Speak Up: tips for choosing and getting the most out of your virtual speakers

There is an exciting new world of opportunities available for events, conferences and team meetings — but with it comes new complexities. Here’s our advice on choosing the right person to speak at your event.

Hone in on Expertise

Dig into the topic you want to address and find out who can speak with a depth of experience and knowledge. Cast the net far and wide — your only constraint is a time zone. The opportunity to engage equivalent sector expertise from another country can bring some cultural perspective as well as a new angle on the topic.

Find the Best Speaker

Look at universities, organizations, trade networks, TED talks and equivalents, LinkedIn and other social media pages and posts, and businesses that you admire. Approach the individuals you are interested in engaging with directly perhaps by email or through a direct message on social media channels.

Thought Leadership

Engaging speakers from afar offers the opportunity to expand your scope of thought leadership and knowledge exchange. Creating a broad network offers your employees or attendees mutual benefits — with the potential for different points of view to be shared further beyond your local region.

Assess the Audience

How big is the group? If it is a small team, the presentation may require a more personal approach or more time set aside for Q&As. What do they need to get out of the experience? With a large group, the aim might be to inspire or to think bigger. Use your answers to create a brief for your speaker search.

Consider the Schedule

How do you position the speaker in relation to the attendee journey or to the meeting lineup? Whatever the size or scale of the gathering, consider what else the attendees are doing — in a large event that might include demos, roundtable discussions, networking and breakouts — and when they could benefit the most from keynotes.

Do the Research

If you are employing a professional keynoter, be sure to watch a video of them delivering a talk similar to the one you want. If your speaker has less experience, set aside enough time to work with them — which might include a practice run or a few conversations — to help them deliver a great talk.

Enhance Engagement

Speakers bring knowledge and experiences that can add value to an events beyond their speaking engagements. Many speakers will also team up to enhance social interaction, Q&As, pre-press interviews, book discussions and more to help promote an event and drive engagement.

Prepare Your Speaker

After an introductory email, plan a sequence of communication that will prepare your speaker for the engagement. This can include: hosting a kick-off call, sharing speaker guidelines, requesting a bio and headshot, creating a run of show, running a speaker briefing session and planning a dress rehearsal (for bigger events). Ask your speaker to join the meeting 10 to 30 minutes before their engagement begins.

Technical Support

Find out what platforms your speaker is already comfortable with and what they need help with. A virtual speaker should be comfortable with technology. Their experience should be more rooted in giving a presentation online rather than in person. Appointing a technical director to manage the backend of Zoom and to run test sessions prior to the event will put speakers at ease, no matter the size of the engagement.

Delivery

A speaker’s experience will vary, but for those with less professional speaking experience, there are a number of resources you can point them toward for support. (See page 64 for an actor’s tips on how to present well on camera.) Ensure that your speaker has everything they need to look professional. Event organizers suggest supporting them with customized speaker kits that include custom screen backdrops, video recorders, tripods, cameras, LED lighting and audio mics.