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How To Acquire the Best Talent for Your Panelists and Keynote Speakers

The keynote speaker and panelists line-up is one of, if not the most important part of a successful event, impacting everything from registration and attendance rates to sponsorships and ROI. But if event organizers don’t have a savvy sourcing strategy in place, the result can be awkward at best, or worse case, a complete bust.

Finding exceptional speakers to wow an audience isn’t seamless. But by following the approach below, event planners can streamline their sourcing process to locate the perfect candidate who can deliver creative concepts, compelling content, and a show stopping performance.

Related: Event Platforms: Technology Cannot Replace Production Talent

What Should You Look for in a Keynote Speaker?

Survey Attendees

One of the best ways to find a speaker who the audience will love is to go to the source. Event organizers can narrow down the type of speaker and topics by sending out surveys to their target audience and registered participants asking who they would choose. Even if survey results don’t lead to the chosen candidate, the process itself is valuable for reasons beyond just getting a sense of audience preference. 

By including attendees in the selection process, organizers demonstrate that they are highly invested in providing the best possible experience, while also creating opportunities to engage with followers and build up excitement about the event.

If you have any questions about virtual or hybrid events, or if you would like help setting up your own events, reach out to us. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

Target Speakers with Relatable Ideas

Many event planners get caught up in securing a big name for the key speaker and forget that it’s usually a fascinating topic that’s key for captivating an audience. So at the end of the day, it’s the person’s innovative idea and expertise that should be driving search efforts and not just his or her fame and experience. 

Clearly, any topic should be relevant to the event theme and audience. But ideas that are innovative, thought-provoking, and inspiring, or even better, views that have the potential to expand people’s minds or broaden their perspectives will captivate your guests. This will not only keep the audience engaged, but it will make the experience something people will keep sharing long after the event has ended. 

Know What You Want in a Speaker

This step needs to be dialed in and documented before the search begins to keep the process aligned with the values and goals driving the event. To establish the desired presentation attributes and outcome, here are some key questions to consider:

  • Relevance: Is the speaker/panelist someone the audience can relate to?
    Is the topic or message aligned with the theme of the event? 
  • Influence: Is the speaker/panelist revered in his or her field and have a large following?
    Is the speaker/panelist able to captivate and connect with audiences? Does the speaker have a large presence?
  • Function: What is the aim of the presentation in relation to agenda (reinvigorate the audience or end the event on an inspiring note)?

How To Find the Best Event Speaker

Once organizers establish what they want in their speakers and panelists, the search begins. And like any successful endeavor, there needs to be a solid strategy in place to guide the process.

Where to look will depend largely on what role the speaker or presentation will serve during the event. Recruiting internal team members, partners, or sponsors to motivate or educate the audience is common at conferences and company events and a relatively easy slot to fill. However, locating the perfect keynote speaker is going to require casting the net a bit further and wider.

Related: How To Plan Your Virtual Expo With Sponsorships

Search Through Databases

A safe place to start, if only to brainstorm ideas, are speaker databases like National Speakers Association or SpeakerHub. These sites require a subscription or commission fee, but they have thousands of professional speakers listed that can be filtered by topic or area of expertise.  

Online publications, blogs, community forums, and bestseller lists are another avenue for discovering new up and coming or established leaders in a given field. This can sometimes require more of a time investment, but it’s a great way to get a solid sense of how compelling a speaker’s presence is and how they engage and influence their following. 

Look On Social Media

Social media channels like Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn are prime real estate for locating professional speakers. A good strategy is to search for both the speaking profession and the desired topics of interest to find the individuals who are ideally prominent in both areas. 

Potential speakers can also be found through social network insights. By creating audience profiles in Facebook or Instagram’s Audience Insights, it’s easy to track who people are following to help guide the search process.

And, of course, event organizers can use social media to get a little help from their friends by posting a request for speaker recommendations from their following.

Do Not Forget to Vet Your Keynote Speaker

It’s tempting to skip this part and simply trust the source or rely on previous testimonials. But due diligence upfront will eliminate the potential pain and regret of an awkward or inappropriate speaker after the fact. With web and social media, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a pulse on your speaker’s reputation and credentials.

Journals and research databases will easily verify published work. And earnest fact-checking online and via trusted social, professional, and academic networks should be enough to validate or expose any important information regarding a speaker’s quality, integrity, and performance.

Get Professional Help

You can also retain professional help for these endeavors. As noted, subscription fees, sorting through different databases, and negotiating talent fees may be outside your primary skills. There are complete teams of professionals dedicated to this craft and available for hire to get you the best keynote speaker available to help achieve your goals.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Planning Your Virtual Trade Show For Success


Event speakers and panelists are essentially the brand ambassadors for the organizer’s company or cause; adding value, credibility, and intrigue to an event. The value of dedicating sufficient time and resources to the search is hard to estimate and impossible to overstate: unforgettable speakers will elevate the caliber, attendance, and reputation of an event tenfold.

This is why sourcing them should be a top priority in any event planning strategy. By following these steps, planners will secure their ticket to an all-star lineup.

Explore past events that Van Wagner produced to get an idea of how we can help your company set up a virtual or hybrid event.

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