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Tech companies have increased the number of events they put on over the past few years. It’s almost a requirement now for brands to hold their own user- or industry-focused conferences and summits. These events are a great opportunity for firms to exhibit their thought leadership and engage the people who matter most to their success.
If you’re an organizer of one of these gatherings, you know how difficult it can be to find the right speaker. You need someone who knows and understands your industry and can give a speech that will be exciting and engaging to your audience. There are literally hundreds of speakers to choose from, so how do you narrow your search?
1. Search for recommended speakers others can vouch for.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Google is your friend, and it should be your first stop in seeking a speaker for your event. For example, if you start searching for “Top Marketing Speakers” or “Top Sales Speakers” keywords, you’ll find a number of lists providing recommendations for speakers with those areas of expertise. There might even be one specific to your industry.
Of course, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. Speakers included in these articles may have paid to be featured, and it’s very unlikely that the author of the article has seen every listed individual speak. However, such lists are usually a great starting point because they signal who’s interesting enough to be talked about. Even if you don’t choose a speaker from one of these lists, you can often find other candidates by reviewing tweets or comments about the article.
2. Use your network to crowdsource.
You’ve used Google; now, it’s time to consult Human Google — otherwise known as your network. It’s very possible that the people you’re connected with in your industry have had to plan similar events and might have some recommendations (or perhaps warnings) for you. Even if you don’t realize it, you may have connections with high-level influencers you wouldn’t have the ability to contact otherwise.
Reaching out for recommendations is easy: Send out messages via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and see what comes back. When an influencer is told by a friend that he or she should be at your event, it means a lot more than cold outreach from you alone.
3. Help your prospective speakers before asking for something.
Too often, organizers just want to take. They need a speaker at their event, so they’ll reach out and invite the person to speak in their very first contact. This is not a good idea for two reasons: 1) Speakers are less likely to accept when they have no existing relationship with you, and 2) if you’ve never spoken with them before, you don’t actually know whether they’ll be a good fit for your event.
Here’s what I suggest instead: Offer to help your prospective speaker. If you’ve seen on social media that he’s working on a big project, offer to lend him your expertise. Even just sending an email that says, “I really enjoy your work and would love to get involved” can go a long way with a speaker or influencer. When you form a relationship by helping someone, you’ll get to know him better, and he’ll be more inclined to accept your invitation later. An added bonus of this approach is that speakers will often give discounts to people they consider friends. Be a friend first.
4. Find out what’s a big win for your candidate.
Again, don’t just be a taker. If you want a speaker to accept an invite to your event, you’ve got to be clear about what’s in it for her (and I’m not talking just about money). The best way to do this is to ask what’s important to her. Does she want to meet certain people, or are there certain opportunities that would bring value to her? Tell the person how your event can help her achieve that.
Influencers typically have large, valuable audiences, so it’s easy for event organizers to see them strictly as resources for themselves. But keep in mind that your organization might be a valuable resource for your prospective speakers as well. Think about their goals, and organize your event so there’s a positive outcome for you and your speakers. Would a book-signing opportunity help them? Could you set up a VIP dinner with executives they might want to meet? Whatever you do, ensure the event is a win-win.
5. It’s not always the biggest names who will bring the most value.
We would all love to hear from the greatest minds in business: Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk — the list goes on and on. But oftentimes, big names don’t get fully behind an event. They’ll fly in the morning of, give their speech, and be on the first flight out. Speeches from these people can still be valuable, but to make your event the best it can be, you need speakers who are just as passionate about the event as you are and who will be continued advocates for your organization.
Smaller names may not attract crowds like a Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuk would, but they offer something incredibly valuable: the time to build a lasting relationship. That relationship will not only make your event better, but it can have a profound effect on future events as well. If your speakers have a positive experience, they’ll encourage not only their audience, but also other great speakers to participate in your next event.
Finding a keynote speaker can be tough, but it’s certainly not impossible. In the end, the greatest advice I can offer is to remember that influencers are people, too. Just like anyone else, they have things they love and things they need help with. Offer to help them, and they’ll be more inclined to help you.