How to Avoid Mistakes When Choosing a Speaker

by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

You are planning your company's next meeting and you want everything to be perfect. You've got a location, theme and date. The only thing left is to hire the speaker. Where do you turn? How do you know what kind of speaker is best for your meeting? Here's a checklist:

1. Do your homework. Many organizations and associations keep a data base on speakers -- who is good, who is not, who is reliable, who cancels at the last minute, and other details.

See if your group has one. If you had a speaker last year you loved, use him or her as a resource to recommend someone who will be a good fit for your group.

2. Star? Or partner? Don't assume that only a celebrity will do. Consider your reasons for having a speaker. Is it to attract more people to the meeting? Is it to motivate the sales force to go out and work harder? Is it to bring information that the audience could not get elsewhere? Or is it to start the meeting off with a bang so that everyone is in a receptive +mood for the real working sessions?

If you think a 'Big Name' is necessary to attract the numbers you want, the investment may be worth it. Otherwise, you may want to consider using two more moderately priced speakers who will adapt their presentation to your group and even show up at the cocktail party to meet the members.

3. Communicate your needs clearly. A common mistake in choosing a speaker is not being clear about your expectations and needs. Some meeting planners feel nervous about giving instructions to a celebrity, but whether you are paying $2,000 or $20,000, the speaker is there to do a job for you.

The clearer you are about what you expect, who is in the audience, and what previous meetings have taught you, the easier it is for the speaker to do a good job and the happier you will be.

4. Brief your speaker. Don't assume he or she knows all about your organization or industry. Send information about your company, no matter how well known it is. Too much background is better than not enough.

Julia Carey, Employee Communications and Customer Service Manager for the Meredith Corporation, says, "If we are bringing in an outside speaker, I make sure I provide that person with enough information about the company to help him or her be successful. They need to know about our company culture, our key players, and our businesses when they talk with our people. I provide company publications and a write-up about the 'mood' of the company."

5. Treat the speaker like an attendee. Make sure your speakers get all the advance mailings and information kits the attendees do so they know who else is speaking and if their time slot has been changed (but no one remembered to tell them.) When your speakers arrive, make sure they have a complete itinerary and phone numbers of contacts.

This way, you and they will have a restful night. Suggest they call you as soon as they check into their hotel. I make a habit of this and am amazed how often my clients tell me I am the first one who has even done it!

6. Schedule wisely. Putting the right speakers in the wrong time slots makes them the wrong speakers. Don't schedule an economist or someone with highly technical information just before lunch or after dinner when everyone tends to be tired. Use them in the morning when the audience is fresh. A good rule of thumb is the later in the day, the lighter the content.

Patricia Fripp is an award-winning speaker, sales trainer, and speech coach, who delights audiences, transforms sales teams, and shares her secrets for powerful presentations. Meetings and Conventions magazine calls Patricia "one of the country's 10 most electrifying speakers." She is author of Make It! So You Don't Have to Fake It and Get What You Want, and contributing author to Speaking Secrets of the Masters and Insights Into Excellence. Patricia was the first female President of the National Speakers Association and is a Hall of Fame recipient.

Contact Patricia Fripp -

1-800 634 3035

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