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4 questions–and 4 action steps–when selecting a social media speaker for your next event


Having organized a few digital and social media events in the past (BlogWorld, MN Blogger Conference, for starters), I know first-hand all about this challenge. How do you find the right social media speakers for your event?

For those who organize and facilitate events, you have a few challenges:

* You need speakers who will draw–after all, it’s about butts in the seats, right?

* You need speakers that are engaging, funny and smart–not just people who know the subject matter.

* And, most times, you need speakers that don’t come with $10,000-plus price tags (the market that has become the social media speaker circuit).

OK, so if that’s the backdrop, how do you go about finding a qualified social media speaker for your next event? I propose asking yourself the following four questions–and taking the subsequent four actions–before you make a decision:

Question: Does the speaker have real work experience in the field, or is the speaker merely a “theorist?”

Nothing wrong with theorists–we need them and appreciate them for their vision and ideas. But, the fact remains, they’re not in the trenches each day. Look for folks with actual experience in the field. But, don’t limit yourself to just brand folks–agency people have a lot to offer. Remember, they’re the ones who get paid to come up with the big ideas. And, with social, they’re frequently on the “front lines”, too (read: community management, influencer outreach, etc.).

Action: Check the speaker’s client roster.

See what kinds of brands they’ve worked with. Look at their LinkedIn profile–see what companies they’re worked for. See who they’ve worked with and what kind of results they’ve achieved. And, check out the social properties of the brands they represent–that will tell you a lot about their work.

Question: What other events have they spoken at in the past?

If you’re organizing a bigger, national event, does the speaker have experience with other national conferences? Or, have they only spoken on the local circuit? If you’re going to put someone on a bigger stage with 500-5,000 people in attendance, you better be sure they have experience doing that. Otherwise, you’re taking a pretty big risk (one that can be worth it, but still, a risk). On the flip side, if you’re looking for a local speaker, has the person spoken everywhere around town? That can cut both ways–the speaker may be a bit over-exposed. At the same time, that’s probably a pretty good indicator that the speaker is pretty darn good and you might want to take a long, hard look at that person.

Action: Look for a list of prior events they’ve spoken at.

If the speaker has a blog, they usually list these events somewhere on the site. If not, again, LinkedIn may contain this information. And, if that doesn’t work, just send the speaker an email and ask them directly.

Question: How is the speaker as a “performer?”

Yes, content matters. Your speaker needs to know her stuff. But let’s face it. The great speakers are remembered because they’re “performers”–not just speakers. For me, I tend to think of folks like Peter Shankman here. Love him or hate him, the guy can present. He has a stage presence. He’s funny. He’s “engaging.” People respond to him when he’s on stage. Locally, I think Jennifer Kane is one of the better speakers we have in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. I’ve seen her present a number of times and she blows me away every time. Look for that “it” quality–no matter what size your event.

Action: Browse YouTube for clips or previous engagements.

Or, see what they’re like on stage for yourself. Find out where they’re speaking next and either go see them first-hand, or ask a friend or colleague who’s going (or, just watch on Twitter and see the crowd’s reaction). Check out their site/blog–sometimes they’ll have clips there, too.

Question: Do they recycle content?

Some social media speakers have developed a reputation for “recycling” presentations. Sometimes that can work–after all, we’ve all re-used a presentation from time to time. It’s called (warning: corporate-speak coming) “leveraging your resources.” But, if you continue to use the same presentation time and time again, word gets out. Look for speakers that generate custom content and presentations for each set. Those are the folks that will do the research to provide content tailor-made to your audience.

Action: Ask industry folks for tips/advice.

Better yet, ask other conference organizers that have booked the speaker before for their two cents. See which speakers are known for custom content–and which tend to re-use versions of the same presentation. You’ll get the answers you need fairly quickly.

Have you organized a digital/social media event before? What criteria did you consider when making speaker selections?

Note: Photo courtesy of BlogWorld Expo via FlickR Creative Commons.



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