Choosing a Guest Speaker

Choosing the right guest speaker to meet all your objectives can be a stressful task.

We find that many of our clients have struggled for years to find guest speakers who are a good match for their group. Most decision makers are forced to choose between which criteria are the most important and who they will disappoint. Clients are looking for a well known professional, familiar with their industry, who will present a customized program with a perfect blend of humor and cutting edge information that will leave the audience motivated and well-informed. (And all of this must meet budgetary requirements!)

Don’t lower your expectations.
You CAN have it all!
Here’s how …

By blending his funny real-life stories and current original business research, guest speaker Garrison Wynn educates, motivates, and entertains—delivering solutions audiences can use right away. Each keynote contains powerful information on communications, change, and success that can be customized for salespeople, management teams, customer service representatives, or those in leadership positions.

Tips on choosing a guest speaker


Like choosing other professionals, selecting a motivational speaker is left to your common sense. You may discover that the speaker has been “speaking” for over 20 years (but maybe your program is the speaker’s first professional engagement). The promotional material you received are top-notch (but maybe the speaker has a good “day job” and can afford a slick press kit). The speaker may belong to an impressive association (but this may only mean that he/she paid the required dues). On the other hand, these three credentials may belong to a highly qualified professional speaker. Consider many of the items which follow, ask questions and use your best judgment!


You’ll need to decide on the blend of entertainment value and meaningful message that you want for your program. You’ll find guest speakers who range from 100% entertainment value to those who focus almost exclusively on content with little entertainment value. Often you can find the exact blend that you’re looking for. For example, if you wanted 70% entertainment value and 30% motivational message, many professional speakers can tailor their talk to fit your needs. Just let them know exactly what you want. If you’re not sure what you want, discuss the options which your speaker might offer to you.


a. The HUMORIST is someone who delivers humor with a message: Story, relevant point, story, relevant point. Professional humorists can normally blend their humor and message to fit your needs.

b. The MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER provides an inspiring and uplifting program usually built around powerful stories, often personal experiences of the speaker. Most motivational speakers also use humor, but not to the extent that a humorist would.

c. The CELEBRITY SPEAKER may provide a name which will draw people to your event. Some celebrity speakers are terrific speakers and some are just average, but you’re normally buying their fame and not their platform skills. Celebrity speakers normally have the highest fees.

d. The INDUSTRY SPEAKER is a person with expertise in a particular industry who lectures on a specific topic. Industry speakers are generally not known for their entertainment or motivational value but are brought in to inform and take an in depth look at a particular topic.

e. The PERFECT MATCH GUEST SPEAKER is ideally what every group is looking for and I’m going to tell you how to tell if the guest speaker you are considering will be a perfect fit for your group or not. There are some motivational speakers who have the talent, background, experience and versatility to truly be a perfect fit for many different types of industries and organizations.

It is often difficult to classify these speakers as they tremendously funny, but not humorists, motivational in delivery but not in subject matter, Experienced in many industries without being a boring industry speaker and most of all they specialize in extensive pre-meeting research to deliver just the right message for each group. These speakers work closely with clients in a true partnership for a successful event.

4. FEES: There is normally a correlation between a motivational speaker’s fee and the quality of the program. You would never think that a $3000 car might be similar to a $30,000 car. Just the same, you wouldn’t think that a $500 speaker might be similar to one who charges $5000. You normally get what you pay for. And consider this: You often pay many times more for the meal than for the speaker (on a per capita basis), when in fact the evening’s program is probably far more important than the meal. Consider the true value-per-person-attending when deciding on your program investment.

5. INTERNET WEB SITE: A speaker’s web site will give you an instant “brochure” which may help you make a decision. This is especially valuable if your decision time frame is short. Speakers’ web sites should include video clips, clients lists and testimonials. A quality professional speaker will be easy to find on the internet and will generally appear on the first or second page of search results for the topic you are looking for. For example, When you search with the terms “keynote speaker”, “motivational speaker” or “sales speak” and can’t find the speaker you are considering, you should proceed with caution.

