In my role as a keynote speaker at conferences and events, I’ve witnessed the good, bad and ugly when it comes to motivational speakers.
Some speakers add great value, enhancing the prestige of your event and creating a memorable experience for your audience.
Others can leave you and your audience disappointed or even bored.
Know what a successful event looks like for you
Over the years, I’ve consulted with conference organizers and event planners to help them get clarity on the theme of their event and to finetune what they are seeking as regards keynote speakers and guest speakers.
As with most endeavours, the preparation for a successful conference, or seminar starts months, sometimes years in advance.
The preparation Conference Organizers and Events Planners must do
What is the purpose of your event?
Who is your target audience?
What do you want the audience to be talking about at the close of the event?
These are all questions that are vital when it comes to the overall success of your conference, or seminar. In knowing the objective of the conference, you can then begin to source a range of speakers and experts who will contribute to the core message of your event.
Industry Expert v Professional Speaker
Some conferences are purely educational. Industry experts deliver a speech from behind a podium.
Their presentation is heavy with information, insight and text. Other conferences place greater emphasis on audience engagement and require speakers to be motivational as well as informative. In addition to being an expert in their field, these presenters must also be professional speakers, that is, a core element of their work is communicating verbally with audiences.
Getting value for money from a motivational speaker
A professional speaker will know how to engage with an audience. They help to set the tone of an event, and can also re-energise the audience during that graveyard slot in the afternoon.
They know how to tailor their content to match the needs of the attendees, keeping their presentation practical and relatable.
A great motivational speaker will draw upon real-life examples and share stories and anecdotes that not only engage the audience but entertain them as well.
Professional conference speakers will usually have a social media following, and by engaging them to speak at your event, they can also help to advertise it.
Connect with your network
Think of seminars, events and conferences that you have attended in the past. What keynote speakers stood out for you, or your team and why?
What speakers were not as successful and why not?
By pondering these questions you are fine-tuning your criteria for hiring keynote speakers. If you have run events before, reach out to past attendees, clients and customers who may attend again.
What are they seeking?
You can even ask clients and contacts to recommend or refer speakers, using your network to broaden your reach.
Do your research
As mentioned, motivational speakers will have a website and a social media presence.
There may be snippets of them in action, giving you a flavour of their approach, how they engage with audiences and their style of speaking. Check out what people say about them on social media, especially LinkedIn.
When you speak with them, ask about past events they’ve spoken at, and if not readily available, ask for testimonials.
Questions a professional speaker should ask you
Here are some clues as to whether or not you are working with a professional keynote speaker.
You want your guest speaker to tailor their keynote talk to your particular audience and event.
To do this a professional motivational speaker has to ask you questions. These questions show they care about you and about making your event a success. As opposed to just turning up and delivering a ready-made presentation.
These questions will also help you to further fine-tune your objectives for your event.
- Who will be the typical audience?
- What are the timeslot and desired duration?
- What would you want a typical attendee to take from the keynote talk?
- What’s the theme of the event?
- What would a successful event look like for you?
The technical details
There are also technical issues that an experienced motivational speaker will seek to clarify. For example, the slide format. Do you require 4:3 or 16:9 (widescreen)? It’s usually the latter at conferences!
Professional keynote speakers will also want to know the date by which you will need their talk outline, slides, profile photo and biography to help promote the event. And you should never have to chase a professional speaker for these!
Harness the guest speaker’s ideas
A good guest speaker, drawing on their experience can also offer ideas as to what topics would work well with your audience.
Remember, you are seeking to create a unique experience for your attendees.
You don’t want them to be able to watch a video of the speaker’s talk on YouTube.
Clarity of core message
Effective presenters will know the essence of their keynote speech, the one core message they want the audience to take away. Audiences can only consume a limited about of information, if we are lucky they remember two or three things.
The audience’s experience must be positive. If it is not, they will switch off and all they will remember is that they were bored at your event, the opposite of your desired outcome.
Good motivational speakers know they are competing for attention
Conference speakers today compete with the mobile phone perched in each audience member’s lap. Without an engaging opening, speakers give the audience permission to switch off what is being presented and switch on their screens.
Good motivational speakers know how to get the audience’s attention and how to keep it.
How great presenters engage the audience
It might be a well-worded question, a surprising fact, or a story that humanises the core message of the presentation. If and when it’s appropriate, a little humour helps the audience to settle in.
