How to find a speaker for your conference

How to find a speaker for your conference event

You are perhaps frustrated wondering, how to find a speaker for your conference, convention or event. You are not the first, and you are not alone if you find it difficult.

Here are the steps on finding a Keynote Speaker for your event.

  • Get references from colleagues.
  • Watch the speaker’s videos.
  • Call them — you can’t get a feel for them with just an email./
  • Make an offer.
  • Lock in the keynote speaker.

Speakers don’t usually plan conferences. Most of them are glad they don’t. However, the experienced ones have a lot of respect for those folks who do. Many professional speakers have empathy because they’ve had opportunities over their years of speaking, to rub elbows with some amazing meeting planners, conference planners and speakers bureaus. They know how difficult it is.

Keep in mind, speakers who deliver keynotes and conduct breakout or workshop sessions can be good resources. Even if you’re not considering them as a speaker for your conference.

Of course you know what kind of group you are. But you can see the other types of organizations that look for speakers. If you have colleagues in these industries or associations you may get referrals of top rated keynote speakers for your event.

Check List To Find Speakers

Searching for resources may be needed but here is a basic checklist of the steps to take to find speakers for your event.

  1. Determine Speaker Budget

2. Plan The Agenda

3. Fill the Speaker Slots in Your Agenda

4. Pick the Speaker Type For Each Slot

5. Make a Primary and a Short List of Speakers

6. Contact the Speakers

Event Speaker Budget

The speakers you select will determine the success of your conference. The number desert selections for the dinner will not. Eliminate the carrot cake and the brownie and keep the chocolate cake and the key lime pie. This is because you’ll free up thousands of dollars. When trying to find out how to find a speaker for your conference, the event budget is at the top of the list.

speaker event budget

Planning The Agenda

Identify the slots you want the speakers to fit into for your conference or event agenda. This will also allow you to see how many speakers you need.

Filling the Speaker Slots

Keynote or general session speakers usually go at the beginning of the day (opening), the middle of the day (luncheon speaker) and the end of the day (closing).

Types of Speakers

Main categories such as motivational or business speakers need to be selected. This helps you identify their purpose of being there. General session speakers should be entertaining. Be mindful of the energy each speaker will bring and how that will effect the flow of the day.

Sub categories of types of public speakers can vary based on your conference agenda. They are classified or qualified based on their skills, qualities and experience. The main categories are: keynotes or general session speakers, and breakout speakers or workshop instructors. It’s usually only the keynote or general session speakers that classify themselves as motivational speakers. To make it even more confusing, these categories often overlap.

Keynote and General Session Speakers

Keynote or general session speakers will most often either open the conference, close the conference or have the lunch or dinner speaker slot. During their presentations there would usually be no other sessions going on. Many conferences or conventions will find a speaker who is a celebrity or someone with a dynamic story, often dealing with overcoming adversity or celebrating achievement.

This is the part where you determine what the speakers will do for you. Breakout session and and workshop instructors are often doing concurrent sessions. Larger events can have up to eight concurrent breakout sessions going on at the same time. Often these breakout sessions are approved topics. These can allow the attendees to earn continuing education credit. For some professions, it will allow the members to maintain their professional designation, such as CLE for attorneys and CPE for accountants and auditors.

List of Speakers For Your Conference

Word of mouth or referrals from other colleagues is very popular. Search by your main and sub categories on Google. You need to find speakers who are the best fit for your conference. Narrow it down to a short list. At the committee meeting have each member present their top 2 speakers for each category and agenda slot. This is because you can’t have 50 speakers to contact. Just have the other committee members select their favorites.

Also, at this event planning committee meeting, the goal will be to narrow down a long list of speakers; only to come back with a ‘short’ list.

Once a short list is created, typically one of the committee members will contact the speakers to find out the fees and availability. This can be grueling. Once this info is procured, a third, and hopefully final meeting takes place. This is where the final decision is made to book the speakers for their conference or event.

Making Contact With Speakers

You’ll need to contact the speakers to get their availability and fees. It’s easy to determine availability. However, you may not get a solid fee quote from speakers. It’s ok to get a fee range. Don’t be afraid to call them directly. This can save both you and the speaker a lot of time to just talk. Emailing back and forth can take days or even more than a week. If you can’t find a phone number on the speaker’s web site — that’s a bad sign. Think about it: speaking is what they do! They should have the confidence to allow the potential client to get a feel for their energy! SMH

The next step in making contact is to get a commitment and ask the speaker to place a “HOLD” on that date. This is something that speakers do all the time.