6. TESTIMONIALS: Testimonials may give you an indication of quality. You could ask for the names and phone numbers of three recent clients (who had the kind of program you need). Call them and ask questions. Read between the lines and listen for genuine enthusiasm in their voice when talking about their experience with the speaker.

7. VIDEO SEGMENTS: All professional speaker should have video footage available on their website. Watch for genuine audience response, the ability to hold the audiences attention (Do you get bored just watching the footage?)

It might be possible to watch the speaker in a live performance before hiring. Although this is often not possible, you could ask. Most speakers will not “audition” for a single-date performance, but you might be able to attend someone else’s program. is probably the best way to really see the speaker’s style and content.

10. PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS: The fact that a speaker is a member of a professional association or the Chamber of Commerce may indicate a level of commitment to the art and business. However, this may or may not have a relationship to the quality of their talk.

11. AWARDS: This is somewhat like the category of professional affiliations. Although awards are normally a good flag, you just never know the true significance of the award received by the speaker. Some awards are highly significant and others may be of minor importance. The awards of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE) are significant designations awarded by the National Speakers Association (NSA). The CSP indicates substantial professional experience. The CPAE indicates the highest level of professional speaking achievement. The Accredited Speaker (AS) designation by Toastmasters International indicates a professional level of platform excellence and has been awarded to less than 60 people worldwide.

12. PERFORMER’S EXPERIENCE: How long has the motivational speaker been in the business? Does the speaker speak full-time (earning a living as a speaker) or part-time (with a full-time day job)? These considerations may or may not have a great impact on the quality of the talk.

13. CLEAN MATERIAL: You should not expect to have problems with off-color material when using a professional speaker. If you have any subject material concerns, share them with your speaker.

14. CUSTOMIZATION: While talking with the speaker, you may get a feel for his or her customization skills. What kind of questions is the speaker asking YOU about the audience or organizational culture? Not every talk needs customization but most professional speakers specialize in adding a personal touch.

15. MEETING ROOM SETUP: Ask the speaker what you will need to provide at the meeting venue: Risers/platform, sound system, lighting, projection equipment etc. Many speakers will not speak from behind a lectern but prefer having an open platform from which to talk. Ensure that someone else, a band for example, does not set up in the space reserved for the speaker. Beware of tall centerpieces (balloons for example) as they will block the view of many in the audience.

16. INTRODUCING THE SPEAKER: Normally, the introduction is an important part of the speaker’s talk. Most professional speakers will provide you with a written introduction in advance. Find someone in your organization who will be able to properly set the stage for the talk and get the program off to a good start.


Selecting Your Guest Speaker Part II

Your guest speaker selection is one of the most important elements in a successful meeting. Selecting the right business speaker for your meeting can be a daunting task, as public speakers are available in every fee range and specialty topic. The National Speakers Association, composed of more than 3,800 professional speakers, has compiled these tips to help make your meeting a success.

1. Determine the needs of your audience

Thorough knowledge of the needs of your group is essential in selecting the right public speaker. Does your meeting require that the audience leave with specific or technical information? Do you need a motivational speaker to inspire the group to sell? Are you looking for after-dinner entertainment with a message, or corporate entertainment for a conference closing session?

2. Establish your date, time and budget

  • Start looking for a speaker as soon as the date for your meeting is set. Many public speakers book engagements up to a year in advance and you will want to get on their calendar as soon as possible.
  • Consider how much time you have to fill and where that time falls in your overall program. If your time slot is flexible, a professional speaker can often tell you the right amount of time for the job. A professional can also make recommendations about the order of topics/speakers if one presentation will follow another. (You may not want to follow a humorist with a detailed educational presentation.)
  • Factor in the fee you are willing or able to pay for a public speaker. Your search for a speaker can be narrowed or broadened based upon your budget.

