Last month, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers performed at Connect Marketplace, Collinson Media's convention for professional, specialty and sports association meeting planners. I’ve heard a lot of big-name speakers at our events and other industry events, and Meyers did something few high-profile speakers do: He tweaked his routine for our audience. (It’s not easy to do. Connect Marketplace is a meeting for meeting planners, a concept not easily digestible to many). A routine he’s done before probably could have sufficed because he’s so funny and entertaining, but he chose to incorporate travel, jokes using CVB-type namesand the concept behind our conference in his routine, and he delivered a few one-liners that we're still repeating in the office a few weeks later.
In this month's issue of Marie Claire magazine, Orit Gadiesh, chairman of consulting firm Bain and Company, described her approach to speeches similarly: "I write my own speeches. I work hard on them because I think a lot of speeches are actually boring—and I have listened to many speeches. So I try to make it relevant to the audience in front of me. I don't use fancy phrases, and I think that makes a difference."
Meeting planners can select speakers based on a number of factors, including relevance to the audience, performance ability and content. In an interview last year, marketing consultant and speaker Bruce Turkel told me there are experts who speak and then there are good speakers who become experts in order to speak. There is a time and place for both, and it comes down to your expectations for your event. When selecting speakers, here are a few things I think you should keep in mind:
1. Context – What your audience will be doing during a speech can determine which type of speaker is best. Speakers with a strong expertise and less performance and engagement ability can get away with more in a classroom setting, but no matter how good your content is, a lack of performance in a general session—especially if a meal is involved—can lose an audience in a minute.
2. Coachability – If your conference content is niche or targeted, your speaker selection can be limited. Are the people you choose willing to listen to change the script for your event? Can you put them in a different format that lends to their strengths and helps them engage with the audience more?
3. Enthusiasm – A passion for a subject overcomes a lack of speaking ability in many cases. Audiences engage with someone who cares about what they are sharing.
What's the most important thing you look for when selecting a speaker? Are there other factors you've found that overcome performance?