March 25, 2024
By Mike Fletcher

Think about the last time you saw a great speaker at a conference or event. How did they make you feel? 

If you saw a compelling opening keynote, you no doubt felt inspired and ready to embrace the rest of the day’s agenda. If it was a captivating session speaker, you may have felt a sense of satisfaction as you took all that expert knowledge and advice back to your workplace. 

Your event’s content is vital. But how it’s delivered will make a difference in how it leaves your audience feeling. To ensure maximum engagement, you need great speakers who can bring the content to life. Read on for some great tips on how to source them. 

Why is having great speakers crucial?

Great speakers engage and inspire audiences. They can leave a meaningful and lasting impression, resulting in attendees telling their friends and colleagues about their experience at your event. 

Content, no matter how relevant or insightful, will fall flat if it’s presented by someone who is monotone, uninterested, nervous, or woefully under-prepared. 

Crucially, your speakers will set the overall tone of your event. They are responsible for whether your attendees leave with the knowledge, learnings, and professional development that will see them return next time. 

What do attendees want from keynote speakers?

According to the 2024 Freeman Trends Report, 38% of respondents said they wanted to leave a keynote better informed, and 35% stated they wanted to feel inspired and more motivated.  

The report also reveals the importance of providing interesting and relevant content. Attendees will always choose substance over a celebrity speaker. A thought-provoking, relevant topic will outweigh even the most high-profile of speakers (see table below).

Intriguingly, more male attendees preferred to feel informed (40%), whereas a higher proportion of women wanted to feel inspired (47%). It goes to show that by better understanding your audience and what they’re looking for from your event’s opening or closing address, you can tailor who you invite to speak. 

What do virtual attendees want from online speakers?

Similarly, 67% of respondents to the Freeman report said that unique or compelling content was the most important factor for choosing online events, while 47% cited compelling speakers. 

Inviting speakers to present remotely can give you a greater choice to secure the best industry experts, no matter where they’re based in the world. 

Make sure that your online speakers understand how to use the platform technology and know how to enhance the way they look and sound on camera. Talk to them about their attire, backdrop, lighting, volume and screen positioning so that their delivery and compelling content take centre stage. 

How we selected keynote speakers for Cvent CONNECT Europe 2023

Cvent CONNECT Europe is our annual user conference, which takes place in London. Over two days of a packed agenda in 2023, we had three main stage keynotes. 

Since our audience is existing and potential customers, we opened our conference with an address from Reggie Aggarwal, CEO and Founder of Cvent. Reggie is great at reflecting on the strengths of the meetings industry and gets everyone enthused and motivated about the industry they work in. 

We also added an extra element to Reggie’s keynote address by having him participate in a candid armchair interview with TV personality and conference moderator, Claudia Winkleman. The conversation gave the audience a fascinating insight into Reggie’s personal and professional journey. 

Inspiration was the objective for the following day’s opening keynote. And who better to deliver it than a double Olympic champion with an emotional and powerful story to tell? 

Dame Kelly Holmes took attendees on a journey through her military life, sporting career, mental health struggles and her decision to come out as a gay woman. 

For the closing keynote at Cvent CONNECT Europe 2023, we wanted delegates to take away some great advice and a better understanding of wellbeing and its link to performance. 

Mike Ford, CEO and Founder of Grateful Lemon gave a captivating talk on how to master the dance between stress and unapologetic bouts of recovery. 

The audience left our conference with common sense advice on reframing stress, making sleep your superpower, rewiring the working day, becoming the gatekeeper of what you feed your mind, and the correct way to breathe. 

All three of our keynote speakers had strong credibility and appeal and elevated the event experience in different ways. 

6 practical tips for finding the right speaker

1. Define your objectives

Choose speakers who align with the event’s overall theme or purpose. Do you want them to educate or inspire? Motivate or deliver industry insights? 

If your event's objective is to provide all these things, understand where each speaker would benefit the attendees’ journey. For example, speakers with a particularly energetic style may work best after lunch or towards the end of the day.

2. Identify your audience

Choose speakers who will appeal to your audience’s age range, interests or knowledge level. 

If your attendees are very junior, you could ask a well-known senior leader to speak - someone that people look up to. 

Alternatively, if people have come to your event to learn, select dynamic and engaging speakers who are both experts in their field and who have experience teaching others, such as guest lecturers, TED talk hosts or professional coaches. 

3. Research, research, research

Don’t just take someone’s recommendation for a speaker at face value, find out where they’re presenting next and be in the audience. 

Watch their past presentations on YouTube or listen to the podcasts they may have appeared on. Then, schedule a ‘getting to know you’ to determine if they’re right for you and if your event is the right fit for them. 

The more you understand a potential speaker’s style and delivery, the more you’ll know about their suitability for your audience and where they may fit within your event programme. 

4. Sell the speaking dream

No one wants to present to a room of disinterested people so tell your target speakers why your audience in particular will engage with their content. What is it about their knowledge, experience or story that promises to resonate with your attendees? 

5. Consider budget and availability

Ensure that you’ve allocated speaker fees within your overall event budget. 

Not every speaker will ask for a fee, but experienced, engaging presenters who rely on the speaker circuit for additional income may be just what you’re looking for. 

If you’re targeting a fee-based speaker or paying a speaker agency, make sure you start negotiations early to guarantee their availability. 

If budgets are tight, find out if there’s anything you could offer in exchange for a reduced speaking fee. For instance, they may have recently published a book, which you could distribute, they may have a podcast you could promote, or they may be aligned to a particular charity and would accept a donation. 

6. How about a ‘Call for Papers’?

If your conference or event is focused on a niche community or sector, why not tap into your network to find past and potential speakers? 

By asking for speaker submissions, you may unearth an exciting topic that’s never been presented before or discover the next star of the speaker circuit and give them their big break. 

How to manage your speaker submissions

If you’ve issued a ‘Call for Papers’ when the time comes to review submissions, inconsistent formats and criteria can make it hard to compare and score them fairly. 

Even after you’ve made your choices, you could be left with the time-consuming task of chasing up presentation slides, speaker bios, headshots and other promotional material for your event app and website agenda. 

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry – technology can help. 

A tool like Cvent Abstract Management lets you request, collect and evaluate submissions all in one place. You can assign reviewers to give their thoughts on potential speakers, as well as score them and vote on the best ones. 

When collaborating with your chosen speaker, you can invite them to upload their headshot, professional and personal information, presentation slides and any supplementary information to a single online portal. It will then feed the information straight into your Cvent event management platform, populating your agenda and freeing you from what were once time-consuming manual tasks. 

The secret to sourcing great speakers

Finding keynote and session speakers who are a perfect fit for both your audience and what your event has set out to achieve, guarantees higher levels of engagement and delegates energised about your agenda. 

Finding speakers who can inspire an entire room is something special. Attendees will always remember how that speaker made them feel and talk about them for a long time afterwards. 

The more work you put into finding great speakers, the more your audiences will get out. 

With the right strategy, process and supporting technology, you’ll source great speakers every time -  your audiences will thank you. 

For more insights on enhancing the in-person event experience, download our Ultimate Guide to In-Person Events.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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