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How to Choose and Use Keynote Speakers
By Janette Racicot

The five types of keynote speakers each offer different skills.  Use them well.

     Let's play a little Jeopardy. Under the category 'My Recent Client Situations', spins this answer: An eight city worldwide tour, an annual sales meeting and an executive briefing are being planned. Identify the one item that can make all three programs successful.

      Did you respond: What's a big budget? Nope. Who's the logistics manager? Sorry.
What is a keynote speaker? Bingo!!

      Choosing and using keynotes speakers is an area shrouded in mystery. Consequently, most managers shy away from it or worse dismiss it as unimportant. I have seen the profound impact of keynote speeches, by having worked with literally dozens of speakers over the years. To choose one correctly, it is important to understand the role of the keynote, the skills each type of speaker offers and how to use them to achieve your goals.

The Role of the Keynote Speaker

      You are managing an important event. Admittedly, it would be cheaper to just send your audience a CD-ROM with information or hold a video conference, but you inviting them to attend. Why? The reason is because something important happens when you gather people together. You have a message to deliver and goals to reach that can only be done by people influencing other people.

      When your audience takes their seats they are far from focused. In fact, they are completely distracted: by travel, budgets, e-mail, voice mail, office politics, life in general. To accomplish the goals of your event, you must have them of one mind: open, ready to learn and then to act in a way to forwards your agenda. This is the job of the keynote speaker. A great keynote speaker sets the tone for your meeting and creates an audience of a single mind. The right keynote can positively influence your audience for the entire event and beyond, when they return to the office.

      So who should you choose to be your opening act? Will it be the Generalist, the Guru, the Freebie, the Exec or an Advocate?

First, there's the Generalist.

     The Generalist is the author of last year's book or executive from a previously successful company. You probably heard their speech at an industry conference within the past six months. Chances are, if you engage that person for your event, you will hear the same exact speech. In fact, that speech may have been given at your biggest competitor's event the previous week. The topics can be interesting or their delivery motivating, but their content is general. Even if it's a celebrity (the author of this year's book) the recognizable name is not as important as their message and what it does and does not accomplish

How to Use 'Em

      The more general the speaker, the more general the result. If you have large audience (> 2000) and want to motivate them to embrace a a topic (e.g. reengineering) or a consider a new market (e.g. the e-Business), the Generalist can work. Do not use a Generalist if there is a specific action you want the audience to take, for example, to buy your product.

Second, the Gurus.

     These are technical experts from the major research and analysis firms who deliver presentations developed and approved by their company based on careful research and subsequent reports. No matter how new or dynamic the category, every person from that firm will deliver the same presentation. They will not be allowed to tailor the content to your meeting's goals. Since they have to be objective, do not expect them to show favoritism toward your company. As with the Generalist, the very same speech may have been given at your biggest competitor's sales meeting the week before your event.

How to Use 'Em

      I never seen a Guru deliver an effective keynote speech. These speakers are knowledgeable reporters of facts not motivators. Use them to follow up the keynote speaker. As authorities, they can be very effective as authorities in generating confidence in a product category or interest in a new market. Understand that the demand they generate is for their company's reports.

Third, the Freebie

     Know anybody that works for free? Me neither. So when, ostensibly save money, you hear that someone has engaged a 'free' speaker, immediately wonder about who is footing the bill. When that individual stands up in front of your audience, someone is paying for that hour.

How to Use 'Em

      Ask yourself: Is this really a bargain? Consider how much you are paying, per person, for beverages for your event. If you agree that a self motivated audience is important, doesn't make sense to invest more in your keynote than in your coffee? Do not be surprised when their speech plays to the benefit of their benefactor, whether it be their consulting company, board of directors, business partner or publisher. I have seen instances where a single comment (which generated lots business for the benefactor) undermined the host's entire event.

Fourth, your Corporate Executives.

     This is the group that absolutely loves to talk to your audience, tolerates little control from you and believes that they are the best speakers. As a subset of the Free category, the same rules apply. Your company is paying for their time. No one in the audience will be surprised that they are excited about the event or support the new product strategy. If you think that you can control their message and they are articulate, let them talk. (and give me a call cuz it's a rarity).

How to Use 'Em

Your corporate execs are very important and have a pivotal role to play. They can be very effective for introductory remarks or as a follow up to the keynote with specifics on the new strategy. Their mere presence delivers a message to the audience that your event is a priority. Do not expect motivation, polished diction or even technical enlightenment. Expect the audience to feel important and to pay attention to what they say and to what follows their presentation.

The fifth is the Advocate.

     They are a hybrid, possessing the best of all the previous categories. The Advocate has the motivation skills of the Generalist, the authoritative knowledge of the Guru, and the polish of your best, most articulate Exec. Best of all, they are not Free. They believe that it is their job to work for you, and with you, to make your event (large or small) a success. Unfortunately, they are not easy to find.

      Their speeches are not one-size-fits-all (like the Generalist and the Guru) but will have a common theme. For example, I have worked with a great keynote speaker whose focus is business, change, and how people in corporations make technology decisions. A theme like this, customized to help you achieve the goals of your event, and delivered by a motivating speaker, offers an incredibly powerful combination with which to kick off your event.

How to Use 'Em
      If you want insurance that your keynote will have maximum impact, find an Advocate. Work with them to shape their speech by describing exactly what you need to accomplish with your event. More than with any other type of speaker, the Advocate can give you confidence about what will be said regarding critical issues such as the competition, a controversial strategy, a change in management.

How to Work with Keynote Speakers
      I could write book on this but here's a few secrets to get you started. When you consider a speaker, be sure you understand how they book their dates, when they charge and what is included. If they offer a videotape, watch it. Be impressed with a long client list, especially if it includes repeat performances. If they agree to customize their speech for you, understand exactly what that means. (Very often that means putting your event's name and date on the title page). Make sure they know who is introducing and following them. Most importantly, be clear about who will attend and how important your event is to your company.

      So don't put your next event in jeopardy. Engaging the right keynote speaker is like buying insurance. Insurance that the investment you have made in your event will be used wisely and that your audience will leave really to work on your agenda.

Janette Racicot is President of Racicot & Associates.  If you would like an Advocate for your next meeting call her at 617 484 3201 or send mail to jracicot@jracicot.com.

341 Trapelo Road
Belmont, Massachusetts 02478
Tel 617.484.3201 | jracicot@jracicot.com