You have decided to save on the expenses of a physical venue and have decided on a virtual event.
Even if you no longer need to worry about which venue to book or which type of finger food to serve for lunch after those popular breakout sessions, you still have decisions to make such as which platform you are going to use to broadcast your event or what AV equipment will you need.
Aside from making those decisions, the more important decision that you have to make is choosing who your virtual speaker will be.
The Importance of Finding The Right Virtual Speaker
“Keynote speakers tend to be motivational, inspiring the audience to get excited for the rest of the event."
The highlight, the tone setter, the big event of most events, virtual or otherwise is the guest speaker, and not just anyone will do.
Bizcatalyst360.com explains that a keynote speaker is there to push the message of your event home.
All events have a purpose. It is usually a call to action of some kind on behalf of the event organizer.
A good keynote speaker is going to inspire and motivate event participants to take the ideas you want presented and use them in their daily life and work.
You can inform with all the slides you want, but if information doesn’t turn to action, then you’ve lost the value of an event in the first place, virtual or otherwise.
Where Do I Find the Right Virtual Speaker?
While good virtual speakers won’t necessarily fall right into your lap, they may not be as far to find as you might think. Often a great speaker is as close as your contacts list, LinkedIn, or a browse through YouTube.
An article on BusyConf.com talks a bit about where to go for speakers focusing on ideas that involve some old fashion online searching, networking and detective work.
- LinkedIn – LinkedIn is wall to wall professionals of one type or another. Browse the people you are linked with, look through profiles, read through posts, look up groups related to the topic of your next event. Many people on LinkedIn are looking for work themselves and would certainly be willing to consider speaking engagements.
- Certified speaking organizations – Certified speaking organizations such as Toastmasters offer certifications and training to their members. Some join for fun, some join to make a career of it and they are a good place to go to for individuals that you know have training in public speaking.
- Issue a call for proposals – Essentially this is putting an ad out looking for speakers for your event. While this could cover a lot of ground, websites such as BusyConf.com allow for event planners to post their events and what they need (also called an abstract) and speakers can offer proposals for the planner to rate and choose from.
- The local Chamber of Commerce – Local businessmen will often join these organizations for visibility in their community and depending on your topic these same individuals may make great speakers for your event.
- Industry publications – Almost every industry has a trade publication and often these trade publications will have guest contributors looking to show their expertise and get exposure. Sending an email to these publications may be a good way to be put in contact with these knowledgeable individuals.
- Professional organizations – Similar to publications, professional organizations are full of members looking to network and further their career. Many would be happy to speak at your event as an opportunity at exposure. As mentioned earlier in the list, LinkedIn is a good place to look for these organizations as they are likely to form a group for like minded professionals and members on the site.
- Local universities – University professors are great sources for speakers as their degree lends them credibility, and if they are teachers, it is a good bet that they are effective communicators. Plus, many universities have their own Speakers Bureau (more on them later) specifically to match their professors with event planners.
- Local non-profits – Leaders of these community organizations often have a story to tell and the nature of their work lends itself to effective communicators. As a bonus, their presence adds a charitable element to your event.
- Networking – Word of mouth is often the best form of advertising. Ask your friends and your friend’s friends if they have used or know of a good speaker for your event. A big advantage of this is that they may well have seen the speaker themselves and can give you a more honest appraisal of their skills than the blurbs on their website or profile page.
- Online forums – Some are famous (or infamous) like Quora or 4Chan, but in any case, a forum is a website where individuals with a particular interest can go to blog, share information or post and answer questions. It is a good place to scout potential speakers. Wikipedia has a list of current internet forums to allow you to search for a forum that matches your interests.
- The National Speaker Association – This website is a published directory of professional speakers. The organization trains professional speakers, has local chapters, and speakers can be booked from their website.
- Find people posting content - Slideshare (now attached to LinkedIn and with its own app) is a great way to find presentations on different topics. Once you find one you like, look up the author on YouTube to see if they have any of their talks posted. Aside from SlideShare, people can also find speakers through social media, blogs, and YouTube channels.
- Find influencers in your field – When looking for influential individuals on a particular topic FollowerWonk, Peerindex and bluenod are all websites that analyze Twitter bios, who’s following who, and who is trending, to discover influential individuals in a particular field.
