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Hire Speakers with Spark

January 1, 2011

Have one bad meal at a restaurant and you may never go back, plus you’ll tell all your friends about the experience. It’s the same with your association classes. All it takes is one boring, unprepared, or
just uninteresting speaker and your members—as well as their colleagues—may never take, or recommend to others, another class. No association can afford to have bad speakers undermine their entire education program.

Education courses are, after all, one of your organization’s best opportunities to impress members. If you are successful with your speaker selection, attendees will leave feeling invigorated, inspired, thrilled with your association, and ready to take on the world. On the other hand, if you fail to deliver a five-star speaker, it can mean utter disaster. We learned the hard way.
Last year, our speaker choices were a complete failure, largely due to a lack of research. We learned from attendee reviews that one key speaker had no connection with the audience and, worse yet, missed the signs that her students were bored and completely lost. After the morning session and lunch, many students didn’t return (even though they had paid for the afternoon session). In addition, most of the speaker’s “expertise” seemed to stem from interviews she had conducted, not first-hand experience.

This year, however, by identifying three key focal points for our speaker selection process, we’re producing far more favorable results:

Personality: Does the speaker have one?

Take the time to speak personally on the phone with your potential speaker, or have a committee member or volunteer do this. Simply ask the speaker to describe what she’ll be presenting. Does she ramble on like she’s reading from a script? Or does she sound excited? Does she seem to have a deep understanding of the subject matter at hand? Do you feel as though you had a mature and productive conversation? Or did the speaker seem disorganized or flustered? If you don’t have that “I can’t wait to have my members meet this speaker!” feeling by the time you get off the phone, find someone else.

Track record: Do others rave?

Last year we hired speakers based on their affiliation with well-known companies, failing to ask speaker candidates for recent references. We regret it. Keep in mind that even though your speaker may present at large conferences, work for a big broker, or give 85 seminars a year, that doesn’t speak directly to his quality. Ask for recent references and call them.

Flexibility: Willing to go off script?

Does your speaker candidate have a “my way or the highway” attitude? Or is the speaker flexible and open to addressing your audience’s specific needs? If a candidate is unwilling to listen to suggestions or concerns regarding your typical audience, then you probably will have a difficult time working with this speaker in person.

By focusing on the above points for all of your speakers (not just the high-price ones), you and your association should have no problem securing wonderful presenters who will not only work well with you, but expertly connect with your audience, leaving everyone happy.