Great conference speakers engaging an audience

If you’ve been tasked with having to plan programming for an upcoming conference for your company or association, then one of the most important things you’ll have to do is find great conference speakers.

And it’s a challenge! You’ll typically have a group of skeptical attendees who who want to be wowed, or at least want to stay awake! So you need speakers that will help people move beyond skepticism to engagement, excitement and motivation.

The question is: how do you find great conference speakers? And what differentiates a great speaker from a bad one?

Here are a few things to look for in a compelling and engaging speaker – and a few attributes of bad presenters to watch out for.

What Makes Great Conference Speakers?

Compelling speakers are more than just people who share information.

They’re dynamic. They’re good performers and they’re engaging storytellers who can entice even the wariest crowd. But they’re also speakers who know their subject matter like the back of their hand and know how to make their listeners a part of that knowledge.

Here’s what to look for in a standout speaker.

They’re an Expert in Their Field

First and foremost, a great speaker is an expert in their field. This is especially important for highly niche conferences, but it’s also important if you’re bringing in a speaker from a professional field different from your own.

Take our team, as an example. We spend our time teaching music, speaking about music, and using music to bring people together. But we often speak to groups who aren’t focused on music. Music is the medium by which we inform and engage.

We also have the credentials to back it up–we’ve won Grammys, Emmys, Tony’s, ACMs, and CMA awards. Our team has multiple #1 hit songs, multiple Top 10 hits, appearances on The Tonight Show and David Letterman, and recording credits with multiple big-name artists including Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, and Keith Urban.

The point is, we can talk about music because we know music.

Any speaker you hire should have the same expertise in their field.

They’re Good at Engaging the Audience

Of course, keynote speakers can do more than rattle off their credentials or strut their knowledge.

They understand people. More importantly, they understand how to engage people, even at a distance.

They know how to use eye contact and body language to establish a psychological sense of connection. When they talk, they know how to craft their experiences in a way that invites their listeners in, as if they’re being welcomed into someone’s living room.

Once a presenter has invited listeners into their presentation, they know how to bridge the gap. They know how to get the audience involved and make them feel like a part of the story that’s being told.

They’re Genuine

You know the feeling when you meet a genuine person?

They set you at ease. You feel like you can trust them and trust what they have to say because they respect everyone they talk to. They’re friendly and confident, but they don’t try to make you like them. They know who they are. They know that some people will like them and others won’t–and they’re okay with that.

Now think about the feeling you get when you meet a fake person.

They set your teeth on edge. You’re quickly annoyed by them and you’re not sure where you stand because you’re constantly dancing around what to say. They’re thin-skinned and only seem to care about what suits them.

Now think about what kind of speaker your employees would respond to (hint: it’s the genuine speaker).

What Makes Bad Conference Speakers?

For all the good public speakers in the world, there are just as many bad ones. These are the kinds of speakers that make the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off seem like a master of subtle vocal inflection.

The question is: how do you differentiate the good, the bad, and the ugly?

If you’re doing your homework on speakers, you can suss out the great from the lackluster before you set your conference schedule. Here are three things to watch out for in bad speakers.

They’re Boring

It might seem obvious, but the worst conference speakers are just plain boring.

These are the speakers that are the stuff of conference nightmares. You think they might be an expert, and on paper, they look like one, but your brain hits snooze the moment they start talking.

What makes a presenter boring?

Lack of creativity is a big factor. There are certainly some good speakers who aren’t terribly creative, but the ones who truly stand out are usually the ones who are inventive.

Boring speakers look at a candle and see a candle. Creative people look at a candle and see it as a learning tool, a business idea, a way to change their perspective.

Personality also plays a key role. You don’t need to find a speaker whose personality is just like yours, but you do need to find someone whose personality is engaging.

Put it this way: there are plenty of lovely people in the world with the personality of a concrete slab, and while they’re lovely people, they’re not the ones who will inspire your employees to come up with your company’s next bestseller.

They’re Static

Boring speakers go hand-in-hand with static speakers. Many boring speakers are also static speakers, and the vast majority of static speakers are also hopelessly boring.

Picture this.

A speaker walks up to the podium. They stand at the podium. They take out their flashcards. They read their flashcards from the podium like a child asked to read aloud in class, never once looking up from their cards.

This is a static speaker.

Now picture a speaker who walks onstage with energy. They don’t need a podium–the podium can’t contain them. They use the whole stage to make eye contact with the whole audience. When they talk, their passion for their subject is obvious.

This is a dynamic speaker.

The first speaker is someone your employees suffer through. The second speaker is someone your employees learn from.

Looking for A Great Speaker?

If you’re in the market for a great presenter, you’ve come to the right place.

We’re motivational speakers that understand the power of creativity. We aren’t here to turn your organization upside down–we’re here to give you the tools to be a better version of yourselves.

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.