This is the first part of a three-part series by Shane Brethowr, founder of Overflow Story Lab, about how to make the most of your event speakers before, during and after the event.
External speakers are expensive. In fact, they can be one of the most costly elements of an event, typically ranging from $5,000 to $75,000. Far too often, companies don't end up getting their money's worth. So how do you maximize your paid speaker investment?
Here are three steps you can take to ensure you get the most out of your paid speakers.
STEP 1: Message Mapping
Every event has a strategic purpose. Whether it's business development, a product launch or organizational learning, there is a clear set of messages your organization needs to impart on the audience. This intent plays out through a series of connected voices you curate before, during and after the event.
Curating a strategic message means going deeper than the event theme. Break down your organization's strategic purpose for the event into three storylines: 1) internal 2) industry and 3) community of clients or prospective clients. For each storyline, outline the intent (motive and goals) and obstacles (conflicts and problems) facing your respective audiences. Now craft four- to six-word message statements, connecting these storylines back to the organization's formal strategic plan.
STEP 2: Play Matchmaker
Once you have an approved message map in place, you can improve the speaker selection and evaluation process. This is a two-part matchmaking exercise to remove randomness from your speaker selection and to look for someone who brings the whole package: story, content and delivery.
Remove Random Recommendations: First, remove random recommendations by your board or others who may be disconnected from your process. Directly tie messages from the approved message map to the planned agenda and internal or external speakers. Then mobilize your board, committee and decision-makers for relevant recommendations.
Search for the Whole Package: Story, Content & Delivery: Improve audience engagement by changing the way you evaluate and position speakers. Too many speakers are not stage ready. The most effective professional speakers have three well-developed parts: story, content and delivery.
- Story: Story does not just mean the speaker's personal story. Listen for how they share wisdom. Does the speaker constantly tell the audience what to do and think? Or, do they share a story and allow the audience to “make it their idea"?
- Content: The speaker should offer clear tips and techniques to put into application. Do not allow a speaker to hide behind broad generalizations and a new book. Require concrete language and tangible evidence. If the speaker has a new book, read it and determine what is most relevant to your audience and message map.
- Delivery: Make sure the speaker's delivery matches the style of your audience. At the very least, do not allow a big heap of cliché to walk on the stage and ask the audience condescending or rhetorical questions.
STEP 3: Plan for Customization
Once you have made your speaker selection(s), give your speakers the information needed to customize their story, content and delivery. You are hiring them to carry a message and influence change. Do not let them give the same presentation they've already given 20 times in the past year and three times during the past month. Some speakers have delivered the same presentation so often it's become stale, even to them.
Thirty Days Before the Event: Set a prep call with the speaker at least 30 days in advance of the event. Share the message you want the speaker to carry onstage. Provide details behind the event's motive and how you see the speaker's story and content connecting to the story playing out in the audience's mind. Ask for a plan on how the speaker will customize the presentation.
Find Out Where They Stand: Prior to the 30-day prep call with your speaker, review their social media. Find out what they care about and where they stand on social events. Attitudes, values and beliefs will come through in a presentation or Q&A. I've seen clients cringe, and I've seen them smile with pride. Ask your speaker what they're reading and where their last three presentations were. Allow your speaker to editorialize. These views and opinions on current issues have big value with the audience.
These steps will help you maximize your return on investment. It takes significantly more commitment, time and effort — but your audience will thank you for it.
Shane is a speaker coach, consultant and founder of Overflow Story Lab. He is an expert in story structure, messaging and launching strategy. A former COO at a multi-national firm, Shane has built four companies inside two billion-dollar organizations. He understands the importance of live events and regularly advises committees and event-planning teams.