People who are invited to be a guest or keynote speaker at someone else's event have reactions that range from enthusiasm to flattery to anxiety to avoidance. If you are the one doing the inviting, you can increase the likelihood of a positive reaction, as well as your speaker's success, by paying close attention to the preparatory and on-site details that directly influence speaker success. In truth, the audience's evaluation of the event will be based only partially on the speaker's performance; the other part of the evaluation will be of you.
Here are suggestions to help you not only create a great experience for the audience and speaker but increase your own reputation as a best-in-class recruiter of external presenters.
What kind of speaker do you need? What specifically do you need the speaker to achieve? Is the purpose of the presentation informational, educational, persuasive? Do you need the speaker to provide "infotainment," informing the audience in an entertaining way or "edutainment," providing an educational experience while entertaining the audience?
As you search for and review speakers, determine how well each speaker's skills and knowledge suit your event objectives. Based on that determination, construct a short list of candidates, prioritize, and then work down the list to ascertain availability and interest. Articulate your expectations as well as the needs and expectations of the audience to give potential guest speakers critical information about the timing and tone of the speech. Sketch out the path he or she needs to follow.
As the person selecting a guest speaker, you are responsible for every aspect that will lead to the speaker's success. A plethora of details defines the environment from the speaker's standpoint; you'll need both to oversee these details and communicate them to potential and selected speakers. These include (but are not limited to):
- Physical space, including location, dimensions, and seating design
- Stage, podium and/or lectern, including whether there are steps, furniture, or props to negotiate
- Time of day; activities preceding, during, and after the presentation
- Availability of specific types of sound and audiovisual equipment, including microphone type and projection screen(s)
- Technical support availability
- Possible distractions such as media presence, celebrity attendees, high-status locale
- Recording the speaker (audio or visual), and possible uses
Audience characteristics will help your speaker shape his or her speech or presentation on many dimensions. Significant details to provide the speaker include the number of attendees, age disparity, areas of interest or expertise, language and cultural diversity, known sensitivities, frame of mind, previous experiences in similar situations, and the homogeneity (or lack of) on every scale. Provide, too, expectations regarding audience interaction, including potential Q&A and distribution of materials.
In addition, you can enhance the perception of the speaker by providing "insider knowledge" about the audience, with shared humor, for example, or background information or semantic idiosyncrasies. And, as long as it is done tastefully and respectfully, it may be appropriate to give the speaker information that allows him or her to refer to a member of the audience, making that member a momentary celebrity in some way.
Speaking publicly requires presenters to put themselves on the line. The audience wants and needs the speaker to be successful and deserves the very best performance. Managing the responsibilities and opportunities of inviting and preparing the speaker in a thorough, professional manner will provide a win-win-win—for the audience, for the speaker, and for you!