By Jason Smith

A keynote speaker is usually the most important focus of your event so it’s crucial that you outline, research and plan exactly what you want before making any decisions about who to select. When booking a keynote speaker, avoid making common mistakes by following these tips to find the perfect person to inspire and engage your audience.

Insufficient research. Consider your audience and what they want from the speaker and research who will best deliver what you want. Check that a speaker will be compatible with the audience and the event’s subject matter or topic of interest. Do not book anyone without checking their credentials first, seeking recommendations or reading reviews. Always look online for video clips of them in action, or book an informal meeting or Skype session to get to know them and familiarize yourself with their approach. Corporate event planning experts at Speakers Corner have suggested that it is important to build a good relationship with a speaker bureau as they are likely to assist you greatly with the whole process and ensure your keynote speaker is an appropriate match.

No audience connection. A common mistake is booking an expert in their field, but realizing that they do not have the ability to communicate well or connect with the audience. The speaker may have specialist or technical knowledge, but the ability deliver this information in an engaging and stimulating manner is often a valuable talent which requires a lot of practice and experience – so select carefully. Professional Communications expert Dr. Nick Morgan argues that great keynote speakers are never boring and are always trusted with kicking off or ending an event with passion and charm. The audience should therefore always feel valued and included and an accomplished speaker should be able to deliver a speech with gusto and charisma. Ask yourself, do you want someone who everyone applauds when they walk in? Or someone who everyone applauds when they walk out? Usually the big name will always have to deliver so much more than the unknown speaker and expectations surrounding an established name will of course be much greater.

Not communicating your objectives. Establish a good relationship with your speaker and clearly outline what you want them to achieve. Brief the speaker well on who they are speaking to, and what levels of knowledge or experience their listeners have (e.g. are they start-up sole traders, or established CEOs?). It’s important to make sure that the audience will be interested in what they have to say so reinforce your objectives from the onset.

Getting a shock from unexpected costs. Identify the speaker’s fees and travel costs. Make sure you’re aware of any other expenses they expect you to pay as some may charge an all-inclusive fee, which includes travel and overnight accommodation. Some people will expect you to pay for food, subsistence and local travel to the venue. To secure a high quality professional speaker who is experienced and suitable you will often need to pay well. However, it is also important to get the most out of your money, so if you feel like you are paying a little too much for your speaker, event organisers believe you should try and negotiate extra responsibilities such as one-on-one meetings with members of the audience or an interview for the company blog.

Booking too late. Some people leave booking a speaker until the last minute – by which time, their chosen speakers are all booked up, and they are left in a panic, taking anyone available on their event day. A celebrated keynote speaker can be a major promotional tool – so it is a priority to book them before you do anything else. Book 6 months beforehand if you can – certainly no less than 8 weeks.

Getting the room lay-out wrong. Check the speaker’s wishes for room set-up beforehand. Depending upon their style, they may require a unique room layout or stage setup. Some speakers are very animated and engage with their audience through expansive movement across the stage and may also need room to cater for audience participation. Having the audience seated at round tables, cabaret style, is often a popular layout choice, but ensure that tables provide good views of the stage and are kept within an appropriate distance. Now let’s consider those other speakers who – it’s hoped – make us laugh: the comedian. Having a dance-floor like space between stage and audience can kill an atmosphere dead with the comedian feeling separate from those he or she wishes to entertain. A stage or raised area is important too, it gives those on it a degree of authority and designates ‘performance’; it’s also particularly necessary for those at the back of the room.

Jason Smith currently works as a Social Media & Blogging Manager for Speakers Corner, one of the UK’s leading speaker bureaus. Jason has spent a number of years working within the motivational speaker industry and has a wealth of experience arranging conferences, events and round table discussions for companies in a range of industries. Stay connected at @Speakers_Corner.