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Conference planners are shifting their criteria for sourcing speakers based on three disruptions: changing attendee expectations, the rise of digital engagement, and a batch of high-profile conferences redefining event design.
— Greg Oates

Everyone wants a different type of event experience these days. Some participants just want to listen, some like participant and have something to work on immediately.

Digital content and social media are influencing speaker choices more every year and anyone with a strong social following can jumpstart online engagement fast.

You can have a fantastic agenda with interesting topics however the influence of speakers can make or break an event; help boost ticket sales, create positive press coverage, generate social media mentions and set the right mood for attendees and key stakeholders.

With the presence of social media at live events, a new crop of younger, media-savvy attendees, and rising guest expectations created by cutting-edge events like SXSW and TED, meeting owners and planners are searching for higher-quality speakers and methods and criteria to gauge the effectiveness of people delivering their message.

According to research, speakers and event topics matter a great deal to millennial attendees. A recent research study by event marketing platform Splash, states that nearly three-quarters of millennials said the
main reason they chose to attend an event was due to the topic, speaker or programming.

Speakers are also pressured to be able to offer unique perspectives that engages the different audiences. What the speaker has to say is now just as important as how much they can encourage their followers on social platforms like Twitter to share and discuss their presentations at events.

“Expectations change from generation to generation but the past decade has seen a rise in idea-driven festivals and conferences,” noted Mike Shea, chief logistics officer and partner of Austin’s SXSW Festival. “We were probably first to feature the music, film and interactive ‘holy trinity’ in one event.”

Before selecting your speakers for the sake of pushing sales, the key question is ‘why?’ What are the main objectives we are trying to achieve? And then, what role does the speaker play within that?

Staying relevant is important because attendees will change from year to year and your new audience will bring an entirely new set of cultural standards.

Look for stories that are driving the current news and social media cycle, and find the speakers who are
experts on the topic or participants in those news stories.

When it comes to B2B conferences, the input of peers is a critical decision-making factor in selecting speakers. This type of stakeholder-based selection process typically uses input gathered from the industry’s top executives, a preselected “advisory board” of top industry leaders, or a select group of journalists familiar with the sector.

Getting current attendees to nominate speakers and ideas for future events ensure continuity and a loyal following.

Another source of speakers would be the “speaker bureaus”. These are talent agencies for meeting planners, offering suggestions for speaker candidates that fit the planner’s event agenda and budget, and helping to managing the negotiation process and travel logistics.

Source adapted from