The best way to find a truly good speaker is to listen and to network. While there are tons of bureaus and oodles of web sites to be found for speakers of every ilk, you can’t really know what to expect from a speaker unless you or someone you know have heard him or her speak.
If you want a keynote speaker that you know will get the job done, begin by asking some very specific questions:
What do I want out of the presentation?
Do you want someone to entertain, to educate, to inspire, to motivate, or a combination of these things? Do you need someone who is industry-specific, or a subject matter expert in a particular area? Be very, very specific – the more so, the better. The speakers you approach will appreciate this. Amongst professionals, there is a willingness to refer each other if we are not the perfect match. Those of us that continue to hone our craft seek out and listen to dozens of speakers a month. If you know someone that you feel is a fabulous, but s/he does not speak on the topic you need, you may ask for a referral from that speaker. Most likely, you’ll get a good one.
Should you find a speaker through a bureau, don’t circumnavigate the bureau if the speaker is a member. Both the speaker and the bureau invest time and money to ensure meaningful engagments and negotiate the fairest fees. If you have booked through a bureau before (and had a good experience), see if they have another speaker that fits your specific needs.
How long do I want the speaker to talk?
Most professional speakers have 45-minute to 1-hour presentations ready to go. The bulk of these speakers can craft their presentations around your time limits and other needs, with enough prep time. Believe it or not, shorter presentations are the most difficult to craft, so we very much appreciate the heads up. Again, be specific about your needs.
When do you want the speaker to present?
The time of the presentation (early am, after dinner, etc.) truly does affect the delivery and, ultimately, the message. Let the speaker know when you intend to have him or her perform so that s/he may prepare accordingly. Some speakers are better at energizing people early in the morning, while others are better at re-energizing people later in the evening. Some speakers are great at motivating people through humor and stories after a long day, while others specialize in bringing together difficult concepts after intensive training. I’ll say it one more time: the more specific you are with your needs, the better a speaker will be able to meet those needs – or point you towards someone else who will.
What is your budget?
This is not always the deciding factor for hiring a speaker, but it obviously does come into play. If you have a specific budget, let the speaker know. Depending on all the other factors and the speaker’s availability, a higher-fee speaker may be willing and able to meet your budget. Be prepared to answer related questions, such as whether you will pay for travel, lodging, and meals, as well as the availability of a merchandise table for the speaker to sell merchandise. Sometimes, if you are unable to meet a speaker’s normal fee but you can guarantee a certain interest in book sales or your event is in a location s/he will already be near, you might be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable fee.
Keep in mind that this is the speaker’s living. You would not work for free, so do not ask the speaker to do so. We spend weeks, if not months and years, researching, writing, and honing our craft. “Exposure” is not an incentive or payment for a professional speaker anymore than it is for a dentist, lawyer, or mechanic. Just like any other industry, you will get exactly what you pay for.
Do they engage?
If you are referred a speaker that does not live in your area, check out their website. Watch their videos and pay attention to audience engagement more so than video quality. Outside of TED Talks, professional speakers are not often given the opportunity to record their presentations when speaking for a particular organization, so it is most likely the videos they do have are done by amateurs. You can still get a feel for the speaker’s style, message, and audience engagement by watching even a low-production-level video. A good speaker will shine through, every time.