A conference is nothing without keynote speakers. You could plan the most exciting, innovative conference in your industry for years, but the speakers you advertise will be its biggest drawcard.
Attendees will travel from across the globe for the chance to hear directly from some of the biggest and most respected names in the industry. A great speaker can transform your event from something mediocre into a memorable experience for years to come.
But, how do you attract these popular speakers to your next event? After all, these individuals tend to lead busy careers and lives and may receive dozens of invitations to speak every year. Eighty-nine percent of event creators surveyed by event software company Eventbrite said that finding and securing guest speakers was a major challenge. So, how do you make your invitation the most attractive one?
- Be clear in what you want from your speakers and make sure to target the right people.
- Celebrities and big names can be a huge marketing bonus for certain events, but they’re not necessary for every event.
- Remember you’re marketing your event to potential speakers as much as you are to potential attendees – make sure you have a solid marketing plan in place before making contact.
Choosing the Right Speakers
It starts with selecting the right industry leaders for your conference. This may sound obvious, but if your chosen speaker feels that their talents and experience don’t align with your event, they’re unlikely to even consider your invitation.
When you start thinking about potential guest speakers for your conference, your ideal choices should have several qualities:
- A good reputation, both online and offline. It’s best to avoid people who have been involved in any scandals or stir up controversy unless your brand is known for pushing boundaries.
- Active social media presence. Choose speakers who are active online and will communicate with your attendees prior to and after the event.
- Relevant background and experience. Think about what your attendees will want to get out of your conference and choose speakers who can offer this. You don’t have to stick strictly within your industry – skills like leadership, innovation, and problem-solving are relevant in any industry. Just make sure that each of your potential speakers has something valuable to offer your audience.
As well as these key qualities, you need to think carefully about what exactly you want your audience to get from each speaker: education, entertainment, or inspiration? Or maybe a combination of all three?
Celebrity keynote speakers can be a huge draw for big conferences, but they’re also harder to attract and demand a bigger fee. For many smaller, industry-focused conferences, big celebrity names are not needed as the attendees of such conferences simply want to learn and network with others in their industry. For such events, an industry thought-leader would be a more appropriate and budget-friendly option.
Sourcing Speakers for Your Conference
Once you know exactly what you want from your guest speakers, you can compile a “wishlist” of potential speakers for your event.
The more well-known and famous names will probably come straight from the top of your head, but for less prominent figures you may need to use several sources to find individuals who fit the bill.
Well in advance of your conference, it’s a good idea to put out a call for speakers and have an easy way for potential speakers to contact you. You’re unlikely to attract any big names through this method alone, but it can be an effective way to attract up-and-coming figures in your industry that are keen to make an impact.
There are also several speaker databases and lists you can use to sort through thousands of speakers and find relevant people to contact.
Beyond these easy and obvious sourcing choices, it’s a good idea to cast your net wide when it comes to finding guest speakers. Social media can be a great place to find people with lots of ideas and opinions and keen to make them heard. Scouring industry blogs and publications can also be an effective way to discover talent.
Approaching Potential Speakers
After you have a suitably long list of candidates that you think would make a great speaker for your event, you need to contact them in a way that gives yourself the best possible chance of them accepting.
Start by making sure you have a crystal clear idea of the themes and purpose of your conference. If you only have a vague idea of what type of event you’ll be running, this will lead to uncertainty for your potential guest speakers, too.
Then it’s up to you to sell your event. Don’t assume that you’re doing these people a favor by inviting them to speak at your event – you need to show them that it’s as much of an opportunity for them as it is for you.
Set out clearly the size and scope of your conference, how many attendees you expect, and what type of audience you’ll be attracting. If you’ve already secured other speakers, this is a good time to mention their names, too.
You should also make sure you’ve set up an enticing website or landing page for your conference with lots of additional information about the venue, social program, networking opportunities, and other relevant information.
Teasers on social media and building buzz in the run-up to the event can really help to build up a lot of interest and tempt more speakers to your event – after all, everyone will want to be speaking at the event that everyone’s talking about!
You might already have a topic in mind that you’d like a potential speaker to discuss (perhaps you’ve seen them at another event, watched a video, or read an article written by them – if so, make a big point or this). But, if you’re open to ideas, you might like to go into more detail about the themes of your conference and suggest a few ideas for potential topics.
Popular speakers are always very busy professionals, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response to your query right away. Be persistent about following up via email and telephone, but don’t be a pest – it’s best to have a set figure of contact attempts in mind before you move on to someone else.
Once an individual has shown interest in speaking at your event, there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of negotiating a fee and compensation package. Make sure you’re clear of each speaker’s requirements from the outset.
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