How to Select the Best Keynote Speaker

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More people than ever are on the speaking circuit – from retired politicians and best-selling authors to athletes and regular people with an extraordinary story to tell; all with varying backgrounds, topics, experience, fees and presentation styles. The famous TED talk series alone, for instance, highlights thousands of speakers from almost every background who are “spreading ideas”.

Selecting the best keynote speaker for your event can be a bewildering task. How do you select the best keynote speaker for your event from the thousands of keynote speaker options? Answering the questions below will help you select the ideal speaker for your next meeting or event.

Everyone thinks it’s so easy!
It takes enormous skill to pull off a successful Event

You’re selecting the speaker to set the stage for your three-day annual meeting. Do you choose: the author of a recent best-seller? a professional speaker? The audience will be drawn to the celebrity if he/she had good platform skills and delivers more that a book report. But if he or she does not, it’s your professional reputation at stake, just as much as the reputation of the speaker.

What makes a meeting most memorable?

Consider the time the keynote speaker bombed. Did you ever hear the end of it? But when the speaker got the group excited about the meeting, or made everyone laugh following the awards program, or sent everyone home with a new commitment to professionalism, did you not hear about that for months to come? The learning experiences we have stay with us far longer than the memory of a good theme, fabulous meal, or fancy decor.

What do you need?

Decide the goal or purpose of your meeting. Is it primarily an educational session? Are you looking for light entertainment or an inspiring motivational message? How will the speaker fit in with your group? A “big name” speaker does not guarantee a professional presentation. On the other hand, a professional speaker, an individual who earns his/her living on the platform, brings a wealth of experience to make your meeting a resounding success.

The speaker can tell you the right amount of time for the job you want done. Consider also the strength, topic and style of the various speakers on a multiple-speaker program. An outstanding opening speaker will carry your meeting through the first couple of days. Don’t follow a humorist with a low-key educational presentation even though the speaker is equally professional. Close with an uplifting, inspiring message that will leave your group wanting to come back next year.

Why use a professional speaker?

Getting value for your dollar is an important factor in any business. The professional speaker allows you to predict that value by providing:

Support material. Lets you know on what subjects he/she speaks, types of programs, and in what format (seminar, keynote, general session, luncheon or banquet, breakout session, etc.)

References. Ask about the kind of group and their needs. How effective was the message?

Preview. An audition audio or videotape, or an invitation to see him/her in action.

Personalization. He/she will learn about your group, what your objectives and specific needs are, and then custom-design their presentation accordingly in content, format and length.


Speaker’s credentials are important to you and your group. Your speaker’s background and credentials can build your meeting attendance. Such credentials are education, experience, degrees, awards and certifications. In the profession of speaking, CPAE and CSP can be meaningful to you. The CPAE (Council of Peers Award for Excellence) is an award for platform excellence granted by the National Speakers Association. The CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is a designation of achievement earned through proven experience. The Cavett Award, named for NSA Chairman Emeritus Cavett Robert, CSP, CPAE, is bestowed annually. The Cavett is awarded for contributions to NSA and the profession of speaking.

The speaker’s experience in a given field also may be a big draw, but don’t assume expertise will automatically create an expert presenter. The content of a presentation is of great importance. Does your meeting require that the audience leave with specific or technical information, or do you need someone to motivate the group to sell? Thorough knowledge of the needs of your group is essential in selecting the right speaker.

Hiring the right speaker is much the same as hiring a good employee. The traits and characteristics that spell success in one situation can mean disaster in another, no matter what credentials the speaker may have. Check references. Find out what groups the speaker has addressed that are similar to yours.

What sources are there for professional speakers?
  • Personal referral.
  • Others who plan meetings.
  • Professional speakers. Those who have done a good job for your know others who would do well for your group.
  • Speakers Bureaus. Bureaus can be helpful with suggestions on specific topic speakers. There is no charge to work with a Speaker’s Bureau; the bureau is paid from the speaker’s fee.
How fees are determined

As in any business, supply and demand establish a speaker’s worth in the marketplace. A speaker can be in only one place at a time. As the demand for his/her talent results in a full calendar, fees will escalate. You are not paying only for the hours the speaker is on the platform for your group. Built into the fee are the hours spent researching the talk, improving, updating and custom designing the speech for your group.

AnnMarie Thomas

To book the speaker you want, here are a few hints…

Work preferences of the speaker may give you some opportunity to negotiate. Some speakers limit the locations of where they will speak, or will only work certain days of the week. If your meeting is close to the speaker’s home, it’s more attractive than a cross-country flight. Schedule the speaker when he or she is working with another client in your geographic area. Travel expenses can then be shared. Hire the speaker to do more than one program. Follow the keynote with a breakout session. The fee won’t come close to the cost of two speakers, and you’ll save on travel expenses. If speaking for your group serves as a good showcase of speaker’s talent to others who hire speakers, he or she may negotiate the fee. The speaker may negotiate if you pre-purchase for your attendees, books, or audio and videotapes.

