Landing a big-name keynote speaker can be a significant part of your conference budget. That person should add credibility to the event and hopefully boost attendance. But if your speakers just deliver canned presentations before making a quick exit for the airport, you and your attendees are missing the full value they can bring to an event. With some extra planning, you can help set up the speaker and your event for success. 

Think About a Schedule & Stick to It 
Putting a speaker in a bad time slot is one of the most common misuses of a speaker’s time, according to Timothy Mathy, senior partner at SpeakInc. His advice when thinking about the schedule is to save the analytical  and less entertaining topics for earlier in the day. “Listening to a heavy speaker after a morning of industry-specific sessions and a big lunch is tough. The brain needs a break, and the speaker needs to have humor,” he says.

Once you have a schedule, do your best to stick to it. Mathy says he’s seen clients shorten the keynote speaking time because sessions from earlier in the day ran over. “Keynote speakers are the people you paid, sometimes big money, to be there. Why cut their time in half?”

Find Opportunities for One-on-One Interactions
The keynote is the most efficient way for a speaker to share a message, but one-on-one interactions will make the event memorable. “We hosted an exclusive VIP cocktail party with our keynote economic speaker and our top clients the night before our event,” says Laura Johnson, CMP, senior event engagement and community relations manager at Vectra Bank Colorado. “It provided the guests the chance to ask one-on-one questions about topics like their personal investment plans.”

These kinds of unscripted interactions have benefits for the speaker and planner. The speaker gets the pulse of the audience, and the attendee gets personalized expert advice. One-on-one interactions could include meals, participation in your corporate social responsibility project, an exclusive book reading, or golf and other activities.

Get Your Speaker the Inside Scoop
“Give your speakers access to your organization. Let them chat with employees or members so they can customize the speech,” suggests Mathy. Help the speaker gather a diversity of opinions and not just talking points from upper management.

Previous speakers are also a good source of information about your organization. “We have had a few speakers that ask what have previous speakers done that has been successful. As a result, it gives them an idea of how they can use their skills and tailor their presentation to what seems to have worked in the past,” offers Johnson.

Figure Out What Resonated
Attendee feedback is critical for keeping your conference content relevant. “[Surveys] give our customers the opportunity to help us determine what hot topics are out there and possibly affecting their businesses now and in the future,” says Johnson.

In addition to a survey, in-person feedback during the event can get you more candid responses and might even lead you to next year’s speaker. Your attendees probably go to other conferences throughout the year, and they might have heard someone who’d be a perfect fit.

Taking some extra time to work with your speaker before the event and thoughtfully planning the schedule can pay big dividends. It will enrich your attendees’ experiences, which in turn will help generate buzz (and registrations) for next year’s event.

Dennis LaMantia is a Denver-based national account manager for Experient. He can be reached at

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