- TEDx Talks – These talks are known for being engaging and the organizers of TEDx talks emphasize dynamic and effective speakers. This might be a good place to start outright and plus you will have the opportunity to see the speaker in action.
- Speaker bureaus – One source of speakers mentioned in several of the articles here is speakers bureaus. Most speaker bureau websites include the opportunity to browse through speakers and even contact them for free and without obligation. Some will also allow you to post your upcoming events which will allow speakers to seek you out instead. Some Speaker Bureaus you might use include:
- BigSpeak Speakers Bureau – This website has the standard amenities of a phone number for a live person, the ability to search through their buffet of speakers, and the ability to request information via an online form or email.
- The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau - This site is a business oriented speakers bureaus, boasting speakers on topics such as customer service, team work, leadership, management and sales to name a few.
- Executive Speakers Bureau - This site specializes in keynote speakers and has some good information on how to transition from a live to a virtual event.
- Keppler Speakers - This agency has a variety of speakers, but specializes in people with amazing stories to tell. They boast people with extraordinary experiences such as Astronaut Captain Scott Kelly who spent a year in space and Frank Abagnale, notorious con-man turned cyber security expert.
- Virtual Speaker Bureaus – While all the other methods of finding a Virtual speaker are general, Virtual Speakers Organization is currently in a class by itself. As their website says - “Virtual Speakers Organization is an exclusive network of the best virtual speakers in the world. Top event planners book our virtual speakers for all kinds of online events." The advantage here for those looking to go the virtual route in addition to the ease of a speaker bureau is that the speakers in their catalogue are there because they can effectively communicate in an online virtual event format.
I Have a Great Virtual Speaker in Mind…Now What?
If you manage to find a short list, you usually still have to vet them to make sure you have the best fit, something that should not be overlooked.
Here is a list of things to consider and do before selecting your next speaker:
- Watch your speakers perform – If you have found your speaker(s) via TEDx Talks or YouTube, you have this covered, otherwise ask to see a recording of their talks to make sure they are a good speaker. Being knowledgeable and being able to public speak are not necessarily inclusive of each other.
- Speakers who include you in on the preparation – A good speaker will prepare a specialized speech for your event and should ask you questions about your message and desired outcomes to make sure they deliver what you need.
- Arrange for pre-and-post speech appearances – Things like a Q&A with the keynote are important to many events, and if it is for yours, make sure they are willing to put in the extra time you need.
- Experience with organizations like yours – It is helpful if your speaker has experience speaking to your target demographic. Speaking to a rotary club and speaking to inner-city youth require different skill sets and approaches.
- Speakers who co-promote your event – Speakers who are willing to promote your event at their other speaking engagements is a great way to cross promote and potentially boost attendance.
- Speakers who interview you – While you are the customer, it can be a sign of an intelligent and insightful speaker if they ask you the right questions such as about your organization, demographics, and goals for the event. It shows they are out to do a complete and professional job and care enough to ask the right questions.
- Be aware of merch – It is common for speakers to want to sell their latest book or product, but be wary – the speech needs to be about you, and not be a commercial for their products, otherwise you risk turning the audience against you.
- High-Priced, High-Profile Speakers can be risky – While sometimes you get what you pay for, price doesn’t always equal quality. A high-priced speaker may be a big draw, but weigh this against whether or not their performance is good enough to satisfy your needs and your audience.
- Check unlisted references – There is a reason why so many people read the ratings when looking up a restaurant on Google. These reviews tend to be honest. No one willingly posts a poor review on their own website, so be sure and find reviews from those who have seen the speaker before and can give an honest impression.
“By remembering the mantra that the keynote is the most important hour of the day, you’ll be able to find the right person to make your event memorable and useful to attendees.”
While not as easy as ordering a book from Amazon, the internet (and sometimes some old-fashioned networking) can help you find an excellent speaker for your event. It may take some time, but the effort is worth it.
As Bizcatalyst360.com suggests, the most important part of your event is the speaker’s key note. It sets the tone and inspires your audience to action. Whether you decide to go it alone or use a speakers bureau, there are many resources out there for you to choose from. Good luck!