Seven Qualities You Must Demand of Every Speaker You Hire


The reason you hire a speaker for a business event is to help your business be better prepared for the future. Someone who makes you laugh—or cry—but leaves you with no actionable insights simply isn’t worth whatever you pay him or her.

You already know our world is getting increasingly complex and competitive. Here’s what that means when it comes to paying experts to brief your team. Without fail, you should expect them to deliver all seven of these qualities:

Customization: Never hire a pull-string speaker, someone who simply says the same thing he said the last time someone pulled his string (i.e. booked him). Your business has unique qualities, and a true expert takes the time to learn what sets your company apart from all others. S/he then customizes a presentation to maximize the benefit that you receive. Ask: how different will your presentation to us be from what you’ve shared with other groups? How customized will it be?

Who is the hero of this story? “When I was summiting that peak with one hand tied behind my back” stories make the speaker the hero of his or her journey. That’s nonsense. You are the hero of the journey, and the speaker’s role is to support your journey, not tell nostalgic stories about their own. Ask: how will you elevate and further our journey?

Three substantive, highly memorable takeaways: No one remembers ten key points that a speaker shared. A reasonable goal is that participants take away three powerful, actionable and understandable insights. Ask: what three messages will all participants remember from your presentation?

Can they do it blindfolded? A talented speaker must be able to defend their positions, not just regurgitate them. Their depth of knowledge must be substantive, and their composure highly impressive. Ask: if you lost the power and projector, will you still be able to deliver your session flawlessly? If you don’t believe their answer, ask if they are willing to speak without slides, for real?

At least 35% interactive: The age of talking heads is long past. “I have time for a few questions” is an insufficient level of interactivity. You’ll never unearth the objections, questions, and uncertainties unless you give your people a substantive way to push back on the speaker. Ask: In what ways will you bring meaningful interactivity to your presentation? Will there be live case studies? Polls? Working groups? Town hall questions? What else?

Give the gift of time: A speaker who shows up 10 minutes ahead of a session and leaves right after it is highly unlikely to satisfy my first suggested condition, which is that they deliver true customization. The idea of speaking to a group without personally meeting many of the participants terrifies me. I want to look into their eyes, shake their hands, and understand why they are here. Ask: in addition to the time allocated for your presentation, will you be available before or after for our audience?

What else? In addition to a presentation, a worthwhile speaker will deliver other value. Does s/he have a book or handout to share? Will they do a webinar ahead of time, or a follow-up visit a few weeks later? Will they do a promotional video ahead of time, to generate excitement and spur attendance? Ask: We need our speakers to do more than just speak; what else do you do to help us create awareness for your unique content?

The future of work is about being prepared. Only hire speakers who are by far the most prepared individual in your room. After all, we all are products of the advice we take!

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