MPI Blog

Career Advice

How to Chose an Event Speaker


In a recent discussion relating to booking event speakers, former Yahoo! executive Tim Sanders, cleverly changed the title of the song from B.J. Thomas' 1968 hit "Hooked on a Feeling" to “Booked on a Feeling”, to describe an event speaker-selection process driven more by gut reaction than sound event planning.

While this may have some inherent value to event planners, realistically hoping that the chosen speaker is a good fit for your event, in reality, is wishful thinking and that "good feeling" is not exactly sound event planning practice.

How to Choose a Speaker for Your Event

A sound event plan begins with an high-level understanding or a vision of what you want to achieve overall with a particular session and meeting. Whether a speaker will present at a seminar or be the keynote speaker offering motivation or inspirations, commit this vision to writing. Here are some high-level criteria to consider in the initial speaker selection process.

It’s powerful to have a solid written basis for decisions and have it agreed upon by those making the decision and referred to when things may “drift” during the planning process. It’s also useful to have agreement that the fit should be close, not perfect.

It’s common that someone’s ability to help attract attention and attendees be part of the selection strategy. This topic can be an article of its own. My brief advice: A quality presentation should always be the leading criteria.

Related Article: Meeting Planner or Meeting Strategist? Redefining the Role

Once you have a set of speakers to consider, check references and ask specific questions about the degree to which they listened, understood your group and event objectives and personalized their presentation. Lack of presentation personalization is the No. 1 source of criticism read in speaker evaluations.

If you get the chance to speak with the speaker beforehand, ask them to be very specific about the ways they go about learning about the audience and the objectives for the event. Not everyone who says they personalize the presentation is very good at it.

Groups usually don’t hire speakers so much to hear what they have to say, but rather to help them achieve some objectives. There are plenty of speakers who have an excellent story with little room for personalization. Good story, well told, can be enough in some situations, and you will recognize it when you see that.

It’s a lot of work to develop a solid keynote presentation, and many of the people who might be perfect for your event may not have much experience speaking or may not have taken the time to develop their platform skills.


It’s become far more acceptable in recent times to invite such people to your events and have them interviewed, answering questions relevant to your group and your industry. My advice in these situations is to make sure your interviewer has solid interviewing experience.

Connection moves hearts and minds. A close fit with a bit of tailoring can help make it happen.

About the Author

Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).