The World’s #1 Executive Coaching and Business Coaching Blog (2017-2021)
The Definitive Guide to Leadership Speakers
Many types of corporate events may benefit from including a leadership speaker, and the beneficiaries don’t necessarily have to be limited to company leadership. Often the greatest impact leadership speakers have is with the “boots-on-the-ground” workforce – the ones who keep the business operational day after day.
The ultimate result of engaging a leadership speaker should be better day-to-day operations.
Industry conferences and customer-facing events also benefit from an outstanding leadership speaker. Success depends on several factors, including selecting and booking the right leadership speaker for the occasion and the audience, paying attention to all the details involved in organizing an event, and practicing excellent organizational skills so everything goes off without a hitch.
Step one to creating a memorable event anchored by a great leadership speaker is defining the purpose your event will serve. Is this an annual event for reviewing progress and planning for the future? Is it related to deployment of a new program or training initiative? Is it an awards ceremony for recognizing excellence among employees? Is it designed to build brand awareness with customers or partners? Knowing the purpose of an event at which a leadership speaker will participate is essential to making the business case for searching out and hiring the right speaker for the audience and the event.
Bear in mind that in order to extract the most value from your event, you must follow up afterwards. It’s not over once the audience leaves the auditorium and goes back to their regular activities. When you take the step of following up with surveys, special content, thank-yous, and creating a “wrap-up” document about the event and lessons learned, you help everyone remember and relive the event, making it likelier that they will use what they learned.
Differences between Leadership Speakers and Keynote Speakers
Leadership speakers may function as keynote speakers in that they kick off (or cap off) an event. However, not all keynote speakers are leadership speakers, so it’s crucial that you know what you want the speech to accomplish and choose accordingly.
There are occasions when you simply want a speech to captivate and enthrall an audience with something they won’t experience elsewhere, and in these cases, you might choose a keynote speaker who has gone and done something that few or no others have. For example, ocean explorer Robert Ballard, who found the sunken Titanic in 1985, gives a keynote speech that your audience won’t forget, and that they probably won’t encounter again. Will such a speech help your accountants do their job better? Not directly, but there’s no denying that it may well inspire them in general to strive for excellence.
Leadership speakers and keynote speakers sometimes fulfill different functions, but other times those functions overlap.
Leadership speakers are often chosen with specific end goals in mind. They may have backgrounds that are more similar to those of the audience. Sure, they all have something that sets them apart and makes them inspirational and motivational, but they may, for instance, have had an engineering career similar to that of the room full of engineers you hope to motivate toward excellence with a new project kicking off.
With leadership speakers, you tend to have a more tangible, measurable goal than that of providing the unique experience you hope for with some keynote speakers. Leadership speakers often talk about things like perseverance, overcoming big obstacles, making mistakes, and succeeding in the end. These are things the audience can relate to, and they can be tremendously powerful in an event where you want to recognize outstanding employees or get everyone fired up over a major contract the company just landed.
What Outstanding Leadership Speakers Have in Common
Outstanding leadership speakers may or may not have accomplished something amazing, like competing in the Olympics. But whatever their experience – their baseline situation, their challenges, their mistakes, and their triumphs – they have shaped it into a narrative that has meaning for themselves and for others. The best leadership speakers also have enough experience in public speaking that they know how to engage audiences, how to speak so they’re easy to understand, how to use their voice and body language to communicate, and how to tailor their presentation to the venue and the audience.
Leadership speakers who make a difference have their own unique way of connecting with the audience, whether that’s through their vocal expertise, dynamic style, audio-visual content, or unusual life story.
They’re also realistic, in that they know the purpose of their being there is not to fuel their own ego, but to transmit something of value to their audience. Many of the best leadership speakers know when to laugh at themselves and how to be self-deprecating without it turning into an ego-feeding “humble brag.”
Finally, exceptional leadership speakers know how to tailor their presentation to clearly answer the unspoken question on every audience member’s mind: “What’s in this for me?” A speaker who is clearly only interested in trumpeting their own accomplishments offers little or nothing to the audience (other than perhaps a lesson in what not to do). By the end of the presentation of a great leadership speaker, the audience knows what was in it for them and they believe they spent their time and attention wisely.
