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Seven Ways to Hire the Wrong Keynote Speaker

A good keynote speaker will not only energize conference attendees, but educate and entertain them as well. Finding a speaker who can skillfully execute those “Three E’s” of public speaking isn’t always easy. In fact, there are seven ways to get it wrong.

Dr. Jack Singer, a licensed clinical, sports and industrial/organizational psychologist, says meeting planners must avoid seven key mistakes when searching for the ideal speaker to kick off a conference.
The First Mistake: Failing to match the meeting objectives with the speaker’s expertise. Singer says meeting planners should have a thorough knowledge of the needs and objectives of their audience before they begin looking for a speaker. When vetting a speaker, the planner should determine his/her strengths by viewing a demo video, checking references and then matching the speaker’s strengths to the needs of the audience.

The Second Mistake: Failing to choose a speaker who will customize his/her speech to the audience. Planners should ask themselves whether their conference attendees will feel that the speaker understood their issues and what goals the planners want attendees to attain as the result of the speech. Once those questions are answered, Singer says, hiring the right speaker will be easier.

The Third Mistake: Failing to perform due diligence. “Watch out for speakers ‘in transition’,” warns the psychologist, of people who have just “decided to try their hand at speaking or entertainers without any academic credibility, seeking speaking opportunities strictly based on name recognition.” Singer says meeting planners should get a biography and carefully check each reference provided by the speaker. The Fourth Mistake: Failure to hire a speaker who is deemed an expert in his/her field.  Qualified speakers, says the author and college professor, should hold membership in professional organizations, academic credentials, or awards or certificates in their field.

The Fifth Mistake: Failure to get a clear understanding of a speaker’s style. Observing a speaker in person is the best way to determine whether his/her style meshes with the needs of an audience, Singer says, but when that’s not possible, planners should request a video of a speech delivered to a similar audience.

The Sixth Mistake:  Choosing a speaker who is too busy to deal directly with the person doing the hiring.  Planners should want to “feel out” the featured person before he/she walks onto the conference stage. “Most planners prefer direct discussions with the speaker, and my belief is that all speakers should make themselves available to put the planner and committee at ease prior to the booking,” Singer says.

The Seventh Mistake: Hiring a speaker who won’t guarantee his/her services. Singer warns that “very few” professional speakers offer such a guarantee, but that it doesn’t hurt to ask the question.

 Jack Singer, Ph.D., has 33 years of experience as a psychologist, college professor and author. He can be reached at

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