You’ve narrowed down the availability and an acceptable fee range. Contact each speaker again in order to nail it down. This is where you sign the agreement and send the deposit. The speaker can now change the HOLD on the date of your conference or event. This is also where they make a commitment to the event committee.

Types of Groups Looking for Speakers

To find speakers for your conference, event or convention, you might be, or can get involved with the following:

  • Association Committees
  • Conference Committees
  • Association Staff – Executive Director
  • Event Planner

Association Committees

Finding speakers for professional association events can be a long process. For many associations, the people who plan the conferences or conventions are elected for one or two years. They are volunteers who have regular careers in the particular industry for which the association is associated with.

Before the first committee meeting the members are usually asked to come prepared with ideas or lists of speakers who will fit the association’s profession and or the theme of the conference. They can scour the internet doing Google searches, seek out colleagues of other associations — maybe even ask friends of the family for suggestions. This is a great way to start since each committee member will have different resources and connections to procure speaker’s names.

With lists of various speakers in hand, they’ll get together for this first planning committee meeting. At the this meeting they all lay out and add their speakers to the master list. It often happens that one or two of the committee members will have found the same speakers. This is good because it means there is already a census on at least a few.

How to find a speaker for your conference.

Note: Getting speaker references is uncommon, but not unheard of. However, one good gauge is to review testimonials. Of course a speaker can make up, or lie about the testimonials on their web site, but most speakers aren’t interested in getting busted by someone for posting a false quote. Their reputation is on the line.

Qualities To Look For When Trying To Find A Speaker For Your Conference

When debating, how to find a Keynote Speaker for your conference, keep the theme in mind. Not just the theme and the attendees, but also your peers and the vendors who are sponsors at your event. Here are a few speaker qualities to consider:

  • Experience
  • Dynamic Delivery Style
  • Engaging
  • Entertaining
  • References

Making sure their expertise and topic fit your industry is no doubt important, the other qualities can make the difference as to whether or not the general sessions (and sometimes event the success of your event) are received and memorable.

Note: Getting speaker references is uncommon, but not unheard of. However, one good gauge is to review testimonials. Of course a speaker can make up, or lie about the testimonials on their web site, but most speakers aren’t interested in getting busted by someone for posting a false quote. Their reputation is on the line.


If they have been in business for a while, at least 5 – 10 years, you know they know what needs to happen to get hired again. Experience will also tell you how easy they are to work with. Which means you won’t have issues with the speaker agreement, showing up on time, whether or not they’ll be. Experienced speakers can even help make sure their microphone is in the right place so the audio in the room sounds good. Jerome Mayne is a speaker very similar to Frank Abagnale. This is because they have similar stories about attending federal prison. Yet Jerome’s style and delivery is much more dynamic.

Dynamic Delivery Style

This can be combined with Engaging Story. Experienced Keynote Speakers need to be dynamic, which means they don’t just stand there behind a podium or lecturn talking — as if they are reading from a transcript. You want to find a general session speaker who understands that they are not there to just talk to your audience. They understand that they are physically in front of real people. This means that your peers; the association members can see them. Sounds like a no brainer right? We’ve all seen speakers who might as well be on the radio.


This is possibly one of the most important qualities to look for when figuring out how to find a speaker for your conference. Engaging means that the speaker will connect with the audience. Connecting means that they’ll communicate with each person, on their level. There are presenters who may be the smartest thought leaders in their field or profession, but they aren’t paying attention as to whether or not your audience is hearing them. The words go over their heads. They actually walk out of the room a bit dumber than when they came in. The speaker needs the skills to adjust their delivery, in real time, to connect with and engage the professionals in the room.


Jokes are not funny. Not just the words of the joke, but the speaker comes across as being “the real thing”. You might chuckle, but most jokes that speakers tell are not their own and therefore ruin their authenticity. When a speaker comes across as not being authentic will be perceived as untrustworthy. Not on a conscious level, but on a subconscious Leven and your audience will feel it.

An entertaining speaker will have humor as part of their story or material. Similar to a stand-up comedian, the humor and laughter comes out of their subject matter. Finding a humorous speaker for your conference who has experience as a stand up comic. If you can, you know they’ve had the best ‘self training’ there is. On a side note: Research shows that if your audience is laughing, they are absorbing information better which will help make your event more memorable.

