This is a guest post by journalist, Luigi Benetton.
As as a member of a professional association of writers, I championed many professional development seminars. Work included booking a venue, advertising the event, and so forth. But an event’s success hinges primarily on the speakers booked.
Over time, I’ve developed knowledge and habits that enable me to find great speakers within a week from beginning a search. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
If you’re looking for a speaker for your next event (panel discussion, seminar, full-day workshop, conference session, webinar, etc.), use the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve organized what I know into several sections, including the six best ways I've found to find a speaker for your event:
- Why Good Speakers Matter
- What to Prepare Before Booking Speakers
- The 6 Best Ways to Find Speakers for Your Event
- How to Create Goodwill With Your Speakers
- How to Build a Speaker Network
Why Good Speakers Matter
Many associations overlook one of the most valuable reasons to bring in a great speaker.
Sure, they offer educational and inspirational value to existing and potential members, but there’s something else they do on top of this. They make for great networking sessions. It’s those networking sessions that have helped my writing association attract new members over the years. And in fact, it’s the number one way most associations attract new members too.
Before and after every event, we allow members and potential members to mix and mingle with one another and the speaker — something they can’t get anywhere else, and they keep coming back for.
What to Prepare Before Booking Speakers
You may face constraints that will affect your choice of speakers. Make sure you know what those are before you make calls by answering these four questions.
1) Can Your Association Afford Speaker Fees?
If yes, what’s your budget? Knowing your budget for speakers helps you zero in on those who fit that budget.
2) Are There Geographical Constraints?
If you host a live event, you may need to budget for travel and meal costs.
Online events are different. Using adequate technology (often a computer equipped with a webcam and microphone), you can host webinars and panel discussions featuring speakers who aren’t even in the same time zone you are.
3) What Technology Will You Need?
You’ll need an audio system with microphones to ensure attendees hear speakers in all but the tiniest venues. Speakers may 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.
4) Will You Have Time Constraints?
Let’s say you host a 90-minute event to which you invite three speakers. Taking five minutes for introductory remarks and leaving 30 minutes at the end for questions, leaves between 15 and 20 minutes for each speaker. Speakers will need to know time limits to help them prepare their remarks.
The 6 Best Ways to Find Speaker for Your Events
Now you’re ready to look for speakers and answer questions when they’re asked. Use the following tips to find experts who will draw crowds of current (and potential future) members.
1) Current Association Members
I usually managed to find speakers by asking other members. In many cases, the speakers were members. So browse your association directory for candidates. When you find members who fit the bill, send them a message using that directory to explore the idea with them. Also, ask for recommendations in your association’s online discussion forum.
Browse your association’s online event calendar too. It might tell you who spoke on similar topics in the past. If you don’t want a “repeat speaker,” ask the known speaker for suggestions.
I recommend you start your search for talent within your association. You don’t want to be accused of bringing in expensive outside consultants when the people “inside” can give you the answers you need.
In a more positive light, having members present at your events is a great way to showcase the expertise in your association. You also build goodwill with the members you ask. When you need multiple speakers for an event, try to recruit at least one member.
2) Personal Contacts
When friends, relatives, work colleagues and the grocery store checkout clerk ask, “What’s new?” you have a ready-made opening. Mention the event to them. Tell them what you’re looking for. Even if they can’t come up with a name when you ask them, one might come to them later.
3) People Who Do Media Interviews
As a journalist, I have used websites like HelpAReporter.com to find sources willing to speak for an article. These people, from business leaders to academics to trainers and others, are often available for public speaking engagements too.
4) Social Networks
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. Savvy social media users will add those skill keywords to their profiles on other networks, so use them on Facebook, Twitter and so on.
While you’re signed in, send a quick message to your social media channels about the event you’re organizing and your need for speakers. That quick message can land you a speaker.
5) Speakers’ Bureaus
All sorts of experts register with speakers’ bureaus. The National Speaker’s Bureau is a good place to start.
However, there is one caveat: many speakers listed by bureaus charge fees, so if you’re dealing with a constrained (or no) budget, speaker bureaus might not be a good option.
6) Search Engines
I 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 use a search engine. If you do, compose your search using terms like those of relevant LinkedIn skills and other pertinent keywords like “speaking.”
How to Create Goodwill With Your Speakers
The speakers you engage for your event are more likely to answer your calls for future events if they have a good experience this time.
For instance, I was recently asked to present a webinar for a guild. Months before the webinar, I met with the fellow organizing it (somebody I know, admittedly) and he gave me a T-shirt meant exclusively for members of his organization (which I’m not). That got things off on the right foot.
Not all speakers expect to be paid. But remember: speakers take time to prepare and present, and for live events, travel to the venue. You can create some goodwill in return without breaking the bank. Offer a little thank-you, like an honorarium, a coffee-shop gift certificate, even a T-shirt. If you continue your event in a pub afterwards, offer to pay for a meal and a drink.
For the above-mentioned webinar, I received an honorarium in addition to the T-shirt. I’m not getting rich, but I will gladly answer calls from members of the above-mentioned guild.
How To Build a Speaker Network
Will you be organizing more professional development events? Build your network before you need it. Thank speakers at events you attend. Thank them later. Meet people who have organized similar events. Ask about their experiences. Ask for advice.
Doing simple things like these generally helps to expand your professional network. And when it’s wide enough, you will be able to tap into it whenever you need to find a presenter for an association event.
Your Best Shot at the Best Speaker
I’ve found speakers using each tip in this post, but when organizing professional development events, association members always came through. The talent pool was pretty deep, and I suspect it’s just as deep in your association too. Start there first. You may be surprised by who you find.
Which tips would you use? Have you tried other tactics that work well for you? Let us know about them in the comments below.
Luigi Benetton is a journalist and freelance business writer and technical writer based in Toronto. He blogs about technology and the auto industry at Technozen. Follow him on Twitter @LuigiBenetton.