Conference Planning – Selecting a Keynote Speaker

If you’re involved in conference planning for your business or organization, you are probably searching for one or more keynote speakers to set the tone and round out your agenda.

When selecting speakers for your event, especially a keynote speaker, it is essential that you first understand your audience to determine the best fit.  If someone is recommended to you, insist on seeing a video of a presentation they’ve done in the past to determine if their content and speaking style is a good fit for your group.

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I once attended an annual state-wide conference for several hundred finance professionals.   It was a mandatory training event in the state’s capital, with a high percentage of female attendees. The keynote chosen by the organizers to speak during the luncheon was a long-time radio announcer for a local college football team.  Although the speaker was very knowledgeable about his subject, his stories about obscure players and events from seasons past were lost on his audience.

As the speaker continued to regale the audience with his anecdotes, people started quietly gathering their things and leaving the banquet room.  Singles and pairs eventually grew to tables full of people exiting the large banquet room at the same time, leaving only a scant one-third of the group by the time the speaker concluded his remarks.  I was embarrassed for the speaker, for the event planners, and for the attendees who couldn’t bear to listen to one more football story.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning for a keynote presentation:

  • Is the speakers’  topic appropriate for your crowd?
  • Will his/her presentation add to your guests’ experience?
  • Is the topic relevant to the goals you’ve set for your event?
  • Does the speaker understand your goals, your audience, and your time limitations?
  • Is the speaker available and within budget?

If you are unable to find a suitable speaker for your event, you may decide it’s okay to completely eliminate the session from your agenda. Instead, create a networking opportunity for those in attendance; many conference-goers will tell you that networking is a primary goal and they will welcome another block of time to interact with their colleagues – perhaps a pre-established table topic at the end of a meal to facilitate discussion, or a World Cafe room with writing and drawing materials for capturing ideas.  Another option is to use the time to simply provide a well-deserved intermission for attendees to catch their breath and organize their thoughts.

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