Almost all conference organizers believe a great speaker can make a great conference. They invest in getting the best possible speakers they can afford—and for good reason. In my experience, a great speaker lineup can attribute up to 30% of the success of an event, in both attracting an audience and contributing to the overall buzz, satisfaction and impact of the experience.
Not only is it harder to identify new speaking talent with name recognition and a fresh message with relevance to your audience that doesn’t bust your budget, but there is an even deeper challenge.
The real challenge is the same one a chef faces when she has a few great, expensive—and maybe rare—ingredients. Does she have a recipe to bring these ingredients into a perfect combination, one that delivers not just an entrée, but a delicious meal with a congruent flow, inspired taste pairings and a wonderful dining experience? The desired result is so much more than the sum of the ingredients.
What I continue to see at conference and trade association events are a few great ingredients (speakers) who are not fully integrated, aligned and purposefully speaking about the totality of what an audience cares about most: the issues, ideas, inspiration and applications that connect the dots in a meaningful way.
Seldom are the general session speakers fully connected to the educational breakout sessions, the trade show and the networking receptions. It’s as though the audience has been invited to the grocery store to shop and fill their baskets with ingredients, without any idea how to assemble and blend them into a meal.
Big name speakers have three jobs to do:
- Attract an audience.
- Inspire, connect and relate their message to the audience.
- Light the fuse for the dialogue and conversation, and set the tone for all of the other elements of the event.
90% of the time an audience spends at your event is not in the general session. And yet such a large portion of the time, energy and budget is devoted to the general session: speakers, production, ballroom costs, rigging, etc.
- Integrate your keynote speakers into a thoughtfully curated faculty. You must connect the dots between each of your speakers so the audience doesn’t have to start from zero. Share your recipe and tell them what meal you have in mind.
- Don’t rely 100% on a call for papers. Pay a fee to enough of your breakout session speakers to get better quality.
- Design and follow an event blueprint to align your keynote speakers, educational sessions, the trade show and your networking functions.
The bottom line is that while keynote speakers are a key driver of the success of your event, they are not working hard enough. There are so many great examples of organizations that are doing it right. It’s the job of leadership to ask the right questions, focus on the outcomes they want to accomplish and ensure that this big line item expense is delivering its maximum value to your audience and your organization.
The teachers are revealed when the students are ready. Your students are ready, so give them the teachers they deserve.