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Event Speaker 101: How to Make Connections With Superstar Speakers!

Author: Sonia Urlando
April 28, 2023
🕑 13 min read

Nothing elevates an event quite like having an all-star event speaker! Whether you’re planning a panel, building a workshop or organizing a keynote, the speaker makes the event.

But how exactly do you find a speaker for an event? And more importantly: how do you find the right speaker in a sea of great options?

Let’s explore what makes a great event speaker, how to find them and the best ways to build lasting relationships!

Why great event speakers matter

When you’re planning an event, there are a bunch of things to balance. Choosing a theme, finding a venue, building a budget—all of these elements come together to make an event memorable. But inviting quality events speakers is one of the most important things you can do!

Hosting the right event speaker will help you:

  • Attract new members. Sometimes people attend events simply because they recognize and admire the guest speaker! Think of your speaker as an introduction to your organization—if you’re endorsed by your speaker, their fans are more likely to become members.
  • Engage existing members. Surprising your members with an exciting event speaker can be great motivation to get involved! If they attend the event and really enjoy themselves, they’re more likely to keep up engagement once it’s over.
  • Educate and inspire. The event speakers you bring on should be experts, influencers and thought leaders in your industry. Their presence and knowledge can be just what attendees need to learn something new!
  • Offer professional development. If your event is something like a workshop or guest lecture, speakers can actually provide valuable professional development opportunities to attendees. Not only will guests have gotten the opportunity to meet your speaker, but they will actually walk away with new skills and perspectives.
  • Provide networking opportunities. If your event involves panels, you’re giving all of your speakers the opportunity to make new connections with one another. Beyond that, speakers might build new relationships with attendees. And when those relationships thrive, they will always think back to your event—and your organization!
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What to look for in a speaker for your event

A key part of figuring out how to find speakers for events is knowing how to find the right match! 

You want to find an event speaker who is:

  • Knowledgeable. Be sure to get someone who really knows their stuff! Knowledge is different from passion—no matter how much someone loves their work, it’s essential that they’ve got real know-how.
  • Engaging. We know we just said to get the experts in there, but make sure those experts know how to engage an audience! If you can, look up videos of their previous speaking events to gauge their energy.
  • Authentic. In the nonprofit world, authenticity is everything. Look for guest speakers who genuinely care about their work and have an open and authentic energy.
  • Aligned. As long as they’ve got the mic on your stage, your event speakers serve as a representation of your organization’s values! Varying perspectives are great to get, But be sure the speakers are actually aligned with your mission and values.
  • Connected. If your event speaker can make some introductions, that’s less work for you to do for the next event.
  • Easy to work with. Don’t sink hours into managing diva behavior! Great event speakers are the ones who make your event shine with their presence.

What to prepare before booking a speaker

When you crack open your event planning checklist, you’ll find a few tasks ahead of booking a speaker.

Here are some things to prepare before booking a speaker for an event:

1. Get clear about the purpose and goals of the event

Knowing the purpose and goals of your event will help you determine what success looks like.

This could include: 

  • Choosing a theme
  • Considering potential event partners
  • Setting fundraising, attendance and membership goals

Different events will require different skills, qualities and experiences from your event speakers. Once you know what you want out of your event, you can start figuring out the best person to help you make it shine.

2. Understand your audience’s interests

Consider who your attendees are. If you are primarily working with a younger audience, bring in event speakers who are very visible on social media is more likely to get their attention. On the other hand, if your supporters are mostly boomers, a TikTok star might not resonate with them! 

Try sending out a survey to your current members that directly asks what sort of events they would like to see more of and if they have any guest speaker recommendations. That can take the guesswork out of giving people what they want!

3. Know your budget!

No speaker is worth going broke over! Before you send out invitations, ask yourself if your  organization can afford to pay speaker fees. If so, set a clear budget from the start.

It can be disappointing to not have the budget to pay your speakers—and in truth, it will likely lose you some options! However, at the end of the day you want to be realistic with what is possible, and up and coming speakers might just be happy for some exposure.

Even with a tight budget, there are always options!

4. Set your event dates and times

Booking the date and time of your event will help rule out any speakers who are not available. There’s nothing worse than receiving a yes and then later having someone change their mind because they realize the date doesn’t work for them. If you can share that information from the start, your invitation process will go all the more smoothly.

5. Get your tech setup right

Whether you’re working with an online, hybrid or in person event, you’re going to need a tech setup! For example, you’ll need an audio system with microphones to ensure attendees hear speakers in all but the tiniest venues. Speakers may also expect things like projectors, screens, internet access and a readily available power outlet that won’t create a tripping hazard should they walk around the room.

