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Director of Community & Events, Speaker, Co-Leader of the Chicago HubSpot User Group, Host of ‘The IMPACT Show’ Podcast
August 21st, 2020
Have you ever signed up for a webinar or virtual event and been really excited by the topic only to be met with a yawn-inducing PowerPoint presentation by an unenthusiastic speaker?
It’s super disappointing and feels like a waste of your time.
A virtual event is truly only as good as the content shared through it. Even the best software and attendee experience cannot save lackluster content and dull speakers.
Recently, I was talking with David Meerman Scott, a professional keynote speaker who we’ve had at many of our events. He reminded me how much of a difference a professional speaker can make at a virtual event.
While many speakers will have great insight to share, a professional speaker is guaranteed to be able to engage the audience and share their information in an easy-to-follow and interesting way. As David said, “Professional speakers skilled in virtual events can make your event shine!”
So how do you go about finding great speakers for your virtual events who will wow your audience? How do you prepare those speakers to be as captivating online as they’d be in person?
Fortunately, it’s not that different than how you’d find and manage speakers for an in-person event.
Getting the best speaker for your virtual event
While the process of finding speakers for a virtual event is not that different from an in-person event, there are actually some unique opportunities that come with virtual events.
First, you can get speakers you may not have been able to get for an in-person event due to distance and travel costs. Speakers you may not have been able to afford may be within your budget now that the cost does not include travel, hotel, and more.
Second, many speakers were booked out for as far as two years in advance. Now, since so many events have been cancelled or postponed, speakers who weren’t available have some more flexibility.
The goal of your event - what do you want attendees to get out of it?
The date of your event and time you’d want the speaker to present
The length of the speaker’s session and what materials they can include
Your budget available for a speaker
The essential due dates for things like booking the speaker and getting their session information on your website and agenda
What kind of speaker you’re looking for - is it a keynote speaker who presents live to the entire audience? Or is it a breakout session speaker who will be with a smaller group and potentially shorter session that competes with others at the same time?
Knowing these things will help you find speakers who are a good fit and are available for the dates you need. This will save you from wasting time working to get a speaker who isn’t even able to participate in your event or doesn’t want to speak on your particular topic.
So how do you actually find a virtual event speaker?
Once you’ve defined the above information, you can start reaching out to potential speakers.
Here are a few ways to find great virtual event speakers:
Ask your audience who they’d like to hear from.
Consider involving your customers to share their stories.
Leverage subject matter experts at your company.
Leverage existing partners you have.
Reach out to hosts of popular podcasts in your industry.
Do a search for top keynote presenters in your industry.
Asking your audience
When you take time to ask your audience who they may like to hear from you may be surprised to find ideas you hadn’t even thought of. Your audience will inevitably have others in the industry they are learning from and could be a great addition to your event.
You could ask them in an email with a form they can fill out, in your online community if you have one, or even just by reaching out individually to a few people you know personally.
Involve your customers
In addition to asking who people would like to see, you can also ask your clients to be speakers. They can share stories of success and things they’ve learned with your product or service.
Attendees often enjoy hearing real stories from real people and they will appreciate the authenticity of these presentations. Plus, including customers in your event will make them feel valued and special.
When you reach out to customers to see if they’re interested be sure to share exactly what the purpose of the event is, the date and time, and what their commitment would be.
Give them a clear idea of how little or how much work will go into being part of the event and what the deadlines leading up to it are.
Leverage your subject matter experts
There are many subject matter experts within your organization who may be perfect to add value to sessions at your event. Even those who aren’t outgoing or don’t have any speaking experience can be great with a little bit of training and practice.
Think about the people at your organization who lead projects, share lessons with your team, or are consistently mentioned by customers.
Leverage existing partners you have
Most organizations have partnerships with at least a few other brands or people in their industry. If you don’t know who your partners are, ask around your organization to find out.
Kerrie Bond-MacInnes, Events Manager at Stella Connect shared with me her method for finding speakers in her community and through partnerships.
She said: “If we have an idea of the person or type of speaker we want and can't source through clients or the community, we go to our partners or current employees who have connections. (Relying on this for the virtual summit I'm currently working on!)”
Seek out content creators
One more great way to find speakers is by reaching out to hosts of popular podcasts and authors of popular blogs in your industry.
These content creators will likely be excited to be involved in something that can get their content in front of more people. They also have knowledge of the topics you need.
I also spoke with Aleksandra Panyukhina, head of event marketing at Userlane, who suggested finding best-performing articles on the topic of your event and reaching out to the authors of those articles.
She pointed out “chances are high they also speak at events. I use SEMrush Topic Research for the initial stage of the research.
She went on to recommend vetting your speakers before reaching out by “trying to find YouTube recordings of their presentations or at least a podcast.”
This will give you an idea of their style and confidence as a presenter and “will help to define whether this candidate will be good for the opening speech or more of an intimate round table style.”
Depending on your budget, authors of books relevant to your audience can also make great speakers for your event.
Search for top keynote presenters
Finally, you can simply Google search top keynote presenters in your industry. Many will have speaker agencies who manage their booking.
