March 6, 2023   |   Patrick Kalie

Finding Great Speakers: Blog Edition

I recently held a webinar called Find the Perfect Speakers for Your Event. It’s a topic I’m super passionate about, because as an event planner, I’ve been there. There’s so much stress involved in finding great speakers for your events, because these speakers are so crucial. I confess to having once found myself crying in a closet from the stress that went along with running my event—from vendors, to set-up, to tech. But everything else can be perfect and your event will still be disappointing if the speakers and content aren’t great.

The best speakers and content are often what makes an event truly magical. I used to work at a speakers bureau, where my team helped match hundreds of speakers to their perfect events, and later, I was the one responsible for finding great speakers at my own events. So I’m happy to share what I’ve learned and brought with me, and also to pass along tips I received from webinar participants as well as Swoogo customers.

When I think about finding the perfect speakers, there are three big elements that come to mind:

  • Expertise and relevance: Does the audience care about what they have to say? Do they come off as credible? What stories do they have to tell?
  • Engaging and entertaining: A high title doesn’t matter if your speaker’s delivery puts the audience to sleep. Do they have an engaging voice? Can they keep your audience on the edge of their seats?
  • Willingness to speak: This may be the hardest one. Not everyone is super excited to speak. Or they’re so famous they’re out of your budget. So who can you realistically coax to come speak at your events? Who has a shared interest with your event?

I’m going to say straight out, it’s really hard to get all three of these. But that’s what you’re aiming for.

So how do you even begin finding great speakers?

Table of contents

Tip #1: Survey your team members on the ground

Who are these people? It’s all about proximity. Anyone who is frequently interacting with your customers or partners. Co-workers who have a close relationship with your customers, and who work with them regularly.

For example:

  • Salespeople
  • Member services
  • Company executives
  • Partnership managers

These people are all resources. But if you go to them and say, “Who do you work with who would be a great speaker for my event?” you’re probably going to get a lot of blank stares. Instead, ask them about qualities that you’re looking for in a speaker.

  • Who do you interact with who has expertise in the [whatever topic you’re recruiting speakers for]?
  • Who have you seen speak at other events who has impressed you?
  • If they’ve never seen them actually speak, maybe ask if there’s someone who’s upbeat and engaging to work with?
  • This one might take a little digging, but has anyone published something that your audience might be interested in hearing about?

It might take several interviews to find some good prospects, but these groups are a great resource to start with.

Tip #2: Host roundtable conversations

What this essentially does is gathers potential speakers (who might not even realize they’re potential speakers!) and gives them a voice. It’s a try-out they don’t even know they’re taking part in. This will show you how compelling a person is, how quickly they come up with ideas on the fly, and how deep their knowledge is in certain topics. It’s a simple, but extremely useful tool for finding great speakers.

I also like to really open up my roundtables to lots of people. Because you don’t know who you don’t know. At a roundtable, you might be surprised by the people who will raise their (physical or virtual) hand and speak up.

This is also a great opportunity to explore and refine a topic that you’re hoping to do a full webinar about a few months down the road.

Tip #3: Run a call for speakers

This is an open invitation to your audience to submit a proposal to you to speak. One of the huge benefits of a formal call for speakers is that it’s super regimented. You can provide a specific topic, and maybe a clear rubric on why you would select certain speakers, and it’s very organized. 

Here are some tips on what you should decide before you release a call for speakers:

  • Topics for Sessions: Narrowly tailor your topics so you aren’t just throwing out a free-for-all, which might yield scattershot results. Ask for exactly what you’re looking for, and you’ll be way more likely to get it.
  • Session Types: Are you looking for a keynote? A fireside chat? A teaching workshop? Let people know right up front, so they only volunteer for types of presentations they’re actually willing to give. This also helps you define your speaker slate.
  • Target Audience: Number of people, what positions they may hold, what they’re probably looking for from a speaker. A speaker’s content will change based on who they are delivering it to, so give them as much of that info as you can.
  • Proposal Reviews: Let speakers know who will be reviewing their proposals, and what standard they will be using. You don’t want to take potential speakers off-guard or burn bridges by surprising prospects.
Calling all future speakers

Want to share great work that you do (and maybe become #SwoogoFamous in the process)?