For virtual events, you’ll want to decide which event platform you want to get set up with. This will also help you tell speakers what type requirements they will need from home so they can prepare in advance!

No matter how you host your event, event management software can be a great asset. Who wouldn’t want to help scheduling, managing registration with things like QR code check-in and staying organized?

6. Research potential speakers

Do your research! Gather a list of potential event speakers and organize them by who you would like most to host. When you see a whole list on paper, you’ll recognize just how many options you have.

This will also help you identify if you have any gaps in your programming. For example, if you look through your list and realize you do not have any BIPOC speakers, that’s a huge problem! Sadly, nonprofits have a history of racism, and it is our duty to make the industry safe and equitable for all.

It might be uncomfortable or embarrassing to realize that your speakers are not very diverse, but that’s no reason to leave them out. Resources like the National Speakers Bureau can connect you with diverse speakers and start filling those gaps in representation.

7. Contact the speaker or their representative

Check out your event speakers website and find out the best way to contact them. That might be through a form, an email address or a representative. Be sure to contact people in the way that they ask for—that shows that you are taking a genuine interest!

If a preference is not listed, just go with whatever email is posted publicly.

8. Confirm availability and fees 

Give your event speaker explicit information about when the event is and what honoraria you are offering (if any). This will help your speakers immediately know if they can attend. and if they can’t, you still have that whole list to consult for who is next in line!

9. Prepare (and sign!) a contract

Contracts are non-negotiable! A legally-binding contract sets expectations and protects both parties. No one wants to be in an uncomfortable standoff with their event speaker, but if things do take a negative turn, your contract is an essential safety mechanism.

Make sure a signed copy is provided for both your organization and your speaker.

The 9 best ways to find speakers for your event

Now the big question: how to find speakers for an event? Luckily, there are tons of options!

1. Social Media

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks feature search tools that you can use to find experts. LinkedIn in particular lets people add skills to their profiles, so search for profiles that list skills you’re looking for! Plus, if any names keep showing up in your feed, be sure to investigate.

You can also put out calls for speakers across social media. Word spreads fast, and folks might end up falling right into your lap!

2. Browse Professional Speaker Websites

If you want to find a speaker for an event, you can also browse through websites that have speaker directories!

A few great options include: 

These websites allow you to filter speakers by topic and experience, so you can find the perfect person for your organization’s event.

3. Reach Out To Your Network (Referrals)

Curious about how to find a knowledgeable guest speaker who’s great to work with? Referrals are worth their weight in gold!

Ask around about people who trusted members of your network have enjoyed working with.You can also ask them about up-and-coming speakers, or even dream speakers they might have! This will help you build out your list of names with some vetting already done.

4. Reach Out To Your Chamber of Commerce

Being part of a chamber of commerce is the fastest way to get mentorship, learn about opportunities and gain access to community resources. Everyone in your chamber wants the same thing: to watch your industry thrive!

Your chamber of commerce will be connected to people all across your industry, which can help you build out your network. If you’re relatively new to the industry, this is a place where you can find some trusted information.

5. Ask Your Members

Really! Members will be one of your greatest assets in finding the perfect event speaker. Send out surveys and post them forums to learn about who people would like to hear speak at your next event.

In many cases members themselves can even make the best speakers of all! Do some digging through your directory, and when you find members who fit the bill, send them a message pitching your event. How’s that for member appreciation?

6. Review Post-Events Survey Results

Take a look through your previous post-events surveys. What did attendees love? What did they feel like they were missing?

If there is any information that you see previous guests were looking for more of, that tells you what kind of speakers you should be looking for. Let your attendees introduce you to the best speakers for events, even if that is just giving you a concept to start with.

7. Review Events You’ve Attended In The Past

Have you been to any great events recently? If so, try to remember the speakers who really stood out to you! If you can’t remember their names, look through old schedules to jog your memory.

If similar organizations thought that these events speakers were worth programming, then it’s worth looking into them. And if you can let a speaker who’s really in demand, that’ll build some serious credibility for your organization!

Not to get negative, but this can work the other way around too—if you remember having an uncomfortable experience watching a speaker, put them on your no-go list. Again, no amount of talent is worth having an icky time at your event!

8. Check Industry Publications

Read through your industry publications to find the rising stars. You can also look at who your usual event sponsors are hyping up! That’s a great way to build goodwill between two parties that you want to stay connected with.

