5 Tips on How to Select and Treat a Keynote Speaker

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When organizing an event, whom you select as the guest speaker and presenter sets the tone of the entire affair.  When you invite a guest speaker, you probably took time to see if they were the perfect fit for your organization based on their area of expertise, credibility in the industry, visibility in the community you serve and their reputation as a speaker.

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Part of your selection process ultimately comes down to whether the speaker would draw a big crowd for your event.

You also need to be clear why you’re doing the event in the first place. Most organizations host events because they want to:

  1. Raise awareness of their mission and vision
  2. Secure funds from new memberships or donations
  3. Build brand awareness and get media exposure

Getting your event publicity and buzz is always good. So having a keynote with a high-marque name will leverage positive visibility for your organization’s brand too.  A great speaker is way to position a positive image in your target market’s mind about your organization – especially if this if the first time they have personally come in contact with you.

And it can work the opposite too – a bad speak can damage the organization’s reputation.

That’s why selecting a good speaker is critical.  First take a good look at their speaking kit (a good speaker will have one).  Note these items in the kit: quality references, media appearances,  links of them in action and their presentation topics.  If they are a professional speaker they have set fees and riders (special requirements).

Once you have secured your speaker for your event, only half the work is done. In order to leverage everything from the speaker for the event, you need to follow proper speaker engagement protocol.

Highland Park chamber of commerce keynote pam perry When you treat a speaker properly, not only is it a gold star in your cap to your organization, but you will have created a “brand ambassadors” spreading buzz about your organization to their influential network.  And that is priceless.

Here are the top 5 Speaker Protocol tips:

  1. Confirm all their arrangements in writing with a 50% deposit. Outline all the details of their travel itinerary and accommodations. Make sure you give them a VIP treatment. First class ticket and Quality hotel room – adds class! Describe the presentation logistics  available (will there be a wireless microphone or hand held, podium, Powerpoint LCD projector, etc). Explain the theme of event so the speaker can maybe tie-in their message or wardrobe.  Provide all the emergency contact numbers of the organization’s leaders, event planners.  Give them an updated agenda/timeline for the day of event with a layout of the room and the expected attendance and audience composition. Finally give them  comfort by providing the publicity plans and a backgrounder on your organization.  NOTE: Always have the speaker approve in advance your publicity materials if their images are used.
  2. Have someone assigned to handle the speaker at all times. A person (of the same sex) should help the speaker be comfortable and as stress free as possible. When necessary, pick them up from the airport and help with their luggage. If they check into a hotel room, leave a “welcome” gift in their room. If the speaker is a local keynote, have a special and close parking spot outlined for them and make sure you have someone meeting them before they come into the building. That’s why having mobile phone numbers are important. Tell the speaker what time to arrive and have them let you know when they are about five minutes away so you can meet them at their vehicle and escort them into the “green” room. Never have the speaker enter the room until they are ready to speak. Keep them secured in a separate area – they can center their thoughts and deliver a good presentation for you.  Also, at the end of the presentation, don’t dump the speaker. Help the securely leave a vicinity and keep people from “rushing” the stage trying to get to them. Use your “secret service” skills and help the speaker exit properly.
  3. Handle their logistics. If they need lights turned on or turned down during certain points of their presentation, photos/video taken, a glass of water or need someone to set up their Powerpoint presentation, make sure you have enough staff to cover their requests. All you want the speaker to do is deliver their message. Make it as seamless as possible. Remember, your speaker is critical to the success of the event overall.  Keep them happy.
  4. Properly promote and introduce your speaker. This is a pet peeve of mine – maybe because of my PR background.  If the organization took the time to host the event and select an outside speaker, it’s the organizations job to do the marketing of the event – not the speaker!  Yes, you can give the speaker some flyers or forward a well-written press release to them and ask them to share a few things in social media, but don’t expect the speaker to use their media contacts or email list to get people to your event. That is rude – and a good way to lose respect in the eyes of your speaker.  Also, when introducing the speaker, make sure you get their current bio and rewrite if necessary  to fit your organization. A good thing to do would be tell the audience why you personally selected the speaker and then read the bio.  This makes the speaker get comfortable before their presentation too.pam perry pr social media speaker
  5. Pay your speaker the fee agreed upon right after they speak. Don’t make them chase you down after the event. If NO payment amount was agreed on (though I always suggest paying speakers – even if it is just $100 – that is just the honorable thing to do – regardless if they sell products in the back of the room or not), always give a “token” gift. Give the speaker a gift card, flowers, a framed certificate or some type of promotional item with their name on it if no payment was agreed ahead of time.  Many people will speak for your group for free – but they will not be “brand ambassadors” for you as a result.  A round of applause is nice but it will not be remembered long after the event is over. Give honor to your speaker – they took time out of their schedule, prepped for your event and showed up on time with their “best foot” forward. So give your best to them and you’ll probably get them to come back again without hesitation – and probably bring some influential friends.

Honoring speakers and making them feel special is an art.  Old-fashioned hospitality is the best PR you can do for your organization.  The Golden Rule is in full effect when booking and taking care of keynote speakers, treat others they way you want to be treated. Make the speaker feel like a celebrity – and you’ll double your PR/fundraising efforts and brand equity for your group – guaranteed.

Do you have you any speaker or event “nightmares” you’d like to share? Or what else would you add to this list to make sure special events go off the right way for the speaker and the organization?

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  • This post should be published in every national newspaper. Love your media page and I would certainly hire you!


    • Pam Perry says:

      Thanks Dr. Deana! This article came from horror stories from clients…and from personal experiences dealing with event planners who should know better. Hopefully this will help both parties out.

  • Kim Brooks says:

    Great article! Amen! (10xs) I appreciate the info and the insight.

  • I agree that picking the right keynote speaker for an event of yours will make a positive impression on others concerning your brand. These speakers offer a lot in motivating employees and customers alike, helping them see a bigger picture. I think it’s important to consider hiring a keynote for some of your events to help those who attend come away from the event feeling a little more motivated to act on what they’ve learned.

  • Wow! Great article. Organisations need to be aware of how to arrange, treat and pay the speaker and keep their agreements. In return, the keynote speaker will provide the right content for their audience, which in turn will inspire and uplift them, which is always a wonderful result!

  • Dr. Cynthia J Hickman says:

    This is right on time! I have an upcoming local speaking engagement and when asked about promoting material, like a flyer, I was told no..since its an internal conference for their church leaders. Any thoughts on this? I’m assuming the church bulletin has the information in it.
    Enjoyed reading this content.

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