5 Pointers for Finding the Best Keynote Speaker

When most event participants look back on their event conference experience, one of the first few things that stand out to them (in a good or bad way) are the:

•    Venue and food
•    Activities
•    Speakers

For the most part, variables like venue and food are relatively easy to handle. 

You can easily survey your attendees’ preferences for food and setting weeks well before the actually day of the event, providing this feedback to your venue and caterer. Likewise, you can conduct audience research to determine what kind of matchmaking activities would most likely pique the interest of your attendees.

But you might find that getting the right keynote or session speaker is much more complicated than it looks. And for conferences built around the “meet the speaker” event format, choosing the right speaker is critical to ensuring that attendees are motivated to join your event in the first place. 

With this challenge in mind, we’ve compiled a list of desirable qualities and practices common among many of the most prolific speakers who appear at meetings, symposiums, conferences, and other industry events.

1.    Get a Speaker You’ve Seen in Action Before

Similar to how you would never buy a car before test-driving it, there’s simply no reason you should hire an event speaker without seeing them in action first. And the best way to do that is to simply see the person in action. 

Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to do that today. You can check if they have any public speaking videos on YouTube or Facebook to see if their styles and approaches to events are consistent with yours. Chances are, the speaker will have videos of their keynotes away, so don’t be afraid to ask for these.

Still, nothing beats seeing the person live at work, because you also want to see how an audience reacts to him, and vice versa.

2.    Get a Speaker Who’s a Stickler for Prep Work

You generally want a speaker who understands the value of preparation and research. At the same time, however, you don’t want someone who can only rehash the same content over and over again. Variety is just as important as consistency. 

It’s one thing for a speaker to have a few talking points or a canned portion of their speech. It’s another story if that person does the same exact talk at every event. Effective speakers need to adjust their presentation according to the needs of your event and your attendees. 

Assess how well your potential speaker understands the following:

•    Your event’s goals
•    Your event’s audience
•    Your event’s themes and/or topics

Your speaker’s preparation should take all of these factors into account.

3.    Work with Speakers Who Can do Pre- and Post-event Appearances

Sarah Michel lighting up her keynote at our MUG Conference.

Sarah Michel lighting up her keynote at our MUG Conference.

If you’re going to hire an event speaker, it’s only right that you want to get the most out of your money. You’ve probably been to one of those events where the speaker does the talk, answers a few questions during the open forum, and leaves right away. Worse, a speaker may not participate in the open forum at all. You probably felt that the speaker had better things to do than talk to you and your fellow audience members.

Standout events are those where the speaker gladly interacts with members of the audience. After all, one of the goals of having a speaker in the first place is to give value to attendees. Like you, your guests also want to get the most out of the event experience.

4.    Plus Points for Speakers Who are Willing to Promote Your Event With You

Marketing an event is always a challenge, especially if you’re an up and coming organizer, or someone who’s still organizing your first event. To make their events more marketable, many event professionals leverage the influence of a popular speaker, in the hopes of getting more people interested in joining.

To make their events more marketable, many event professionals leverage the influence of a popular speaker.

But you don’t have to stop there. Ask if your speaker can pitch in and spread word of your event in their own network of followers. You’ll probably have to negotiate this into the contract, which means having to pay for it. But if your speaker is an especially prolific figure, it should be worth paying a reasonable amount to get him to endorse you. 

5.    Watch Out for Speakers Looking to Plug Their Products/Services at Your Event

Exchange deals are common in the event industry. If you’re looking to book a speaker on a budget, you often have two options:

    A less experienced and little known speaker
•    An experienced speaker who also wants to promote their brand on your event

Each option comes with its own pros and cons. But the second one is often overlooked because of how good a deal it seems. A speaker who joins your event may be too focused on selling their products or services, and not so much imparting useful information to your audience. 

Events should be about providing value to attendees, not the speakers themselves. And if the speaker insists on promoting their products and/or service - even if you’ve agreed to pay their requested appearance fee - look for someone else, ASAP. 

In Conclusion

Looking for the right speaker for your event need not be a difficult task, but it does take quite a bit of time and effort to source, plan, and consider the right person to handle your keynote. The key is to choose a speaker based on what your audience expects from your event and its theme.

The right speaker can be a strong motivator for people to join matchmaking activities at your event, so be prepared for a stringent selection process.'

Written by Tabitha Naylor


For larger events the other half of the battle is helping steer attendees towards the speakers and sessions that will be most valuable to them. That's where matchmaking comes in, harnessing the power of data analytics to make your event more valuable. Fortunately the data team here at Brolly has a super handy, free guide to matchmaking out now!