#Speakers101: Recruiting Great Speakers

First in a Series:

Part 2: Speaker Diversity: What Not To Do
Part 3: 
Speakers Share Their Own Best Practices
Part 4: 
Speaker Prep Checklist

Over the last three years I’ve worked with hundreds of speakers on almost every kind of talk imaginable, from keynotes at invitation-only conferences for world leaders, to developers delving into an API they’ve spent months working on. I’ve also done some of my own speaking engagements, so I’ve seen from both sides how exciting and stressful it can be to take the stage.

Speakers are often the lifeblood of events, but they also frequently get shortchanged in the planning process. Selecting speakers for any event can be a daunting process, but planners need to give this area as much attention as the rest of an event execution. Here are five speaker-specific steps to think about when you begin the event planning process.

Don’t Stop At The Keynote
Keynotes are where the big names speak and the big money gets spent, and those talks deserve all the time and attention required for flawless execution. Identifying quality keynote speakers goes a long way in creating a top-tier event, but the rest of your talks deserve equal attention. The speakers giving a deep dive for a room of 100 deserve just as much care and feeding as the ones opening or closing an event. Put yourself in your speaker’s shoes and consider each aspect of their experience from the moment they walk in the door. Anticipate their questions and needs so that they can feel confident, and deliver an excellent talk that will make attendees want to come back to your events again and again.

Ask Early
Don’t assume that a few weeks notice is enough time to book a quality speaker. It can be, but who wants a late invitation to the party? Make selecting speakers a priority in your event planning process. Remember, speakers can also be a selling point for events, so having them in place when you promote the program benefits your event’s attendance.

Give What You Can
Are you paying your speakers? Yes? Awesome! If not, think of some way to compensate them for giving of their time and expertise (and sorry, but exposure is not enough). Can you cover travel, lodging or both? What about paying for their parking or transportation if they are located nearby? If the speaking event is at a conference, give full passes for the entire event, not just the day they are scheduled to speak on. Whatever you do, it is imperative that you plan to give some small offer of thanks, whatever you can afford. And a thank you note is always nice, regardless of other tokens offered.

Representation Matters
And yes, this means diversity. Having a variety of speakers at your event creates opportunities for more varied conversation, and highlights new voices. Whatever your industry, there’s usually a pool of the same people that work the conference circuit, and while it’s fine to include them, speakers are a great way to add new energy to your event. It also ensures that your attendees see a variety of people on the stage. Make incorporating diverse voices a part of the planning process as you recruit speakers, not an afterthought.

Have A Backup Plan
Event planners have to hope for the best and plan for the worst, so even while you’re prepping your existing list of speakers, maintain a list of people who can step in if someone (or a whole panel) cancels. Last year I attended a conference where a four-person panel on virtual reality was reduced to one speaker when the others had a family emergency, a work emergency and travel delays. The event team had no recommendations for filling those spots, so the moderator spent her morning turning her questions into a one person presentation. She pulled it off but was totally stressed and said she would not be back :( Don't let this happen at your events!