Tip #4: Consider working with a speakers bureau

Before you immediately say, “I can’t afford a speaker’s bureau!” That’s okay. This tip might not be for you. In fact, I won’t be offended if you skip this section altogether. But if you do have the budget to hire a speakers bureau, I highly recommend it, for the same reason you hire any expert—they’re an expert. 

If you’re ready to invest $10,000+ for a speaker, you’re likely to get the very best speaker for your budget with a speakers bureau. Why? A few simple reasons:

  • Their entire world is speakers: They know more speakers than you know people. Their whole job is … finding great speakers.
  • Competitive intelligence: They’ll know, for example, if there’s a particular speaker already making the rounds in your industry. You don’t want that one; you want someone fresh and exciting. 
  • Logistical know-how: From contracts to frequent-flyer numbers to food sensitivities, they’ve got a file to make bringing your speakers to your events easier.
  • Peace of mind: If something happens, like your speaker gets sick, you have a contract with the speakers bureau and they’ll do everything in their power to get you a substitute speaker who’s comparable to your sad, sick speaker. Talk about a load off your shoulders.

So let’s say you’ve made the decision to work with a speakers bureau, there are still things you can do to help get the best speakers, at a better price. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Be ultra specific about categories and/or topics for the speakers you’re looking for.
  • Ask for speakers who live in or near the city where the event is being hosted. You’ll save on travel plus some speakers have a special local rate.
  • Ask who has a book coming out soon, and include a bulk book purchase in the cost of the speaker. *BONUS: Attendees love a book signing—add it to your sessions!

Tip #5: Leverage LinkedIn and social media

LinkedIn is a great spot to see who seems interested in showing their content online. People who do a lot of posting on LinkedIn are more likely to be willing to speak about those topics. It’s also a great way to find out how big their organic audience is, and which kinds of people they could help attract to your event.

Here are a few methods I personally use to look for people who might be interested in public speaking:

  • Follow accounts who post interesting content related to your events.
  • Use LinkedIn’s filtering function to search for specific topics like public speaking, or filter by industry such as broadcast media.
  • Try messaging these people. You’d be surprised how often a personally worded (and complimentary) message gets a positive response.

Tip #6: Survey your audience

You’ve already heard about surveying your team members, and a lot of the same queries can go directly to your audience. You can even work them into surveys and post-event nurture sequences.

There are a few things to consider when approaching your audience with the intent of finding great speakers.

When should I ask?

  • Post-event feedback
  • Save the Date surveys
  • After registration
  • After they’ve turned you down

What should I ask?

  • Which speakers would you recommend for future events?
  • Who have you seen speak at other events who impressed you?
  • What are specific topics you’re really like to hear about?

Expert Tips and Q&A

I wasn’t the only expert at finding great speakers during last month’s webinar. Our audience had some amazing tips that they offered to our watchers, and we had some wonderful questions. Here’s a sampling:

  • Schedule a discovery trip to the city where you’ll be hosting your event. Gather themes, research local companies, and seek out local keynotes. 
  • Data! Do research on which speakers create more engagement and why. Hint: it’s not just CEOs. Research will get you better speakers.
  • One attendee had a question about finding great speakers when your budget is … free. Tough and relatable to many. I suggested offering freebies, from entry tickets to product exchanges, and highlighting how your event can directly help their brand. 
  • My favorite question: What doesn’t work? Love it. Here are some un-tips. Don’t ask one speaker at a time—ask broadly. Too many yesses is a great problem to have. Secondly, don’t ask without keeping a record. Otherwise you end up asking people twice, or when people want to know who else you’ve asked … you’ve got nothing. So keep good records, even if it’s the speakers turning you down.
  • How can you vet untried speakers? Never underestimate the power of a 1:1 interview. Have a call with your prospective speakers and see if they’re interesting and engaging on a call. A great convo might convince you they can be a great speaker. A painful convo? Well, draw your own conclusions.

And that’s the highlights of the webinar! If you’re interested in watching the webinar in its entirety, we’ve got you covered—the full recording is available here. After the main part of the webinar, we did a follow-up section—guest starring our Training Specialist, Jake—talking about using Swoogo’s Call For Speakers premium module in your quest for finding great speakers. If you want to learn more about that, you can watch it here

And if you’re interested in a demo of Swoogo’s Call For Speakers, you can sign right up here.

See you at the next webinar!

Visit our Resources Hub for on-demand webinars and info on future events