The American Idol Strategy Of Picking Conference Speakers

America has a love-hate-relationship with American Idol.

We boo the negative naysayer and painfully honest founder and judge Simon Cowell. Although we often secretly agree with what he has to say.

We applaud the effervescent Ellen DeGeneres when she says she likes a finalist and compares them to an unripe banana. Although we know she is struggling to find something positive to say when a singer does a poor job.

The entire process of finding the next American Idol is very similar to the process of finding the right speakers for your conference. It takes an extraordinary amount of time. And it can be extremely frustrating as you often have to review a lot of losers before you find a winner.

So how do you identify a winning speaker and know that your audience will agree. Let’s take some tips from the American Idol Playbook to see how those judges sift through the bad and mediocre performers to find the outstanding gems and diamonds in the rough.

1) American Idol judges say: You’re a bit indulgent, aren’t you?
You know these speakers. They’re the ones that are over-the top, selfish and pleasure-seekers. They are there to serve as a mouth piece for their company, their books, and their products. They have the famous bright white speaker smile and handshake.

Speaker selection takeaway: You want a speaker that is transparent and that provides a presentation that is content-rich with relevant information that will help your audience succeed, not one that is clearly there to sell their books.

2) American Idol judges say: That was completely forgettable.
Quickly, can you name one highpoint from the last keynote presenter you heard? Probably not.

But how can we forget, “Yes, we can.” Or “Ask not what you can do for your country.” Those are memorable.

Speaker selection takeaway: Find a speaker that has a memorable presentation that arouses the brain and uses some good adult learning techniques such as repetition, audience participation and storytelling.

3) American Idol judges say: That sounded like a random act of copy cat Karaoke.
It sounds all too familiar, like rehashed, refried, regifted déjà vu and in the end, it’s still just black beans. You might hear an attendee leave this presentation and say something like, “Frankly, we’ve heard better people outside of the subway station on their soapboxes.”

Speaker selection takeaway: Find a speaker that has a message that is unique, compelling and memorable not a carbon copy cookie cutter faux presenter.

4) American Idol judges say: That was very authentic and true to who you are as a performer.
How sincere is the speaker? Does their message feel like a slick, snake-charmer, potion carrying, slimy used car sales approach? Or can you tell by the way the presenter interacts with the audience that they are speaking from the heart, are genuine and the bona fide real thing?

Speaker selection takeaway: Find a speaker that is genuine, realistic, legitimate and sincerely honest. This is one that connects with the audience.

5) American Idol judges say: You have no charisma or stage presence
“I think you are amazingly…wait for it…wait for it…dreadful. I don’t think another human being on the planet will ever sound or act like you.” Ouch! Honest and to the point.

Can you imagine the American Idol judges saying, “Wow, those words were so good, even though you didn’t sing them with much meaning and you couldn’t connect to your audience, you’ll be the next American Idol for sure. America will love you.”

Not! They probably would tell the candidate, you can’t make it on stage but obviously you’re a good song writer, so go write songs.

Speaker selection takeaway: Find a presenter that has great delivery and communication skills such as good eye-contact, appropriate gestures, and correct body language.

Need more help understanding good delivery presentation skills when selecting a speaker? Start with CommCoach: An Online Video and Speech Resource by Professor Corinne Weisgerber for tips on what to seek in a speaker with good delivery.

6) American Idol judges say: Yo Dog, I like you. I like your smile and your look. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very good for me.
We’ve all seen the judges struggling with something positive to say about these finalists. Their looks are attractive and they dress trendy. Unfortunately, it stops there. The judges remind them that it’s a singing competition and in the end, the audience won’t vote for them just based on looks.

Speaker selection takeaway: Choose a speaker that has a memorable message that hits it out of the ballpark. Your attendees want more than just a message that is a bag of air and looks good on stage.

In Conclusion
Ultimately, on American Idol it’s all about viewers picking up the phone or texting their vote for a finalist. For your conference, it’s about your attendees voting by picking up the evaluation and letting you know that they feel as if they got their money’s worth…and returning to next year’s event.

If your attendees are like the ones at my conferences or events, they will complete an evaluation if the speaker is outstanding or painfully terrible. If the speaker is really bad, and I mean really bad, you’ll hear about it for sure.

If the speaker is mediocre or average without much depth to their message, the attendees usually won’t take the time to complete the evaluation. They walk away with a “So what, apathetic attitude.” They weren’t moved to tell you how they feel or what they learned. You didn’t move your audience to vote.

So heed some advice from the American Idol judges to move your attendees to vote, return to the next show and find the winning American Idol Conference Speaker.

What other American Idol speaker takeaways would you add to the list? Share them with us.

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  1. Justin Locke says:

    so jeff, this is fab… but… where do you suggest we send the average overworked underpaid assn staffer to find such talent? apparently the current standard channels are not doing it.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I have a confession to make. I was [and am at heart] that average overworked underpaid association staffer that was tasked with finding speakers for meetings and events. In one of my previous jobs, my salary and raises were directly related to the overall average score of all the speakers I used. How’s that for putting the pressure of their performance on an employee.

      Finding speakers is not that hard, really.
      First, to turn your network – ask other association education and meeting professionals who was successful for them.

      Second, look at other association education programs. Who are they using? Are their any topics of relevancy for your group?

      Third, Google the topic along with the word speaker. You’ll find lots of speakers with their own blogs and websites. Typically, you can find a short marketing video or clips on their website and get an idea if they have good delivery skills. And if they don’t have a website or blog…we’ll that would cause me to think twice about hiring them.

      Fourth, several speaker bureaus still offer speaker showcases today where you watch 20-30 speakers in a eight hour day to see for yourself.

      Last and not least, and the obvious, ask a speaker’s bureau.

  2. Justin Locke says:

    thanks jeff, i learn more about this biz from you than anyone. –jl

  3. Dave Lutz says:

    When searching for great presenters, I think you can adopt some of the same tactics that you might use for recruiting star employees. These days when one of my clients is looking for a superstar sales or management person, I’ll toss it out to my network on LinkedIn, Twitter and maybe even Facebook. The more detail I can give about what the ideal candidate is. the better. If I say that my client is looking for a good sales person in Chicago and they pay great money, I’m going to get a flood of unqualified crap. If I say that they are looking for someone with exceptional relationships with C-Level execs w/ Medical Associations in Chicago, plus the candidate must have experience selling high ticket stuff, we narrow the field.

    So don’t just look for a speaker on social media. Keep drilling into what it is about social media that can be applied to the business of your key attendee segments to make them win more. One association exec in Atlanta told me that he sources some of his speakers using LinkedIn search tools. He was pleased with the results. It doesn’t hurt to select a speaker with a strong network!

  4. Amada Wiesen says:

    I will confess that American Idol is getting a little boring but I still like it because it is an “easy” watch for my family.

  5. Midcourse Corrections » The American Idol Strategy Of Picking Conference Speakers…

    “On American Idol, it’s all about viewers picking up the phone or texting their vote for a finalist. For your conference, it’s about your attendees voting by picking up the evaluation and letting you know that they feel as if they got their money’s …

  6. Jakob Bertel says:

    Somehow, that’s innovation – casted keynote speakers!

    Too bad they’re missing out on their travel opportunities with their own friends:

    – JK Bertel

  7. Howard says:

    The American Idol strategy is made up of good guy, bad guy in order to have a strong audience response. This in my mind is what makes this such a popular show, aside from the talent and the occasional celebrity guests. I believe that a good facilitator in the sense of conferencing, must be a diplomat and be capable of engaging the audience to recognize themselves what needs to be addressed and how the meeting should progress.

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