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What I’ve Learned About Hiring Speakers

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For the past several years, we’ve been a sponsor of Sparks, a local event which features three speakers. I’ve learned a ton about selecting speakers in that time.

First, a bit about this program. Sparks is an Indianapolis-based speakers show which features three talks. The first two talks are only four minutes long, and the final talk is ten minutes long. We time them down to the second, which makes for an engaged audience and an exciting event.

Travis Sims

© Flickr user

Working with the Sparks team puts me on the other side of the table. Usually, we are offering our speakers and consultants to business, non-profits, and organizations like Sparks. But for this role, I need to recruit people, get them the relevant details, and support them all the way to the stage.

Here’s what I’ve learned after recruiting and placing over 50 speakers in Indianapolis:

Speakers know their message, but not your format or audience.

It’s easy to find people who have something they want to talk about. Maybe they have a product they love, or a company where they work. Perhaps they are in sales, or they have a great story from their personal life.

However, speakers don’t know your format. At Sparks, we have some fairly strict rules. We aren’t looking for blatant self-promotion. And since we tell the audience to applaud when the timer strikes 00:00, that means you’d better wrap up your major points while you have a few seconds on the clock.

Audiences love diversity, even if they don’t know it.

Let’s face it: we could easily find three marketing people or three financial planners to present at Sparks every month. But that’s not what audiences need to hear, and I’ve learned the hard way that our speakers need to be distinctive.

But something else has become apparent: a little bit of controversy can go a long way.

For example, here’s Tim Roberts talking about the 2012 election…without talking about the election:

Audiences want speakers to succeed. You have more leeway than you realize.

As a professional speaker myself, this one has been tough to accept. When I hear our presenters on the Sparks stage, every “um” and “you know” is painfully apparent. If they pace across the stage, it is totally obvious. If they stumble over words or frantically look at their notes, I have to force myself not to bury my face in my hand.

But, audiences don’t mostly consist of professional speakers. The people who are listening are much more forgiving. Or rather, they don’t worry about those sorts of things. They are listening to the message more than they are watching the craft.

This is most obvious when speakers take questions (which we don’t do at Sparks.) You can’t script your answers to random questions, but the audience will still be engaged. That means your speech is effective.

Planning ahead helps, but there’s such as thing as too far ahead.

Because this event happens every month, we try to book speakers two, three, four or more months down the road. As much as that helps, almost all of the presenters are amateurs. They don’t work on their speech until the month before hand, and most are still assembling their slides the day they are due.

It’s okay to get commitments from speakers far in advance, but you have to stay in touch with them. Checking in by email or phone helps ensure they will be prepared for your program.

Great speakers bring their own audience.

When we get headliners that are well-known, people show up to hear them present. Even our four-minute speakers tend to call their friends and colleagues to help fill the room.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be there. Come join us at the next Sparks. Register today to reserve your seat!

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


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