and the Guru) but will have a common theme. A theme customized to help you achieve the goals of your event and that is delivered by a strong speaker becomes an incredibly powerful combination.

How to use them

If you want to ensure that your keynote will have maximum impact, find an Advocate. Work with them to shape their speech by describing precisely what you need to accomplish with your event. More than with any other type of speaker, the Advocate can give you confidence about what will be said regarding critical issues such as the competition, a controversial strategy, or a change in management.

Engaging the right speaker is like insurance for your event. Protection that the investment you have made will be used wisely and that your audience will leave entertained, inspired and informed so they can move forward with the right agenda.

Richard Bowles

Richard Bowles is internationally-known as an extreme 5X world-record adventure and specialist in self-leadership and resilience.

His ideas have initiated worldly conversations seeing him voted one of the top 50 Australasian speakers by Keynote magazine, as well as being featured across a range of media outlets, including; CNN, ABC, Sky News, The Today and Sunrise shows.

He has two decades in sales leadership with successes across B2C and B2B. He co-pioneered a local sponsorship consultancy and established a national convention with attendance in the thousands.

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