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April 6, 2008

Speakers - Does your event need a one?

The UK Conference Market is worth more than £10 billion, with the average budget for events in excess of £120,000. More and more companies are looking for the maximum return on investment from their event and are, therefore, aiming to deliver a high-content message that brings about long-term sustainable change as opposed to just a short-term impact. Using a speaker either to motivate delegates or to deliver a specific message can play an invaluable role in achieving this aim. For example, it can focus the minds of delegates on a particular subject or highlight how the various elements of the event have been working towards a common goal.

Before deciding on which speaker to use, you need to consider what they will add to your event. Will a session led by a speaker fit into your conference, and if so what kind of message do you need them to get across? You may want to motivate staff by using an inspirational figure who is a success in their own field, such as a leading personality in sport or business. Alternatively, you may want someone to report on a set of statistics and get over the conclusions effectively. Or perhaps you want a presenter to tell a story, either about your company or another key topic. You also need to consider whether you want a well-known personality or perhaps someone who can add a touch of humour to proceedings.

“There’s no question that a speaker can make or break an event,” says Nick Porter, director at creative events company Fresh. “Considering the tone, style and presentation of the address is vital: whether the speaker is male or female, for example, shouldn’t just be left to chance. It’s crucial to know the audience well and tailor the speaker to the key messages you’re keen to convey.

“Equally important is the time slot allocated to the speaker,” continues Porter. “An enthusiastic and engaging talk after lunch, or first thing in the morning following a gala dinner, can be a great energiser, really helping to wake delegates up and easing them into the right frame of mind to be receptive to the core message of the day.”

There is a tendency when choosing a speaker to go for someone who’s well known – a sports personality for a motivational address, or a comedian as a compare or as a way of using humour to deliver key messages more effectively. However, personality alone does not make a good speaker.

“The biggest mistake people make is to secure speakers based on what they have achieved rather than how well they present their case,” says Jeremy Garbett, joint managing director at experiential agency Jack Morton Worldwide. This is why it’s vital never to book a speaker without first seeing them in action, either at first hand or on video.

If you are going to book a celebrity, you must make sure they are appropriate to your brand and the message they are delivering or untold damage can be done. Often overlooked are newsreaders, who are recognisable without being branded as celebrities, and will add gravitas to any presentation.

Of course, as Nigel Cooper, director of event management agency P&MM Group and chairman of industry association Eventia, points out, you could save on the costs of booking a speaker – and they can be considerable – and use a senior employee.

“I prefer to coach the chief executive or a senior manager rather than an external person as they are more relevant to the people that they are working with,” he says. “They know the product, the market, the industry, the challenges and more importantly the people know them. And if they're willing, most can be helped to speak and present very effectively.”

Once you’ve decided on a speaker, it’s vital that you gauge how successful the appointment has been after they have spoken.

“Following the event, a key sign of a successful session is that the audience not only understands the concepts discussed, but also has the desire to put them into action,” says Nick Smallman, managing director of Working Voices.

So make sure you canvas not only opinions of the speaker, but also dig deeper to find out if the aims behind booking them have been met.

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