WHETHER YOU’RE PLANNING a large association’s annual conference or a smaller company’s quarterly sales meeting, it’s crucial to find the right speaker for your event. Sure, you can have a beautiful venue, great food and an engaging theme, but your speaker sets the meeting’s tone. Hire a speaker who is a fit for your meeting, and you can change the lives, thinking or behavior of your attendees. Bring in the wrong speaker, and your event will be lackluster at best.

The good news is there are thousands of competent speakers eager to present to your audience. But therein lies the challenge for today’s meeting planners: How do you sift through the thousands of good speakers to find the one who’s the best match for your event? Here is a proven five-step process that will ensure you hire the right speaker.

During your pre-event planning meeting, as you decide the date, time, location and theme of your event, make sure you and other stakeholders clearly define your desired content, goals and outcome of the meeting. Which groups of people will primarily be in attendance and what key messages do they want to hear? Why is the meeting being held? To educate? Motivate? Help attendees navigate a shift or industry change? Should the message be more inspirational or technical? And perhaps most importantly, what do you want your audience to feel, know or think after this event? Make sure you get as detailed as possible during your planning phase, as that will help direct you to the best speaker.

Budget is a significant factor when choosing a speaker, so don’t even start your search until you know what you’re willing and able to pay. While many people think only celebrity speakers ($30,000- plus fee range) and high-fee speakers ($10,000-plus fee range) have the experience to make an event successful, the fact is there are many quality speakers with great content and delivery who charge significantly less. The key is to be honest about your budget so you don’t waste your time considering speakers you can’t afford.

With your budget and desired content and goals in mind, it’s time to begin your search. All reputable speakers have websites, and most have video samples on their site. Watch their demo videos or attend a local event if they’re speaking nearby, but don’t be too picky at this point. Don’t worry if you don’t like something about their delivery, if you think they’re too excitable or if they seem to lack energy in their video clip. Remember that you’re seeing one snapshot of what they offer, so none of that is important yet. Simply make a list of six to 10 speakers who appear to be good matches based on their topic expertise, fee range and availability for your event date.

With your pool of six to 10 speakers in mind, you can begin narrowing your list. Now is the time to get nitpicky in your evaluation and elimination process. Compare each speaker to your stated goals for the event. Based on what you know about the speaker’s expertise, topic and delivery style, can he/she deliver what you want? Also, check out the speaker’s social media networks to get a feel for how they interact with people and what their connections say about them. Finally, read verified reviews and testimonials about the speaker, but don’t rely solely on these reviews. No one is loved by all, and even the best speakers get some negative feedback at times.

At this point, two or three speakers will shine above the rest. To make the final decision, check a few references from each. Then, ask each speaker two important questions:

"Are you willing to provide our group with something extra in addition to the main presentation?" This extra could be coaching or consulting before or after the speaker’s presentation, a webinar or conference call for your participants, or anything else that would be of value for your attendees.

"Are you willing to offer a moneyback guarantee if you fail to meet the stated goals for the presentation?" Many speakers are willing to offer a guarantee, and it tends to improve their performance when they have a little skin in the game. If you enact this option, be sure you outline in your contract the key goals you expect the speaker to deliver so there’s no discrepancy.

Analyze what the references say, as well as each speaker’s reply to your two final questions, and the speaker who will make your event a success will be clear. Hire that person right away!

The Right Speaker, Every Time
No matter what type of meeting you’re organizing, you need to hire a speaker who can deliver a message in a way that makes your attendees take action in some way. That’s a huge task to undertake, but it’s completely within your reach when you follow this simple five-step process. In fact, the more you use it, the easier your job will be, and all your events will be a resounding success.

Joe Heaps and Dave Reed own eSpeakers.com, a 14-year-old technology and marketing company providing the speaking industry with the tools to do business online.

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