How to Choose the Right Keynote Speaker

Choose Right Speaker October 22, 2018 By: Steve Markman

There are thousands of speakers out there, so how do you make the best choice for your association? A look at a few myths and truths to consider before selecting your next keynoter.

Today’s speaker marketplace is composed of thousands of speakers who are potentially available as a keynote for your association’s upcoming event. How do you know if you are making the right choice before you commit to a speaker and perhaps pay a large fee? Here are some myths and truths when it comes to selecting your keynote speaker.

Myth: The higher the speaker fee, the better the speaker.

Truth: High-end fees do not necessarily equal quality. Speaker fees are based on two things: demand for a given speaker (as well as the perceived demand that the speaker feels exists) and how much that demand is worth. And if you’re worried because you have a small budget, keep in mind that there’s a speaker out there who will meet your needs. A speaker who costs less but delivers on your attendees’ expectations and the objectives you’re trying to accomplish has much more value.

Myth: If someone has been on the speaker circuit for many years, she must be really good.

Truth: Not necessarily. She may be on the circuit simply because other associations are also  hiring her based on the same assumption. Instead of basing your decision on a speaker’s tenure, base it on the type of speaker you’re looking for. In my experience, associations are typically looking for a speaker who falls in one of these categories: inspirational/motivational, name recognition, or subject-matter expertise.

Myth: If someone has written a book, he must have something meaningful to say.

Truth: Not always. With the ease of self-publishing today, being an author is not the same as being a New York Times bestselling author. And the sub-myth is that being a bestselling author equates to being a good speaker. In reality, it may only mean he is a good writer. To determine if an author will make a good keynote, ask him about his prior speaking experience and to share videos of those previous engagements. This will allow you to get a firsthand look at him in action.

Myth: A speaker must have experience working with your industry or profession to be able to relate to your audience.

Truth: While it often works well to have a speaker with your required experience, the primary goal here is for the presenter to have content that is applicable to your audience, even if she lacks prior experience with your industry or professional field. Conversely, it’s often good to get a perspective from someone in a different industry or field to allow attendees to think outside the box. But before signing a contract, have a conversation with her to determine if she will tailor her presentation for your audience. In addition, be willing to share information about your attendees. Doing so will allow her to create a presentation that is personalized for them.

At the end of the day, your primary objective should be to hire memorable keynote speakers who will give you a good return on your investment. If your attendees walk away from a keynote saying it was great and they remember your event and the speaker many months later, then you will know you made the right choice.


Steve Markman

Steve Markman is the founder and president of Markman Speaker Management, LLC, in Needham, Massachusetts.