5 January 2016
5 tips for choosing the Right Guest Speaker
It’s that moment when the success or failure of the event you’ve organised hangs in a supremely fine balance. The venue proved to be superb, the food was delicious, and the mix of guests – employees, customers and prospects – was perfectly calibrated. In short, things couldn’t have gone better, and now the focal point of the event is taking place; your guest speaker is rising to their feet. Over the next 40 or so minutes, they will either deliver a finely honed, carefully targeted message that speaks to, informs and entertains your various guests……or they won’t.
Get it right and people will leave your event feeling enthused, energised and entirely positive about you and your brand. Get it wrong, and all they’ll remember is how awkward it was when joke after joke fell flat onto the floor, providing the abiding and crushingly disappointing memory of your event.
The only way to ensure you get the choice of guest speaker absolutely right is to plan carefully, weigh up every option and only choose when you’re absolutely certain. To that end, the following tips will prove to be extremely useful:
Know Your Audience
The demographic of your audience is perhaps the key factor to bear in mind when choosing a guest speaker, since the right choice for one event could prove to be absolutely disastrous for another. It’s not always that obvious, of course, but ask yourself a few simple questions about the age, gender, interests and professional status of the members of your audience and you’ll begin to build a picture of the speaker that will fit.
Will they be technicians, keen on lapping up wry references to obscure engineering developments of the last 12 months, artistic types looking to be entertained, amused and inspired, or a ‘mixed’ audience open to a generalised message around a theme such as Coping with Adversity or Dealing with Change? Combine an understanding of your audience with a clear focus on any specific message you wish to convey and you’ll have gone a long way towards building a profile of the perfect guest speaker.
The key to successful budgeting is honesty, and probably the hardest kind of honesty – that which involves being truly honest with yourself on the issue of how much you can afford to spend. In one sense this is a simple question since any event will have a bottom line figure beyond which the overall spend can’t go.
More complex, however, will be the consideration of just how vital to your event the guest speaker is going to be, and therefore the percentage of overall spend that you can devote to their presence. The more emphasis your event is going to place on the presence of a speaker, the more you can apportion to pay for them, and a topical celebrity fresh from appearances on several reality TV shows will cost more than an informed industry insider. Calculate your guest speaker budget on the basis of the overall impact you’re hoping to leverage, and the money you’re willing to save in other areas.
The Aim of the Speaker
In many ways, the aim of the speaker is utterly intertwined with the aims of the event. Is it a fund raising evening? A sport based social event? A sales conference? Each will call for a different guest speaker and a varied overall approach. Do you want your audience to be entertained, inspired or informed? The overarching intention will make all the difference when choosing, for example, between a military veteran able to offer stirring tales of triumph over adversity and a satirical impressionist with a roster of cutting edge quips and impersonations.
The aim of the evening will also have a bearing on the format you opt for. Would your guest speaker be expected to deal with a question and answer session? If so, would they be asked to host it themselves, be provided with an ‘in house’ host, or would a professional host be hired for the event, thus impacting upon budgetary requirements?
Take the time to ensure that your guest speaker is entirely clear on the aim of the event and the ‘take-away’ you’re hoping to offer to the audience. Taking for granted that they know who you and your audience are and exactly what you’re expecting on the basis that they’re professionals who’ve done this many times before is a risky gambit and, if it goes wrong, it’ll be too late to do anything.
Choosing the right venue for your event is a dual challenge blending the practical and the creative. In logistical terms, it has to be easy to get to in order to attract the widest possible range of guest speaker options, as well as placing reasonable travel demands on any guests attending. Above and beyond these pragmatic requirements lie questions of the ambience and atmosphere of a venue, and how much this can do to magnify the impact of your event in general, and the contribution of a guest speaker in particular. A sporting lunch, clearly, calls for a sporting venue, but a more creative brand might opt for a quirkily unique venue, whilst technical, scientific industries could choose a space reflecting the work they do. Consider the venue as both a functional choice in its own right and an adjunct to your speaker selection, theme and any brand message you’re hoping to convey.
When dealing with the bigger picture – the themes of the evening, the demographic of the audience, the crossover between your brand image and that of your guest speaker – it can be easy to neglect the smaller logistical details, but these can prove just as vital to the success or failure of any event:
Time management – book too early and your chosen guest might not be able to commit, leave it too late and they might already be booked. As soon as the details outlined above have been finalised start looking for and enquiring about the ideal guest speaker.
Provide a brief – on the day, or before if possible, provide the guest speaker with a brief offering details of the event, the audience and any specific expectations. It could be, for example, that you have a particular statement you wish to be included in the speech, and the sooner you inform the speaker, the better.
Logistics – When, where and who? Make sure your speaker knows where they are expected to be, at what time and who they can contact if they’re having any difficulties getting there.