3. Identify the type of guest speaker who will best match the needs of your audience

A speaker’s expertise in a given field may be the big draw, but a well-known name does not guarantee a professional presentation. High prices don’t always mean high quality. Will your audience and the overall program benefit most from a celebrity; a motivational and inspirational speaker; an expert in the field; a popular sports personality; a best-selling author; or a business speaker who has a thorough knowledge of the appropriate topic?

4. Locate your resources

  • Personal referrals are a great way to narrow your search. Ask colleagues for recommendations.
  • Speakers bureaus locate and book public speakers according to your specifications and needs. A bureau can locate speakers and quote fees. Many bureaus specialize in particular speakers such as celebrities, authors, motivational speakers, corporate entertainment or athletes. Speakers bureaus can often be found in your local phone directory under “Speakers Bureau” or “Agent.” You can also use the internet to find bureaus. Try the International Association of Speakers Bureaus (IASB) or Marketplace NSA.
  • Click here to jump to The National Speakers Association’s Online Directory of Professional Speakers. This directory contains information on more than 3,800 public speakers and can be searched by topic, keyword, location, name and so on.

5. Review your options and interview your speaker candidates

  • A professional speaker will be a real partner in this process. Often they will ask questions about the needs of your audience and what they can accomplish for you. Ask your candidates for references and, if they are speaking in your area, ask if you can attend the program and observe them in action.
  • Confirm that a potential speaker has addressed groups similar to yours. Talk with them about their experience. Ask for a biography, testimonials and videos of their presentations, preferably before a live audience.
  • Find a motivational speaker who will tailor his or her presentation to your group.
  • Ask the speaker if they belong to professional associations. Also ask what awards or certifications they have earned. The National Speakers Association’s designation is the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). The CSP is earned for extended speaking experience and client satisfaction. You might also choose a member of the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame.® Click here for more information on the CSP designation or the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame.®

6. Select your speaker

  • Hire a professional and you’ll hire an ally. Motivational speakers understand that your reputation is riding on their performance. Their experience with hundreds of audiences can add to your peace of mind and to the success of the event.
  • When selecting your motivational speaker, consider that you are not only paying for the time the speaker is on the platform but also for the hours spent researching, preparing and customizing the presentation. Some speakers may negotiate their fees when they are doing more than one program for you or when they are allowed to sell their products. Ask about your options.

7. Get it in writing

You should have a letter of agreement or contract that clearly outlines the expectations of both you and your public speaker. Consider:

  • travel arrangements and transportation;
  • accommodations and meals;
  • fees, reimbursements and payment terms;
  • whether you want the speaker to attend social events;
  • if the speaker may sell products and if so, how this will be handled;
  • an agreement on any audio- or videotaping of the presentation;
  • cancellation policies;
  • audio/visual requirements;
  • and legal implications, if any, your contract may contain.

8. Work with your guest speaker

Share information about your group or company. This will help the speaker become familiar with your organization, while facilitating a customized presentation.

  • Send your newsletter or anything which would include key people, buzz words or insider news and views.
  • Give the speaker a clear outline of what you expect.
  • Be specific about the size and demographics of your audience.
  • Let the speaker know in advance about other speakers on the program. This gives the speaker the opportunity to build on (and not duplicate) what the other speakers say.

9. Set the stage

  • Make sure the room is set up for optimum impact. Consider the number of chairs and how they are arranged. Also consider room temperature and lighting.
  • Stay on schedule. Although a professional will be able to “make up” time or slow things down if needed, keeping your program on schedule will allow your audience to get the full impact of the program you have created for them.
  • Your public speaker should be able to provide you with a good introduction of themselves and their topic. The introduction should be short, energizing and create positive expectations.

10. Evaluate the results

  • Have your audience complete evaluations on the speaker and his/her presentation. This will allow you to gauge your results and plan for future programs. Send copies of the evaluations to your speaker.

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