How To Pick The Right Speaker: 3 Key Steps

October 4, 2008

I’ve noticed that organizations are deciding whom to hire based on budget instead of value. I understand why this is happening but it’s time to pause. If you are about to hire a speaker you’ve got to hire for value not just cost. If you have 100 people and their average hourly salary is $30 your organization’s cost is $3000 per hour. Two hours is $6000. And I’m not adding food or the cost of the room or travel or catch up time.

A better question to ask is what value can a speaker offer us? What is our number one challenge? You have urgent needs and a great speaker can offer real solutions. Here’s how to make sure you pick the right speaker within your budget. Know your DNA.

1. Determine your R.O.A: Take the time to fully determine your event outcomes or your ‘Return on Attendance.’ Why are you getting together? For example, if your group often works virtually and your goal includes building knowledge and team building then you want a speaker who does more than speak. You want a speaker who engages the audience with the material and each other to foster  relationships and knowledge transfer. You want a speaker who can do team building in the midst of a keynote and help you take actionable insights back to work. You don’t need another handout you won’t look at or a PowerPoint with too many slides crowded with a blur of words. No one can afford to waste a second. We are too busy for schlock and awe.

You need an expert who is knowledgeable and who ensures knowledge transfer because, you can’t implement what you can’t remember. Ask your speaker, “How do you ensure ‘Return on Attendance’? Do they build knowledge transfer into their speech, such as strategic questions that give the audience a chance to reflect, discuss and plan for action? Does your speaker offer follow up such as speaker notes or video to download, post-session teleseminars or webinars? It’s your money, how do they make sure it is well spent?

2.  Niche: Speakers have niches. The NHL player-turned-speaker does well before the male-dominated medical sales team, but not the no nonsense, mostly female, ER nurses. Speakers know their niches, or they should. Speakers have topic niches and industry niches. They also know if they are best first thing in the morning or providing an amusing summary at the conference closing. Ask your speaker what brings out their best.

3. Audience: A truly A-level speaker makes their speech about you and your organization. They customize by conducting a pre-event survey, onsite pre-interviews and even arriving at the event early to listen to your staff’s triumphs and trials. Ask your speaker how they customize. Listen for a minimum of three approaches and you will ensure success. I can’t stress this enough. There are speakers wasting your time and money by telling their story without discerning real, researched strategies to help you and your organization. They are funny and moving but not always relevant. Sometime that’s fine but sometimes it’s not.

Tell your speaker about your mission, your goals, your challenges and your strengths. Building a truly great, inspiring and helpful speech comes from listening and collaborating. Why do we sneer at the thought of motivational speakers? Because they are so ‘me me me’. You need someone who makes it about you. Customization costs but it is worth it. Remember cheap is rarely good and good is rarely cheap. You have real issues so please take the time to define what you need to keep your people alive not dying on the job. The right speech is priceless. The wrong speech is a few laughs and a speaker high that will last 24 hours, followed by a sort of  ‘nothing has changed blues.’ Here’s another tip:  ask for reference letters (speakers collect testimonials) or a referral. Try to hire someone who has been recommended. I’ve watched literally thousands of speakers from all over the world and only a small percentage are gifted.  Don’t settle.

I’m at mid-life (I hope!) The BS years are over for me and I’ll bet for you. Take the time to really define what you need to make a difference and hire that. You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without determining  what you needed (running or dancing) and trying them on.


Are you or your business reaching the fullest potential?

If it is not your genius it is not your job.
Louise B. Karch