So you’ve made your selection. Now that you’ve hired a speaker, what is the next step?

Agreement of terms. In a letter of agreement, find out the speaker’s exact arrival and departure times. Professional speakers make every effort to schedule so there is a least one 3cushion2 flight available in the event of delays.

Make contracts clear

Politicians or celebrity speakers often expect to bring their spouse or aides. If other parties are involved, put down in writing as understanding about lodging and food reimbursement. If you have retained your speaker far in advance, there are sometimes opportunities for the speaker to arrange other engagements near your meeting which could mean savings through shared travel expenses.

If you would like your speaker to attend social events before or after the presentation, be sure the speaker is aware of this well in advance. In many cases, the speaker spends those final hours in preparation to have the right mind-set for your meeting. Speakers are usually happy to attend extra events if given sufficient notice. Be aware, however, that some speakers prefer not to attend social events and some charge extra for this time.

Be sure to get the speaker’s photograph and biographical information so the your publications may present thorough information. Send the speaker as much information as possible about your organization including company newsletters, annual reports and any relevant meeting bulletins. Send the speaker copies of any material mentioning his or her presentation.

Many speakers and seminar leaders have written books and produced DVDs or online courses of their programs. Create a mutual understanding about what promotion of their materials will be allowed. A speaker will usually appreciate the products being mentioned by someone from your organization at the end of the presentation. Audiences often benefit from material that extends the value of the presentation. If you want to tape the meeting, be sure you have signed authorization from all participants in advance.

Tell the speaker everything

Put your speaker on your company mailing list for newsletters and other meeting information. Be specific concerning the size and demographics of your audience (age, social and economic level, gender, etc.). If there is good news or bad about your organization or company, be sure the speaker knows this. Names, buzz words, themes or “insider” information – let the speaker know so that it can be worked into the presentation. Set objectives for the session with the speaker and provide every suggestion possible to make it your best meeting ever.

Notify the speaker about other speakers’ schedules on the program to ensure the program content does not overlap and give the opportunity for presentations to build upon one another.

Before the Speaker Arrives

Provide a Host. Assign someone to be your liaison with the speaker. That person should check to be sure the speaker’s sleeping room reservation is in order and that the meeting room and audio-visual materials are prepared as requested. Notify the speaker before his/her arrival where this contact person will be located. The contact person can check with the speaker shortly after check-in and should offer to take the speaker to the meeting room. That is the first place most speakers want to go! In addition to seeing the room, the speaker probably will want to test the microphone and audio-visual equipment. Your liaison is ideal to escort the speaker to the meeting room and handle instructions to the key people you have specified.

Room Setup. In order for your audience to receive the greatest impact from the speaker, the room should be set with no more chairs than the anticipated attendance. The energy and dynamics of a speaker can be readily lost if the attendees are sprinkled throughout the seats, therefore you may consider roping off the back portion of the room so that early arrivals take the front seats.

A bad introduction can spoil a good speaker. Some of the most common horror stories told by speakers are about poor introductions. It is your obligation to the speaker and your audience to get the speaker’s own printed introduction, which is usually designed to “set the stage”. The introducer should be firmly requested not to deviate from the introduction and particularly not to attempt to tell jokes. Diversions that could create a negative environment, such as announcements of bad news, should be avoided.

Stay on schedule. Rarely would anyone ever ask a concert pianist to give an abbreviated version of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto. Similarly, the professional speaker’s presentation is well-timed and rehearsed, and you run the risk of spoiling a superb presentation if it has to be cut short, especially on short notice. If an important speaker is scheduled, try your best to arrange events before or after the talk that can be shortened if you get off schedule.

As an example, you can be sure the opening remarks and other fanfare at the opening session will run considerably longer the anticipated, and then the balance of the morning has to be compressed to fit a luncheon schedule with a kitchen and dining room that can’t wait.

Be sure a flexible event is in the time frame before or after a significant speaker or seminar leader. If a question and answer session is scheduled, have the emcee prepare a couple of interesting questions. This assures you will get the ball rolling since many people are reluctant to ask the first question.

After the presentation. Again, your liaison should be sure the speaker is not left stranded if everyone rushes to other sessions or social events. Be sure the speaker’s transportation is properly coordinated for a smooth departure. If arrangements have been made for the speaker’s lodging to be on the master account, make sure this is understood by the cashier.


• Here are some contracting tips for booking a keynote speaker.

• Are you looking for the perfect leadership speaker? Read this article about the different types of leadership speakers and areas of expertise.

©, published on August 27, 2018

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