It is hard to find a keynote or public speaker who combines humor with serious topics, such as fraud and ethics. These speakers are not common and are usually highly sought after. But it is possible to find a speaker for your event who can combine humor and ethics.

Why It’s Important To Find A Great Speaker

You don’t want to look stupid. How would you look if you picked a horrible speaker? As a volunteer on the event planning committee, it can be dicey. You don’t want to select a crappy speaker. You might look stupid in the eyes of the peers in your industry. It won’t ruin you but it would be easy for next year’s conference or convention planning committee to show you up. Not really the end of the world but this probably is true to a certain extent.

The Conference Event Budget

The amount of money you spend on the speakers is not necessarily indicative of their quality. How to find the right speaker for your conference should not stress you out.

How much are you spending on deserts? Yes, do you really need 3 desert choices? The members are not going to gauge the event by the end of lunch sweets. Your peers will remember the content. They will remember how they felt when they were there. They will also remember if they are better when they left than they were when they arrived. A third dessert option is not going to make a difference.

The amount budgeted for deserts. For just one extra desert; two, instead of three can free up between $3,000 and $5,000. While it is not a guarantee that a high priced speaker is better, it can at least weed out the morons — this is known as the ‘moron factor’. If it’s the lunch or dinner speaker, no one is going to notice how many deserts there are if the speaker is engaging.

How Much To Allot for The Speaker Budget

You have an event budget. You must stay within it. And, it’s also important to avoid making your speaker decisions with just the speaking fee as the top priority. Consider all the factors including experience, relevance, entertaining, engaging, etc. The right speakers can make the difference between whether or not your conference, convention or event is good, great and memorable. Of course, all things being equal, meaning all factors are the same — go for the one with the fee that fits into your event budget.

How Do Speakers Charge Fees – What And How To Make an Offer

How to find a speaker for your conference? Public speaker costs and fees for your event can be confusing and can be looked at in several ways. First, there is the ‘all inclusive’ speaker fee. This is where the expenses (travel, lodging and incidentals) are included with the honorarium. Second, the speaker fee and the expenses are separate. This means you offer $X amount and agree to reimburse the speaker for travel, lodging and incidentals. By the way, incidentals can include $X per day in meals, etc. and it’s not uncommon for speakers to ask for a per diem. Third, there is a hybrid. Which means there can be $X for the speaker fee, or honorarium, plus a predefined flat fee of $X for travel, expenses, etc. Fourth, a speaker can request a fee but also get a commitment from the group that they will purchase a certain quantity of the speaker’s books.

Are Speaker’s Fees Negotiable

Probably. Factors can include: distance from speakers home state, distance from an event they are doing just before or just after your event, whether or not their prospective client will be buying a quantity of books, was or is the fee all-inclusive (fee plus expenses all in one), potential, or promise of repeat business, marketing and exposure for speaker. Sometimes a speaker will accept a lower fee because they simply want to speak for your group. You are a good solid company or association. They may like the area or venue where your event is going to be held.

When asking yourself how to find out if a speaker fee for your conference event is negotiable, be careful. Avoid getting references from a colleagues about a particular speaker’s fee. You may hear that they hired your prospective speaker for a fee that was lower than the quote you’re getting from the speaker. This does not necessarily mean that the speaker is just trying to “see how much they can get out of you”. There are many factors that come into play when speakers make or accept proposals to speak at a conference, convention or corporate event.

How To Respond When You Receive A Speaker Fee Quote For Conference

Quite often speakers will quote a fee the is either all-inclusive (flat fee) or a quote that is the speaking fee plus expenses. Either way, speakers want to speak and you can always respond a quote that is lower than what they offered. If the speaker is a true professional and has experience in the business, you will not offend them. Speaking is their art and their passion, but they also know that this is a business and that’s you have an event budget. What’s the worst that can happen? You can move on to the next speaker on your short list.

Finally, most speakers believe, or want to believe, that you are not just trying to low-ball them. Just as you believe, or want to believe, that they are not trying to high-ball you. They understand that you need to work within your event budget. If the speaker is the right fit for your event, offer a fee that is within your event budget. If the speaker thinks you are a right fit for them, they will find a way to speak at your event.

Contact A Keynote Speaker

Get ahold of Jerome Mayne. He is an event planner’s dream. This is because he not only a speaker who can check off all the boxes on your event planning budget. But he can also provide advice on how to find a keynote speaker for your conference.

Let us know if you are ok with a brief call.