5 cautions in hiring a keynote speaker: how to recognize excellence

– Posted in: Keynote Speaker

You’ve done your homework: you know the exact criteria you and the meeting planners want met in a keynote speaker for your conference. You search the net and find the names of five speakers that seem to meet your criteria. Their videos are great, their topics are perfect, their testimonials proclaim them to be gods. So how to choose? There are some warning signs that will let you know that the person may not be who they claim to be:

1. Watch out for the generic proclamations like ‘Best’ ‘Top Speaker in X Field’. Everyone says that. It doesn’t mean anything. Read between the lines: do their goals meet your goals? Are the testimonials from real people from real companies? Do they say something substantial – like, ‘Sharon Drew really made a difference to our audienceand they walked away with skills to work with gatekeepers’ vs. ‘Great speaker! We loved her!’

2. Careful about the online video. Some speakers put on great outfits, hire a local stage, and video themselves speaking to an empty space. After shooting they add in a sound track and cut in shots of audiences. This sometimes happens with less pricey speakers because they don’t have the real footage to show. A professional will have audience shots with them in the frame.

3. Check the pricing. If they claim to be top performers or thought-leaders, make sure their pricing is in line with who they say they are. Top performers and thought-leaders are priced higher. If you see a lower price and higher claims, take care. I recently visited a site of a man who called himself a futurologist, with a page of credentials about how brilliant he is, with a very low price. If he was that good, his price would have been higher. And, yes, price is generally a good indicator of performance. Low price means someone just starting out; it doesn’t necessarily mean a bad speaker or bad content. In fact, sometimes these folks are terrific. But in all likelihood, the higher priced speakers will have a higher probability of giving you exactly what you want: quality, customization (vocabulary, concepts, speaking topics), and vast knowledge of the field, rather than a ‘stump speech’. You get pretty much what you pay for.

4. Don’t be swayed by the books they’ve authored. Most speakers write books to give themselves credibility, but anyone can write a book these days. Is the book a NYTimes bestseller? Has the book won awards by reputable groups in your field? Have you read a chapter or two – and is it professionally edited? Folks who attempt to deceive here won’t give you what you pay for.

5. If all else fails, have several members of the planning team speak with each of them and compare notes.

Great speakers are like any professionals deemed ‘great’: they know their fields and the challenges, are recognized as having something new to say that addresses the challenges you face, can lead your audience to new knowledge and insights. And it will be obvious when you go to their sites that they are professionals. A caution: when in doubt, don’t.

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