For an event planner, it's like hitting the jackpot: You've landed a celebrity keynote for your event. Now the magical confluence of name recognition, celeb status and public curiosity are sure to lure attendees in droves, right?
Not always. While celebrities certainly can generate buzz, in reality the return on investment of a celebrity speaker can be hard to quantify.
Just because a celebrity is well known doesn't mean they'll be a great speaker or right for your event. We spoke with event planning experts to determine which type of events benefit most from star power—and when it's best to splurge on something else.
Know Your Audience
When determining the type of speaker you want to headline your event, first consider your audience. Audience size, demographics and reasons for attending an event are all essential factors to weigh.
“The value of getting a celebrity keynote speaker depends entirely on the objective of your event or conference," says Jessica Dalka, creator of Chicago Planner Magazine. “At the end of the day, your conference should achieve something—exposure, education, product launch, etc.—and your speaker should help you achieve that goal."
If your goal is to generate revenue, a celebrity speaker might help attract a bigger crowd to the event. But if your event is targeting a limited group of attendees focused on a specific topic, lesser-known talent with subject matter expertise and a slam-dunk presentation will do just fine.
“Ask yourself if the speaker is the right fit for your audience demographics and avoid letting your personal bias affect your decision making," suggests Gregory Jenkins, founder and partner of event planning company Bravo Events.
Finding the Right Speaker
When deciding whether or not to bring in a celebrity speaker—or any speaker for that matter—ask yourself: Why are you choosing them? Does their background fit the topic of the event? What sort of subject matter expertise do they have?
Consider featuring an expert in addition to a celebrity speaker, suggests Dalka: “For example, you could be a medical device company who features a well-known actor to talk about how a certain medical problem affected him or her, but also supplement [the appearance] with medical industry professionals so there is excitement but also an educational component to your conference."
If you have the budget, use a speaker bureau to land an expert, or simply contact thought leaders who have been publishing articles on your topic directly and ask if they're interested in an appearance. Don't hesitate to look locally as well.
“For a regional event, sometimes a regional personality is the best person to connect with your audience," advises Jenkins. “Great regional talent can be just as effective as a celebrity."
Don't Be Star-Struck
If you're bringing in a speaker for a company event, especially one with name status, always do advance research. “The last thing you want is to find out that someone you hired is a great speaker but has been in some dicey situations that could lead to negative press," says Harris Schanhaut, a corporate event planner for medical device firm Acelity.
Do your homework by seeking out video footage of a recent presentation they've done, seeing the speaker firsthand at another engagement or soliciting feedback from colleagues who've used the speaker before.
And conduct the same due diligence with every speaker, not just a well-known one. “Just because the speaker you have is a subject matter expert doesn't mean they'll always be a good quality speaker," Schanhaut cautions.
Once you've settled on a speaker, inform them about the focus of the event, the audience and the role they'll be playing. “When you're working with a celebrity, that conversation can be intimidating, but it's important," notes Schanhaut.
Weigh Costs vs. ROI
The expense of bringing in a celebrity speaker will depend on who you book, of course. But just because you're dealing with someone famous, that doesn't mean you can't get a good deal. For example, Schanhaut once landed an author who had just come out with a new book. He was able to negotiate a reduced fee by purchasing several hundred autographed copies of their book to distribute at the event.
When booking a high-profile speaker, Jenkins says that it is very important to read the fine print in their contracts. “Don't expect the speaker to do more than what was contracted, unless you put the request into writing and both parties have agreed to the terms," he says.
Jenkins once hired a professional sports figure to speak at a client's program. The client spent a lot of money to bring them in, but the sports figure's presentation wasn't relevant to the event. Even worse, instead of taking questions at the end of their talk, they left the event in a hurry with their entourage.
Not every celebrity is cut out to be a keynote speaker and not every event is the right match for a superstar personality—but if you can find a celeb who fits your audience, event topic and budget, their star power can make your event shine all the brighter.