Getting More Value from Conference Keynote Speakers

TENZ_Keynote_022 by Ignite New Zealand, on FlickrNot long ago, becoming a professional speaker was a third step in a thought leaders career path. Many built their expertise in an industry or function, shifted to consulting and then wrote a book to launch their speaking career. In today’s digital age, the path to creating a thought leader platform, leading to speaking gigs, is shifting to a second career play. This is good news for planners. More quality options result in a buyer’s market…now and in the years ahead.

What to Look For

Keynote speakers should be chosen wisely. How your audience responds will have a direct impact on your conference’s brand image and credibility. From a conference design perspective, we believe the current best practice is to bookend your conference by opening with a strong-thought provoking speaker and closing with inspiration. This model sets the tone your conference and then sends the participants off with an emotional high.

Five boxes you should check before selecting a keynote speaker:

  1. Relevant – Content must align with a major problem or opportunity facing your profession.
  2. Current – The speaker’s expertise must be fresh; not the same shtick they did 10+ years ago.
  3. Customized – Canned presentations and stories don’t move audiences. Determine the degree a speaker will research and deliver relevancy for your industry.
  4. Polished – A speaker’s delivery skills and stage presence matter much. Look for authenticity + charisma.
  5. Engaging – If a speaker doesn’t have a plan for chunking content and infusing audience participation, don’t hire them.

As you evaluate speakers on this criteria, be sure to check references and video tape from the past 12 months. Don’t just view the highlight real. Ask for access to a full length, recent example.

Optimizing ROI

First and foremost, do not short change your audience by not baking in enough time for a high quality keynote. Some organizations spend too much time on preaching to the converted about the state of the industry, recognition and passing of the gavel – aka pageantry. Be sure to allow a minimum of 45 minutes for the main speaker.

As competition increases for keynote gigs, speakers are increasingly looking for ways to differentiate and deliver more value. Here’s what some organizers are asking for and getting:

  • Pre-Event Content Marketing – Customized promotional video or interview, webinar, article contribution for newsletter, blog, podcast or magazine, social channel engagement.
  • Onsite Optimization – Captured or streamed keynote, concurrent session presentation, sponsor recognition, book signings, social channel engagement and VIP sessions/experiences.
  • Post-Event Content Marketing – Participate in a scheduled replay. Anything listed in pre-event category above.

Develop a list of prioritized concessions (value adds), just like you would for hotel negotiations. Be sure to either communicate this when inquiring or request the speaker to give you their recommendations for adding value.

Invest in Professional Speakers

According to PCMA Convene’s 25th annual Meeting Market Survey, organizers invest 7 percent of a meeting’s direct expenses into speakers and entertainment. Other than food/beverage and audio visual/production, it’s the third most valued investment of your attendee value proposition. As attendees evolve into collectors of experiences, this investment category should be a ripe area for future increases.

Organizers are wise to infuse diversity of thought and make an emotional connections through professional speakers. To realize the highest ROI, challenge these professionals to add value beyond the main stage.

What are some qualities you look for in a keynote speaker? What kind of value-adds are they providing to you before or after your event?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2016.

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  1. Dave – love criteria #5: Must be engaging. It’s a curious question to ask your potential keynoter: What is your plan to engage AND involve the audience? What techniques do you use? If you hear crickets, RUN! If you hear a bit of stammering, you know you have a problem. But if you hear, “That’s an excellent question…and I have given tremendous thought to how I infuse audience participation at least every six minutes or so throughout my presentation.”
    Follow up with “So what are some examples you have used during a recent presentation?” If you hear crickets…RUN!

  2. Sarah Michel says:

    Amen Sister Kristin!! Thanks for you helpful comment!

  3. As a full-time paid speaker, I offer these 4 suggestions for meeting planners optimize to value and visibility of the speaker — for their attendees and for the speaker:
    1. After you hire a speaker, ask that person to submit 3 actionable tips, with titles (under 100 words each, with embedded links) that they will offer in their presentation
    + 2-sentence bio with link to where attendees can learn more tips from that speaker. Then create a valuable conference souvenir that you mail to attendees as they are leaving the conference: an eBooklet of all speakers’ tips + Who Else Contributed to the Success of Our Conference — a list of the conference committee members and others.
    2. Strengthen the connective thematic thread of your conference by sending all speakers the collective list of speakers’ tips and ask them to refer to at least one tips from another speaker where that tip relates to their topic too
    3. During the conference ask each speaker to create e one-minute video tips, with explanatory text titles using the free app Gloopt and their iPhone — and to include the hashtag for the conference in each video and suggest that they share them socially whilst at the conference — thus boosting the value and visibility of the conference, ideas at the conference and the speakers.
    4. Also invite attendees, in advance of the conference, to download the free app so that during the conference they can use their iPhone to ask each other, “What’s one tip that you have heard at (name of conference) and from who?” Attendees might cite a speaker or exhibitor or other attendee from whom they learned something helpful. In so doing 4 people get bragging rights that can spur them to share these videos: the interviewee, the person interviewed, the person cited and you the meeting planner
    5. Like a movie director, storyboard the sequence of meaningful moments attendees experience at a conference to increase the positive ones and reduce or eliminate the boring ones. See how here:
    6. When attendees sign up to come, ask them to “By (X date) please send us the name of a book that helped you in your work last year, even if it does not seem to directly relate to your work. When you do you will get a peek preview of what your colleagues thought and we will have the top ten most cited books on display at the conference with the names of the people who cited them. When you receive responses, do two things: Send the respondents PDF that reinforces the value of their attendee, with some exciting news + 3 alphabetical lists: List of attendees, followed by the book title they submitted; list of books, followed by the name of the attendee(s) who submitted them AND a list of the Attendees’ Top Ten Favorite, Most Relevant Books. Get 10 copies of each book from the publisher — for free — by telling them that you will display them throughout the conference then give them away, from the stage, to attendees you want to honor.

  4. With increasing pressure on event planners to include remote audiences, we should be asking speakers how they’re going to create value, inclusion, and participation for remote participants, too.

    1. Dave Lutz says:

      Great point Roger! Not many speakers are experienced or practice the skill of engaging both the live and remote audiences simultaneously. We like to call that learning to walk while chewing gum for presenters.

      1. Linda says:

        Dave, I am preparing to include a remote team of credit analysts in a two-day training on tax return analysis. I have a special welcome email I send to them that includes some tips for maximum impact.

        One of the things I tell them is that if they are eating something yummy, I will see them and want some. It is fun, which I am, but let’s them know I’ll be paying attention to them. I let them know how to ask questions and how to work through the case studies that i would normally be helping them with if they were in the room.

        One key, I believe, is to let them know they are a valued part of your audience and you have thought through the best way to help them succeed. What else would you add?

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