Selecting a Speaker: Have Them Focus on Your Effort, Not Your Errors
by Joni Daniels

You need a speaker for your meeting. The choice you make can be a feather in your cap or ruffle the feathers of your employees! How can you find the folks who will enhance your meeting and stack the odds for success in your favor?

My client Steve is the CEO of an organization that is a combination of three merged companies. He remembers all too well the time he booked a speaker for the kick-off dinner that announced the new name, corporate logo and direction of the company. A member of his company's Board of Directors had made the referral, and because of the connection, the speaker had agreed to come for a reduced fee. As he dryly spoke from the podium, he looked behind himself often so that his PowerPoint presentation could help him find his way through his material. An ex-coach, the speaker talked in sports metaphors, alienating many of the women in the audience. His inability to tie in his key points with the new initiative they were here to start confused anyone else who was still paying attention. Although not his finest professional moment, he learned a lot.

Maybe you've had to suggest or obtain a speaker for an upcoming event. Did you feel like celebrating or commiserating? It doesn't matter if you are an old hand at it, or a neophyte. In order to achieve success and have your choice of speaker reflect well upon you, you must be a good detective and you have to be willing to gamble. The better a detective you are, the less your risk will be.

Gather Evidence

There is no substitute for observing the speaker in person. With your reputation and company dollars on the line, it is the best way to get the answers to your questions and concerns. Videotapes and audiotapes tell a story, but it is usually only one sided. If you can't observe them personally, talk to people who have seen them. People you trust who will be candid are your best source for feedback as well as referrals. Tell them about your audience.

Discuss the goals you have for the meeting and the outcomes you are hoping for. Are you hoping to energize and motivate? Educate? Persuade and sell? Get a decision made? Impress? Get their attention on an important issue? Listen to their appraisal of the speaker to see if it is a match. If they haven't actually seen the presenter, find someone who has.

The variety and sheer number of presenters can be overwhelming. The National Speakers Association boasts 3,800 members! You don't want to just locate any old member. You want to find the right member.

If you want to make a good decision, first determine:

  • What you need;
  • What you want;
  • What you can get;
  • What you can afford;
  • The pros and cons of each choice.

Evaluate Evidence

After you have gathered information about what you want and need, you need to evaluate your options in light of your parameters and objectives. Every speaker has an audience, but you need to determine the best speaker for your audience. That may not mean the easiest, the cheapest, the friend of a friend, or the buddy of the Board member. The best choice is the person who will meet most of your criteria.

TYPE: Wanna Bes
CLUES: Unsophisticated materials
UP SIDE: Wants experience, low fee no fee
DOWN SIDE: New; may have no track record

TYPE: Job Hopper
CLUES: Used to do be a teacher, trainer, nurse, detective, etc.
UP SIDE: Has experience and expertise to share
DOWN SIDE: May have little experience dealing with tight time frames or large audiences or negative audience reaction

TYPE: Expert Authority
CLUES: Known for the topic; first-hand experience
UP SIDE: Been there - done that; experienced in the subject-matter
DOWN SIDE: A one-trick-pony; may only have their view to share

TYPE: Published Author
CLUES: Has written one book or several; refers to it; sells it
UPSIDE: Recognized; publisher thinks they have something to say
DOWN SIDE: Only talks about the book; may lack platform skills; may sell from the podium

TYPE: Professional Whiz
CLUES: Have a book; tape series or product to sell; logo on printed materials
UP SIDE: Certified; NSA member; has polish
DOWN SIDE: May be too busy; only speaks on a specific topic; inflexible about meeting your needs

CLUES: Celebrity; in the news
UP SIDE: Name recognition; big draw
DOWN SIDE: May not prepare; big fee; may not be a good speaker; expect to be treated like royalty

Getting the right speaker for your event isn't as difficult as you might think. Doing some homework and having a clear idea of your needs and who your audience is can eliminate some of the risk. Choosing the wrong speaker can haunt you for a long time. Being a good detective and taking the time to dig for information is the best way to minimize risk. Selecting the right speaker can make a dynamic meeting and add to your professional reputation!

Joni Daniels is the founder of Daniels & Associates, a consulting group specializing in personal and professional development. A nationally recognized trainer, speaker, author, and entrepreneur, Ms. Daniels has helped professionals at all levels to develop effective interpersonal skills. For more information, please visit or .

Many more articles in Presentations & Public Speaking in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Joni Daniels. All rights reserved.

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