As great speakers know, presenting is not just sharing facts, it’s transferring knowledge and helping attendees to access their own wisdom.
Professional speakers will do all this in an engaging and often entertaining way.
More ways good motivational speakers add value
We might read to our children at night to help them nod off, but because it is probably safe to assume that your audience knows how to read, keynote speakers don’t have to read their slides aloud to them. Similarly, audiences do not like being preached to.
It’s not just what’s being shared from the top of the room, but how it’s being shared. Effective presenters add value to the content of their message, either through the method of delivery, in-depth subject matter expertise, or an ability to positively influence the audience.
Great keynote speakers do all three.
Motivational speakers tell engaging stories
Presenting is more than going through some PowerPoint slides. Presenting is about engaging and influencing audiences.
A great conference speaker will be a great storyteller.
The stories they recount are vehicles for communicating a core message, a key insight that is relevant to the theme of your event. Great speakers know how to balance educational content and entertainment.
Professional speakers know how to ‘work the room’ by varying their tone, connecting with emotions, pacing the audience, and the effective use of body language, visuals, and rhetorical questioning.
Good motivational speakers are adaptable
As mentioned, you want your keynote speaker to deliver something unique or in a unique way to your audience.
Great speakers will want to take the time to know the dynamic of the room before they step onto the stage. They can also make adjustments to what they are presenting at the moment, reflecting the mood of the audience.
They can also reshape their speech to reflect the desired timeslot.
Not all great speakers will be the right match for your event
This point is critical.
You may source a highly recommended speaker but if they speak on a topic that is not relevant to your event or your audience, it is not a match.
Hence the importance of knowing your outcomes and the audience.
The professional speaker wants their keynote talk to be well received and for the audience to remember them, buy some of their products, or book them for a future event. So they are equally invested in making your conference or seminar a success.
The best motivational speakers will know when an event is not right for them and will let you know at the start of the planning stage.
Broad motivational themes that can be adapted
As a professional motivational speaker, there are several topics I speak on that can be easily adapted to many audiences and events. For example, ‘managing ourselves in challenging times,’ ‘coping with change,’ and ‘authentic leadership’ are quite flexible and relatable topics for most audiences.
Other topics such as ‘work-life blend’ or ‘personal branding’ are more niche. It’s about securing the right speaker, at the right time, for the right event.
Engaging keynote speeches never sound canned or rehearsed.
Therefore a professional speaker will keep their delivery genuine and fresh.
They will avoid jargon, clichés, hackneyed jokes and overused quotes. They won’t waste the audience’s time telling them what they already know.
There is a performance element to effective presentations, so they won’t hide behind a lectern, because they know that when the audience can see them, they will relate to them better and vice versa.
Memorable keynote speakers are positive and enthusiastic, presenting in a visually interesting way, that amplifies the theme of their talk, not distracting from it.
Know your timings for motivational speaking
There’s a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that says ‘I wrote him a long letter because I didn’t have time to write him a short one.’
The same principle is true of presentations and speeches. It’s why TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes.
Professional keynote speakers will not run over their timeslot. Their presentation is polished and succinct, unlike the amateur speaker who crams everything in, because they have not rehearsed timings, or fear running out of something to say.
The audience will remember conferences that run substantially over time. They will also remember the conferences that run like clockwork.
Be generous with breaks
As an event organizer don’t underestimate the time it will take for people to avail of refreshments, make a call, or visit the bathroom during a break.
Audiences also enjoy the opportunity for informal networking. And no matter how engaging the speakers no one wants to be seated for hours at an end.
The pitfalls to avoid
As someone who has spoken at many conferences and events, and attended even more, here are some pitfalls to watch out for when sourcing a keynote speaker for your event.
- A motivational speaker tries to mimic the style of another speaker, so they don’t come across as genuine. Tony Robbins may be able to get an audience on their feet and hug each other, but there is only one Tony Robbins.
- What might work in one country or industry, may not translate to your audience or jurisdiction.
- An industry expert who lacks the communication skills to transfer their knowledge to an audience.
- A speaker who delivers canned sound bites
- A speaker who uses dated technology and old PowerPoint slides
- A speaker who is not willing to engage with the audience a little before and after their talk.
Engaging conference speakers are fresh and always willing to adapt their content for your audience. You want to keep things fresh and exciting so the audience becomes loyal attendees, speaking positively about your event and your brand to others.