Finding Great Speakers - Thom Singer - Keynote Speaker - Master of Ceremonies - EmCee

A meeting planner called the other day to brainstorm ideas for speakers. I tell every past client that they can chat with me anytime about finding great speakers. I realize that most associations and companies that host meetings want different speakers year after year (although there are some exceptions). But if you had a speaker who was well received, the bar is raised for the following year.

I have worked for ten years as a professional motivational speaker and master of ceremonies. I see the speaking business as part of the meetings business and I am proud to be an event professional. Producing events is not just the job of the meeting planner, but of all who touch the meeting. This includes hoteliers, transportation folks, speakers, audio visual technicians, etc…

Referring Other Speakers

Being a speaker is important, but it became clear long ago that the best way to help my clients was to not only and always promote myself.  I have sought ways to share links to other who are change maker speakers. I even have a page on my website that highlights over a dozen speakers who I have seen speak and believe will “wow” any audience. Sharing links to these recommended professional speakers is my way to service my friends who plan meetings.

The planner who called me utilizes three keynote speakers each year. One each morning at very uniquely designed and themed general sessions.  The problem she faces is finding great speakers, and ensuring she has diversity represented in many ways. If any one speaker falls short, it hurts the flow of her three day event. The expectations of her audience is that every speaker is a home run.  Thus, finding great speakers is her main goal each year.

Speakers are NOT a Commodity

If you plan events you know that speakers set the tone for the event. A keynote speaker is not a commodity hire. Many look at all their keynotes and breakout sessions and look to fill in the blanks.  Yet the wrong speaker can torpedo the mood of the conference quickly.

Every speakers brings a unique set of content and presentation experience. Often selection committees get excited about the credentials of a speaker, but are then disappointed with how the session related to the audience. Selecting a speaker must involved looking at the balance of content and stage skills. Then the question must be asked “Why This Speaker?”.

Often the answer to that question will surprise the planner and the committee.  I counsel everyone to make sure the answer is 100% audience focused.

3 Ways to Find Great Speakers

  1. Ask your past speakers. If you had a speaker who was great, call them and ask for recommendations. Most who speak often have the chance to witness hundreds of presentations. Speakers are highly critical of each other, but when a speaker makes a referral to a past client, the do it with intention of making sure the person will deliver a great speech. Like the client who called me to brainstorm ideas, this is a wonderful way to get a short list of speaker you would maybe have never found any other way.
  2. Ask your peers. Meeting professionals are always willing to share with others who they had that connected well with their audience and which speakers were easy to work with.  While being great of stage is rule one, being a jerk to work with can undermine your experience with a speaker. Turn to your fellow planners and let them specifically know what works for your conference. Check out the chat rooms on the MPI, PCMA or ASAE websites.
  3. Call a speakers bureau. Speakers bureaus exist specifically to connect meeting planners with proven speakers who will be great on stage. If you have never worked with a speakers bureau, their services do not impact the fee you pay the speaker. A bureau is usually paid 25-30% of the speakers fee from the speaker. These companies work with thousands of speakers and can quickly help you find a short list of speakers than meet your budget.
  4. Call me.  I am assuming some of you found this blog post / article via a Google Search for “Finding Great Speakers”.  If you have never heard of me before, that’s cool. Maybe I am a good fit to speak or host your event, maybe not.  Either way –   Call me at (512) 970-0398.  I will share ideas with planners all day long. I love being part of the meetings industry and will work hard (without any fee) to help you find someone really cool for your event.  I am weird in that helping someone find a great speaker is almost as cool as being the speaker (It is better when I am the right speaker).  I actually think I will start a bureau or go to work for a bureau someday, cuz even writing this gets me excited.

Have Fun With Your Speakers

Working with speakers should be a positive experience. The best professional speakers are excited to be part of your event. There should NEVER be frustration in the process of finding great speakers and then having them at your conference. If someone is a jerk, move on and hire someone else. With over 10,000 active speakers available, you do not have to deal with anyone who is not delightful.

Have fun. Get to know the personality of the speakers you invite onto your agenda. Ask them to be part of your planning team. Encourage them to promote your event on social media (if you want this, they should play… you pay them a lot of money). Create ideas for them to post videos before and after your event. In today’s world a speaker should do more than speak and leave.

Speakers see dozens or hundreds of events each year. Therefore they can provide consultative ideas to help you make your meeting great. The great speakers are great people. Working with every client to create something unique and inspiring should be at the heart of ever speaker you hire.


Thom Singer is a motivational speaker and professional master of ceremonies / emcee. He has been speaking as his full time career since 2009. He is also the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast.