How to choose a keynote speaker for your event 

Your keynote speaker is one of the most foundational elements of your event, so you have an important choice to make.

December 8, 2021

- 3 min read

Planning an event is like building a house. You start with the major details: the foundation and frame of your house, or the date and location and purpose of your event. Then you work your way into smaller and smaller details once the larger structure is decided. In event planning, one of the large details that takes the most work to sort out is your keynote speaker. 

Your keynote speaker will be one of the cornerstones of your event, whether it’s an in-person, hybrid, or virtual event. How do you find the perfect fit for your conference, meeting, or convention? We’ve broken it down into a series of clear steps. 

1. Make a list of industry leaders 

In choosing your keynote speaker, it helps to take a top-down approach. Start with a very broad list of industry leaders, thought leaders, or people with unique angles and experiences in the industry that applies to your event. You’ll gradually narrow down this list with the other step, but for now, think of it as a brainstorming session so you can compile a list of at least 15-20 names. 

If you’re in the industry that you’re throwing the event for, you may be able to name many options off the top of your head. You can also check out professionals in that industry or specialty who have large followings online, or authors of key books in the industry. 

2. Crowdsource your search 

Once you have your initial list of names, ask others on your planning committee for their ideas too. Chances are that they can think of a few great speakers that slipped your mind. In the process, take note of whether there are certain names that a lot of your colleagues are mentioning. If so, those names should be toward the top of your list. 

As you’re asking around, make sure to also ask if there are any industry leaders that your colleagues may know or have a connection to. If so, those names should be given priority too because they’ll make the logistics easier. 

3. Envision the ideal takeaways for your event 

Think about the “big picture” of your event. What is the ultimate takeaway that you want attendees to gather? What do you want them to be thinking and feeling when they leave? If it’s a self-development conference, the top takeaway may be that great success starts with small steps, for example. If it’s a neurology conference, you might want attendees to be excited about a particular frontier of neurology. 

Your keynote speaker will play a major role in getting that message through to your attendees. They’re the headliner of your event. Once you’ve defined the target takeaways, look through your list and highlight the speakers who would be most effective at delivering that message. 

4. Consider what your audience may want

Why are your attendees coming to your event? What do they expect to get out of it? Are they looking for motivation, perhaps, or empirical data and practical knowledge they can put to use?  

Both of those are valuable goals, but they’re very different, and attendees who expect practical knowledge won’t be happy if the keynote speaker has less tangible information than they expected. Think about your audience’s goals and highlight the speakers on your list who could best meet those goals. 

5. Determine your budget 

The budget is always the least fun part of planning an event, but it’s a critical way to narrow your list of potential keynote speakers. After all, speakers can range from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more, so your budget will determine how big of a name you can pull in. 

Remember that your budget for your keynote speaker also needs to take into account any travel and accommodation costs the speaker may incur. If you have a budget of $10,000, you could hire someone local whose speaking fee is around $10,000 or you could hire someone from overseas whose speaking fee is $5,000 because it could take another $5,000 to cover their flights, lodging, and other expenses. 

This should narrow your list further. You may not know specific speaking fees yet for each option, but you can anticipate that high-profile celebrities and public figures will cost $50,000 or more, for example, so you can get a general idea of who is and isn’t in your price range. 

6. Establish your wish list and start reaching out 

At this point, you made a long list and narrowed it little by little based on each speaker’s messaging, the value offered, and anticipated fees and expenses. Now, pick out your top choices in order of priority build a wish list, naming your #1 choice, your #2 choice, and so on. 

Finally, it’s time to start getting in touch with the potential speakers. Starting with your top choice, find a way to contact them and ask about their fees and availability. Make sure you’re upfront with the details, like the event location and format, length of their speech, and so on. If your top choice doesn’t turn out to be the right fit, go to the next person on your wish list.

Setting the foundation for your event with a keynote speaker 

Your keynote speaker is one of the most foundational elements of your event, so you have an important choice to make. You also need to make the important choice of how to host the digital components of your event. Learn more about Canapii and how we can help so you can focus on booking your keynote speaker. 

Charlotte Woodward

@CharlotteLR_W
Event Manager

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