Here are a few nonprofit-centered publications that you can explore for leads.

9. Search Engines

We saved the most obvious tip for last. We google our way to all sorts of other knowledge, so why not search online for speakers too? Chances are, though, that if you used the preceding tips, you won’t need to rely on the whims of a search engine.

If you do decide to go this route, be smart with your search terms! Think about things like relevant LinkedIn skills and pertinent keywords.

How to build good rapport with your speaker

Finding your event speaker is the first step—then comes building positive relationships.

Here are 7 simple ways to build good rapport with your event speaker:

  • Communicate every step of the way. Confusion is the death of a smooth event! Stay close contact with your speakers in the time leading up to the event and during the event itself—then be sure to plan some post-event follow-up.
  • Provide support and prepare for the event together. Speakers should know how long their events are, who they will be working with and all other essentials. If your event is virtual, something like a tech rehearsal will ease potential stress!
  • Be flexible and find solutions. At some point, you will inevitably run into a roadblock with the speaker. When that happens, stay calm and look for ways to problem solve together. It is always possible to find a solution, and your speakers will appreciate your flexibility and understanding.
  • Promote them well ahead of the event. The stronger your promotion, the better your turn out! Promoting your speakers early on is not just a great way to bring in more attendees, but it also shows your speakers that you are genuinely excited to be hosting them.
  • Show appreciation. Say those thank yous—say them over email, in person and in the thank you letters that come later on. Speakers work hard to make your event a blast. For example, a keynote speaker will have prepared an entire speech for you! Show them that their work really means something. 
  • Make it a mutually beneficial opportunity! You have the opportunity to provide events speakers with visibility, payment and a sense of community. People ultimately want to feel like they are being heard, and they are really a part of something. Find ways to make that a reality!
  • Think beyond the event. Don’t think of this event as a one-and-done experience. If this is your first time working with an event speaker, be sure to keep up with them and promote their other events! You just might find new opportunities for each other later on. 

How to build a network of event speakers

As we’ve said, finding and booking an event speaker is just the beginning of your relationship. The long-term goal should be to build a network of event speakers that you can pull from in the future!

Be sure to…

Stay connected with event speakers

Stay involved with your event speakers even after the event is over. Whether that be joining each other’s mailing list or following each other on social media, nurture those relationships!

If you hear about a speaking opportunity with another organization that they would be a great fit for, forward to them. Show them that you are not only invested in what they can do for your organization, but in their career as a whole. 

Continue to uplift and engage their work

Boost your previous event speakers far and wide. Share their upcoming events on social media and refer them to other organizations. Don’t just ask for referrals, give them out with enthusiasm!

If you have the financial resources, you can also offer monetary support if you see them doing something like crowdfunding. When you show up as a supporter rather than simply a professional contact, your relationship becomes more authentic. And when the time comes for you to search for volunteers, you just might have someone new on your team.

Invite them to events (even if they’re not a speaker!)

When you’re planning a conference, you’re sure to be pulling from a diverse pool of speakers. Chances are, your past speakers might not always fit the bill for another opportunity—but that doesn’t mean you should forget about them!

Invite previous speakers to attend future events as guests. while they might not be getting featured, it’s enjoyable to sit back and relax for an event. If you really think they would enjoy themselves but money is a barrier, you can always offer them a discounted or complimentary ticket.

Building a network isn’t just about passing opportunities back and forth. It’s about forming genuine connections with the individual people who make up your industry. After all, you share similar interests and values! Why shouldn’t you look for new ways to connect?

Ask who else you should connect with

Ah, there’s that word again—referrals! Ask your speakers who else would be a great fit for your organization’s events. People enjoy spreading the word about trusted friends and colleagues, and eventually you might even want to program these people together.

Host calls for proposals

Calls for proposals give people space to share what they think would make some great event programming! The best part of being an event speaker is when you get to share information that you’re genuinely excited about. When you take people’s ideas and recommendations (and then support them in following through at your conference!), you show how much you value their insight.

Join professional organizations and networks

The key to networking? Just go ahead and network!

Don’t worry about setting up the systems that will help you network—they already exist! Ask around about which professional organizations are best, and then become a member. Participating in what is already there will open up all sorts of new learning opportunities.

Make Your Events Memorable With Guest Speakers

The best part of running any event is watching people enjoy themselves, and an awesome event speaker will make that a reality. Whether it’s a multi-day conference or a one hour virtual event, you have the opportunity to make a genuine difference in your community.

So get started making those connections! There are a lot of great people out there—all you need to do is reach out.

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