No matter how stunning the venue or how delicious the food, speakers are the piece that can truly make or break an event. An uninspiring keynote can cause a crowd to check out early and leave a less-than-special mark on your event.
Thus, finding the right speaker with a relevant topic is the single most important step of planning an event for your group. Events should pair education with networking, so members can leave at the end of the night with more than just a few business cards and some swag.
While you plan, keep these considerations in mind to ensure that you’re providing top-notch value that will have attendees anticipating future meetings.
Event veteran Kevin Dennis of WeddingIQ pairs his extensive industry experience and business savvy when presenting at association chapters and on the national stage. As the current International President for WIPA, he also brings expert insight on the power of networking and partnerships. Photo by Misti Layne Photography.
Set your goals
Before you even research speakers, you need to understand the goals for your event. What do you hope attendees will learn this meeting? How do you define success for this event, and how can you achieve that? Consider what has been successful in the past, as well as the meetings that fell short of expectations.
Your big goal will be highly dependent on your audience and the industry segments they represent. A group of solo-preneur photographers will have different needs than one filled with florists who work in team-based environments. Likewise, a speaker who carries a wealth of experience in the wedding industry may not translate well in a corporate setting.
Set your goals accordingly before setting off on your hunt for the right speaker.
Ask your members
Avoid getting anecdotal and, instead, gather feedback directly from the source. Ask your usual attendees what they enjoy the most about your meetings, as well as what they would change.
Your members are a fount of inspiration, so tap into the conversation to see what topics they’d like to see covered. You’ll likely see some fresh ideas that you haven’t even considered, and you’ll get a better understanding of the topics that are overdone.
Requesting input from your attendees will help to ensure that the chosen topic and speaker are a good fit, as you’ll be confident that attendees will learn something valuable from the meeting.
Longtime industry expert and consultant Meryl Snow travels throughout the North America on a mission to help businesses get on their own path to success. She is a regular fixture on the national stage. Photo by Catersource.
Understand speaking styles
There are numerous professional speakers in the events industry, and many of them cover similar topics. However, all speakers have their own way of presenting a topic and offer unique perspectives to the audience. Thus, you need to understand the qualities of different speakers to determine the right fit for your members.
In general, there are three types of speakers. First, there is the speakers who have a script memorized and go through their presentation word for word. They are confident that they will never miss any of the essential points.
Then, you have the people who come in with nothing prepared and present completely off the cuff--and, in many cases, are successful at engaging the audience.
Lastly, you have the speakers who have a mental outline of what they’ll cover, but don’t adhere to a firm script.
Find the right speaker
All speakers have their own personal style made up of a mix of different elements, and it’s up to you to determine what will resonate the most with your group.
Some speakers infuse humor into their talk, and others use emotion to make a point.
Storytelling is another popular tactic, as is using interaction to connect with the audience. A lot of speakers employ content-rich information to add the most value, while others incorporate inspiration for listeners to take home. Most speakers actually use a blend of these styles to customize their on-stage approach.
Conferences are an excellent way to evaluate potential speakers. If you’re heading to a national event to scope out speakers, do your research ahead of time to know who you want to see. When you’re there, consider the factors that will translate to your group--in particular, look at their energy level, their pre-talk interaction with the crowd, their language, and their formality level. Take a look at the quality of their slides, too. Seeing them speak live will give you the best idea of how well they will fit in your chapter.
Of course, we’re not always fortunate enough to see every interesting speaker in-person. If that’s the case, I highly advise reviewing videos of speakers to get a feel for their stage presence to know if it’s a good match. Professional speakers often have videos available on their website; otherwise, you can reach out to them to request a sample.
Bron Hansboro, owner of The Flower Guy Bron, is a noted rising star in the events industry, recently named one of the Top Young Event Professionals by Special Events. His unique business model has served as a catalyst for his speaking platform, and his stage presence has earned him a wealth of positive reviews from attendees. Photo by Clear Sky Images.
Evalute the success of your goal
Remember the goals you set in the beginning of the planning process? It’s time to revisit them to see if your event was a hit. Survey your members to gather feedback on the speaker--this is ideally done onsite when the experience is still fresh on their minds.
The responses from the attendees will help keep your finger on the pulse so you can tailor future programs and continue providing high-quality educational content for your group.
A great speaker makes all the difference at a chapter meeting, so don’t wait until the last minute to find the right fit. Keep your members top of mind and always be prepared to learn and grow as a group.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. She is a long-time NACE member, and member of the national education committee. More recently, she launched WeddingIndustrySpeakers.com, a go-to resource for in-demand event industry educators.