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Partnering With Speakers

How to Partner With Professional Speakers for a More Successful Conference or Meeting

I can’t tell you the number of times a client has hired me to speak at an event where I am the only paid professional speaker, only to find that my allotted time has been slashed by 50% or more because the schedule has been derailed.michael-kerr-large

To be clear – this isn’t about me or any other professional speaker getting “their time” – it’s about you, the client, who has invested a great deal of money bringing in a professional, outside expert and professional speaker and ensuring you get the best possible value and return on your investment. Partnering with a professional speaker early in the planning process will help make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck and making the most effective use of their expertise. Remember – you’ve hired a professional for a reason, so why wouldn’t you tap into their wealth of experience and judgement when planning your event?

Here are some ideas for how you can partner with a professional speaker to help make sure your next event even more successful:   

  1. Based on your discussion with the speaker about your audiences, conference theme, issues and goals, ask the speaker which one of their programs and which messages they feel are most beneficial for your audience to hear. Professionals speakers are experts on what they speak on – with a wealth of experience – so they will be more than happy to offer their perspective on what it is your audience would benefit most from hearing.   
  1. Ask the speaker what works best for the length of their presentation. Chances are you’re constrained by many factors when it comes to timing, but whenever possible ask the speaker for their input on where they feel they would best fit into your program (opening slot? closing? after-dinner?) and what the ideal length for their presentation is based on their experience and your goals for the presentation. Rather than trying to wedge a speaker into a predetermined time slot, try to build your schedule around what makes sense in terms of how much time the speaker optimally needs to most effectively deliver their content so you get the best return on your investment.
  1. Protect the speaker’s time. Ensure you’ve allowed enough time for the meals to be served and tables cleared, for the CEO to finish her opening remarks, or for the panel discussion to wrap up. Have a backup plan if the schedule gets derailed – where can you cut without impacting the time allotted for the professional speaker(s) you’ve invested so much in?
  1. Set the stage for success – literally. When a speaker makes certain requests for how they want the stage set or the room laid out, they aren’t being high maintenance (unless they demand their water be served with a slice of pomegranate at exactly 22.56 degrees) – they simply know what works best from experience and they want to make sure their presentation is as effective as possible.
  1. Set the stage for success with a proper introduction. A professional speaker will usually tailor their introduction to your event, and they’ll have crafted their introduction with a certain purpose in mind. I know several speakers, for example, that refer back to something mentioned in their introduction during their talk, so it’s important that the introducer stick to the script provided and that they take the time to deliver it properly and only once the audience is settled.
  1. Manage expectations. From the initial marketing of your event right through to how the speaker is introduced, work with the speaker to properly manage expectations. I know many speakers who were horrified to discover that the text describing their keynote or breakout session had been altered somewhere along the way and so the expectations were completely different than what the speaker intended to focus on. Work with the speaker to make sure their keynote or workshop description truly matches what it is your audience will be learning.  As just one small example, as someone who is a very funny speaker, I stress to my clients the need, especially when it’s an after-dinner event, to never use the term “comedian” or “entertainer”  for the simple reason that I am neither one of those and using those terms sets up a very different audience mindset and expectation.
  1. Consider how value-added products such as books can make a longer term impact on your audience. If you want to make a speaker’s head explode, at least internally, tell them your organization believes in lifelong learning, employee development and continuous improvement, but you have a policy against selling books at your events!

There’s only so much impact even the best professional speaker can make in an hour keynote or even a full day workshop. If you want to maximize the learning impact of bringing in a speaker, discuss what other options they have to help make sure their message outlasts their presentation.

Does the speaker have e-resources available for participants? Can you pay a licensing fee to record the presentation so that other employees/future employees have access to the presentation? Can they sell books at the event so that those people who want to dive even deeper into the subject matter or bring a resource back to their workplace have an opportunity to do so? Can you partner with the speaker to negotiate a bulk-order discounted price on books to make them available for every participant? If you want to make the event that much more memorable, a souvenir copy of the speaker’s book not only serves as a memorable gift,  it will significantly improve the chances that the speaker’s ideas will get implemented and real change will happen – and isn’t that ultimately what the goal is?

  1. Use speakers as a meetings resource. Speakers spend their a lot of their attending conferences and meetings, so ask them for their input on other aspects of your conference as well. What trends are they seeing in the meetings industry? What other speakers can they recommend for your event? How much time should be allotted for the meals before scheduling an after-meal speaker? What makes for a more effective panel discussion? What creative or fun ideas have they experienced at meetings? What is working when it comes to marketing meetings to association members or reducing costs of meetings?other-post-06
  1. Speaking plus…? Is there any other way the speaker can add value and/or help you reduce costs during the event? Can they add a breakout session after the keynote to dive deeper into their topic? Can they participate in a panel discussion on a related topic or emcee a portion of the event? Can they help drive attendance to your trade show? Can they participate in a judging panel or contest? Can they offer one-on-one coaching sessions for participants after their presentation?
  1. How can you partner to ensure there is a long term, long lasting impact? How you can partner with the speaker to make sure ideas become action? Does the speaker offer follow-up resources that will help make sure real change happens? Coaching or consulting? Follow-up videos or e-learning programs? Webinars or teleseminars? Not all speakers offer these options, but many offer at least some opportunities for a long term relationship. Don’t miss out on the chance to establish an ongoing relationship that could help your organization or association achieve even greater success.
  1. What about next year’s event? If the audience loved the speaker you brought in, then why wouldn’t you consider having them come back while the iron is hot and deliver a different program at your next event? It may not be in the same time slot, but if they made a memorable splash, then having them come back for a breakout session, or pre-conference workshop can be an ideal way to generate early buzz. At the very least, ask the speaker what recommendations they have for other speakers – most speakers have a lengthy list of amazing referrals and are more than happy to share ideas on who would be the best fit for you next event.


Michael Kerr is a Hall of Fame international business speaker, trainer and author of six books including, The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank. Michael is known as a leading expert on workplace culture, humor in the workplace, and extraordinary customer service.




















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