They will likely have whole websites dedicated to their speaking engagements which include things like their availability, topics they cover, pricing, and how to contact their agent about booking them.
While there may not be a cost to ask your own employees or customers to speak at your event, subject matter experts in your industry and popular speakers and content creators will potentially charge a fee. It helps to know your budget for speakers before diving into trying to book them.
How much does a virtual event speaker cost?
Something else you’ll need to consider is how much you’ll spend to get the perfect speaker.
While many will present at a virtual event for free, most professional keynote speakers will still charge a fee. After all, if we’re making virtual events that are just as valuable as in-person ones, the speakers will do the same with their presentations and should be compensated accordingly.
Another thing to remember is that speakers who are willing to participate at no cost will still want to get something out of your event.
This usually means awareness of their brand or to pitch or sell something to your audience. This is not always the case but it’s a risk you run when asking people to speak without compensation.
Speaker fees vary but from my research and experience, you can expect to pay about half of a speaker’s in-person cost. While a seasoned speaker may start at a few thousand dollars for an event, well-known celebrities or athletes can easily range from $10,000 to $100,000 for an event.
Just because someone is well-known does not necessarily mean they’ll be a good virtual event speaker, however. Someone who has experience presenting on stage and engaging an audience in-person may not be as skilled at doing the same virtually.
Be sure you ask questions about their experience presenting at virtual events, how they’ll engage the audience, and potentially some references or examples of past virtual presentations.
If paying a speaker just isn’t in your budget, there are sometimes ways to work around this.
For instance, maybe your speaker will be willing to trade or barter services for a product or service your company offers. You may also want to give them the option to be a sponsor of your event.
Whatever company they are associated with can get recognition during your event and, if you’ve gotten permission from attendees, you could share an attendee list with the speaker to use for follow up.
Booking and managing virtual event speakers
Once you’ve confirmed a speaker for your event, there are a few things you’ll need to do to finalize the booking and manage your speakers from now until the conclusion of your event.
Sign a contract
First, for a paid keynote speaker, I highly recommend getting a signed speaker contract. A contract will help protect you if a speaker requests changes to their presentation such as the length or timing, doesn’t show up for rehearsal, or asks to cancel or back out.
This can be fairly simple but should outline the agreed commitment from your speaker, what you’ll be paying them, and when.
Once you have a signed speaker contract, if you need one, communicate all the required deadlines and things you need from your speakers to them and their assistant.
Many professional speakers will have executive assistants you’ll need to work with. They’re usually quick to respond and have all the answers the speaker would have.
If you need information from your speakers such as a headshot, title of their talk, a description of their talk, or their bio, be sure to send a clear request with a deadline so you can stay on track with your planning and marketing.
Communicate talk guidelines and expectations
Also, make sure to send guidelines and expectations for the talk.
Do you want them to use headphones or a microphone to ensure good sound quality? Should they have a neutral background? Give them some guidance to your event’s standards so they know what to expect and come prepared.
Arrange for a “dress rehearsal”
Finally, if the session will be live and is in a platform that is less well-known (basically anything other than Zoom) I recommend setting up a practice session with your speaker.
This will allow them to practice logging into the platform, sharing materials, and navigating the controls so they’re comfortable and confident the day of their presentation.
Don’t forget to thank your speakers
Last but certainly not least, be sure to thank your speakers after the event!
I spoke at a virtual event earlier this year and received the most amazing and personal thank you from my friends over at Alyce.
They sent me a thank you with a way to view and claim my gift online. I logged in and saw the most perfect picnic basket because they knew I love picnics. However, I also had options to swap it out for a different gift or even donate the amount to a charity.
Example of Alyce gift claim page
I asked Nina Butler, Director of Demand Generation at Alyce, why she decided to thank speakers at her event this way. She responded:
“Even though in-person events have transformed into digital experiences, don’t lose out on those opportunities to create an emotional connection digitally with your audience. As you get to know your speakers leading up to the event, take notice of their interests and hobbies and send a hyper-relevant thank you gift to them post-event. This is an excellent way to show your gratitude while creating a personal bond with your speaker.”
And she’s absolutely right. This type of thank you is far more memorable than a simple gift card and really made me feel like the team at Alyce truly recognized and valued my contribution to their event.
The speakers make the event
While it may seem like planning your event down to every last detail and getting as many people registered and excited as possible are the most important things you can do, none of that will matter without engaging and captivating speakers.
Attention is even harder to hold onto in the virtual world and only the perfect speaker can really accomplish this well.
Take time to find the perfect speakers for your event. Work with them to create programming your audience will get value from, help them practice using your virtual event software, and do everything you can to set them up for success as a presenter.
And remember, while a well-known keynote can certainly be a draw, you don’t have to rely on expensive keynote speakers to make your event a success.
Be sure to leverage members of your community, your customers, and partners of your organization who may be great at sharing tactical and insightful information with your audience. This combination approach will make your event truly top-notch.
Do you need help planning your virtual event or want guidance in transforming your in-person event into a virtual one?
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