Seven Tips to Get the Most From Your Industry Speakers

Speaker Kathy Sierra by foreverdigital.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” When it comes to selecting industry speakers, that adage is especially sage. 

You’ve read their speaker proposal, description and bio. They look like the right fit for your conference. But just because they’ve got the right dancing shoes doesn’t mean they can pull off the dance. Here are seven considerations to keep in mind to make sure you line up the right industry speakers for your event. 

1. It takes two to dance.

Build a relationship with your industry speaker. You both are partnering to deliver the best content and learning experience for the participants. Don’t just call the speaker to tell them they’ve been accepted and to finalize the session title, description, and learner outcomes. Ask questions about their delivery style, presentation skill level, audience engagement plan, and how they evaluate their success. Share attributes of previous, high-rated education sessions. Offer advice and continue the coaching after the presentation. 

2.  “Trust us we’re the experts,” is just the first step. 

Ensuring that the industry speaker has deep knowledge on the topic is a given, but it’s just the first step. Knowing how to develop and deliver a stellar presentation that engages the audience requires strong presentation skills. They have to know how to move to the music, too — that’s the delivery. Remember to make the distinction. 

3. Being a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is not enough.

Just because SMEs know the content doesn’t mean that they have experience applying and implementing it. Instead, look for SMEs: Subject Matter Experienced! This SME can share relevant tips and takeaways for applying their content in the real world. ASAE’s recent research study The Decision To Learn shows that association members want to learn from practitioners as instructors, not suppliers and/or vendors. 

4. Delivery and handling not included.

Many industry speakers have yet to acquire good adult learning presentation skills. The right content plus the right delivery style plus the right audience engagement equals a winning session. Invest in your conference speakers. Set aside money to provide webinar training on developing content into a presentation and face-to-face training on delivering it with panache. Invest in them and they’ll invest in you. 

5. Set the goal.

How serious are you about improving your conference education? If you really want to start making improvements, then set an overall speaker satisfaction rating goal. Publicize that goal. Let speakers know if they don’t score a minimum level of satisfaction, you won’t use them again (unless you think they are coachable). Create a speaker-score comparison sheet and share it with all the speakers. Post it online as well. Each year, raise your goal by 5 percent until you reach an overall average of a 90-percent or 95-percent favorable score. 

6. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

Use an extensive session-evaluation system, not just a smile sheet. Have your participants rate each speaker for all sessions attended. Evaluate the speaker’s knowledge, style, pace and timing, program content, relevance, and whether or not they met the learning objectives. Ask open-ended questions, such as, “How will you apply the learning to your job?” and let speakers see their unvarnished compiled evaluations.  

7.  Post-con speaker follow-up.

Your job with speakers doesn’t end when the speaker leaves the podium. Ensure that the compiled evaluation, including comments as written is shared with the speaker. Talk with the speaker about your takeaways from the evaluations and how the speaker can improve in the future. 


Industry speakers require more hand holding than professional speakers. Organizations that coach and evaluate their speakers based on proven adult learning principles, will deliver a higher quality educational experience.

Comm Coach is a good resource for industry speakers to begin to understand the basics of effective presentation skills. 

This article was adapted and written (well, ghostwritten by me in collaboration with Dave Lutz) for Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s September edition of Convene. It is reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010. 

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  3. Peter Bowler says:

    Yes, it’s so important that subject matter expert industry speakers have the right mix of knowledge and presentation skills to meet your conference or seminar needs. Good substantial feedback on their event is invariably much appreciated.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and resonding. Feedback after the presentation is critical if the speaker wants to improve. That’s for sure!

  4. Sarah says:

    I agree that the right delivery style plus the right audience engagement are essential for a winning session. Many speakers who have the knowledge in their area of expertise lack either the delivery style or audience engagement which affects the session’s success. There is no point investing in a speaker who has knowledge if he lacks the delivery style to get this knowledge across.

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