Why Different Leadership Speakers Are Not Interchangeable
At the same time, if you’re presented with 20 leadership speakers, all of whom have terrific reputations and glowing recommendations, you can’t really just randomly pick one and assume that one is good as the next. For your specific event, your specific audience, and your specific goals, there will undoubtedly be one speaker who will make the greatest impact, and it’s worth your time to learn about the various speakers so you can determine who that is.
It’s not always occupation-specific or even industry-specific either. While you may find a speaker who had a long career as a mechanical engineer to speak to your group of engineers who are about to start on a major, multi-year contract, you might just as well find a physicist or mathematician who for whatever reason represents a better fit with your audience and their needs.
And don’t give in to the temptation to “match” the speaker to the audience based on ordinary demographic qualifiers like age and sex. Your auditorium full of middle-aged professionals could indeed benefit from hearing the story of a young start-up entrepreneur, and your audience of tech start-up professionals could learn a lot from someone who retired from traditional industry and knows your company’s target audience inside and out.
In other words, don’t assume that leadership speakers are like background actors in a crowd scene. They’re not interchangeable, and the time you spend getting to know several different speakers is time that is rewarded when your event exceeds expectations.
How to Choose a Leadership Speaker
Before you select a speaker for your event, you should have a basic understanding of the size of your audience and the major characteristics and features of your chosen venue. You should also understand the nature of the event, what other activities, if any, will surround the speech, and how much time you want to allow for your speaker or speakers.
Understanding the overall event in detail is one key to selecting the right speaker for it.
Here are some tips for finding a speaker who will meet or exceed expectations:
- Ask for recommendations from people who have organized similar events
- When you have names of potential speakers, look at several of their videos online to learn if they’re a good fit for your audience
- While the speaker you choose may or may not have worked in your particular industry, they should at least have an understanding of it, and preferably experience in speaking to similar audiences
- Learn if a potential speaker has and uses social media to promote their upcoming talk
- Find out what different speakers charge for events like yours. Professional and sought-after speakers and those with the most far-reaching reputation will charge higher fees.
- Determine what equipment each speaker will require and whether your venue supports the equipment they bring, or whether the venue supplies equipment that will work for them
- When budgeting for a speaker, consider the total costs, including fees, travel, lodging, meals, and transportation
What You Should Expect from Your Leadership Speaker
For your event to succeed, you will have to invest significant time, effort, and resources into it, working particularly hard to evaluate potential speakers and then select the one who best meets your needs for the occasion. Other than a dynamic, rousing, engaging speech, what should you expect from the leadership speaker you book for your corporate event? Here are some things to expect.
- They should care about their client (you) and the audience, and they should show that they know that it is your event and is not all about them.
- They should be professional and courteous, however casual or unusual their speaking style. Clients should feel comfortable reaching out to them with questions.
- They should be willing to learn about your organization, possibly doing things like having dinner with organizers the night before the event so as to gather intelligence and get a better idea of how to tailor their presentation for the greatest impact.
- They should be willing to dress appropriately for the audience and the occasion. That doesn’t mean they have to look like a clone of your workforce, but that they should demonstrate that they understand and appreciate the audience by adhering to general propriety.
- In advance of the event, they should help promote it with printed collateral, social media activity, and other efforts. Even a two-minute YouTube video stating that they’re looking forward to the event and are excited about being there can make a difference.
- They should encourage you to ask questions and answer them to the best of their ability, candidly and transparently.
- They should not deliver the exact same “canned” speech at every event. Even if the major plot points are the same, they should make each occasion’s presentation unique and customized to the audience.
- Finally, they should be passionate about your event and about their role in it. The last thing you need after all your hard work is a speaker who “phones in” their presentation or does the bare minimum. Passion is one of the key characteristics that ensures that a speaker will continue to be in demand.
Passion is an attribute that is hard to fake and that is indispensable to a powerful leadership speech.
What You Can Do to Maximize the Audience Experience
Whether or not you take the stage at any point in your event, you can make a measurable difference in how successful the event is. It’s tempting to think you might just relax and let everything happen once the big day arrives, but your work isn’t done if you want to get the most from the event. Ideally, you want to keep the attendees engaged from the time they set foot in the venue until after the event wraps.
Keep the concept of “audience engagement” in the forefront of your mind as you consider things like seating assignments. Would it be possible to assign seats that break people out of their normal work groups to foster networking and new ways of thinking?
Depending on the tone of the event, you can do several things to engage attendees in the lead-up to the main speaker. Some organizations do things like setting up a photo booth to help people relax and have fun. Setting up an interactive “social media wall” is another way to build enthusiasm and encourage sharing about the event.
You may or may not want to include a social hour after the event wraps, but even if you don’t you should plan on some type of follow-up. For example, you may deliver follow-up content to attendees, such as photos from the event or important slides from the speaker’s presentation to help people remember it and be more likely to put their key takeaways to use.
The actions you take before, during, and after the event all help determine its success.
Expected Audience Takeaways after a Leadership Speaker
In the time immediately following a presentation by a leadership speaker, you want your audience members to think, “Wow, I am so glad I attended.” They should come away from the event feeling as if it was a good use of their time and feeling inspired to want to give their best as they go back to business as usual.
If attendees are still talking and sharing about the event well after the speaker has gone home and life has gone back to the normal routine, you can consider the event a success. It’s not unreasonable to expect enthusiasm and inspiration from the event to carry over into an increase in innovative ideas, and more passion for people’s jobs and roles.
Finally, if a year has gone by and it’s time to plan the next event, if everyone still has glowing memories of last year’s event, you can be confident that you chose a great speaker and did your utmost to ensure that they had the opportunity to really shine, and to engage with your audience. It may seem hard to top a successful event, but you have more experience now, and your organization has likely changed and grown to where a different type of presentation may be desirable.
Hiring a leadership speaker can be an outstanding way to spark renewed passion and innovative thinking in your organization. The most successful leadership speakers are the ones who understand that they are there to engage the audience and take them on a journey that will be well worth their time. Keynote speakers and leadership speakers aren’t necessarily the same, because with leadership speakers, you’re looking to inform, engage, and prompt people to action, with the goal of making the organization as a whole better and more effective.
Leftover inspiration from a successful leadership speech can affect your team long after the event is over.
It can take time to choose the best leadership speaker for your event. You will need to consider schedule, budget, venue, and what you hope to accomplish with the event. You should learn about multiple leadership speakers who look like they might be a good fit for your occasion and ideally you should talk to them individually, watch their online videos, and learn about their backgrounds. Leading up to and during the event itself, there are many steps you can take to ensure success, and when it’s over, you can do follow-up to keep the positive influence of your speaker going.
My experience as a keynote and leadership speaker has been a tremendous opportunity to share my passion for leadership and positive organizational culture.
Glossary of Terms
Audience engagement – the process where a speaker or presenter understands their audience and adapts the presentation to their interests, understanding, and attitudes. Audience engagement fulfills audience expectations and demonstrates keen understanding of the topic being presented.
Follow-up – the process of reviewing how well an event of leadership speech was received and reiterating or re-sharing key content related to the event or speech
Keynote speaker – a speaker who is booked specifically to kick off or cap off an event. The subject matter of the keynote speech may be broadly interesting to a wide audience, or it may be limited to a topic that is especially suited to a specific audience.
Leadership speaker – a speaker who is booked to inspire an audience in specific ways and motivate them toward certain goals, such as maximizing success on a major project, increasing company revenues, or expanding the customer base
Social media board – a large whiteboard or other surface that can be drawn or written upon by participants in an event. It is typically located in a photo-friendly location so that attendees feel encouraged to use the board, take photos of the board, and share photos on social media.
Social media sharing – providing content on various social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, with the goal of raising awareness and enthusiasm for an event, and generating “buzz” in the lead-up time to the event
Speakers bureau – a core group of speakers who are available for business, community, or private events. They can help organizations locate an appropriate speaker for an occasion and make the necessary arrangements.