How to Choose a Top-Rated Keynote Speaker for Your Next Event

If you’re like a lot of people reading this, you’re interested in learning how to choose a top-rated keynote speaker for your upcoming event or conference.

The problem for many people in your position is that there are so many good speakers to choose from. It’s hard to know if you’re selecting the right keynote speaker or workshop leader for your audience.

What follows are my observations after having been invited to speak at an event run by Tony Robbins, who many consider one of the best speakers on the planet.

I was able to watch all the other speakers over the course of the 5-day event and was blown away by what I saw.

Over the past few years, I’ve had speeches in Dubai, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, Santiago, Milan, Cairo, Toronto, London, and half a dozen other cities around the globe where I’ve shared the stage with other great speakers. But the professionals I saw at the Tony Robbins event were the best of the best.

During the event, I saw every kind of speaker — the loud, brash, entertaining kind all the way to the extremely humble, quiet, and compassionate kind.

I’m passing along what I learned so that you can keep these things in mind when you pick a keynote speaker or workshop leader for your next event.

Here goes:

The goal of the best speakers isn’t to be smart, it’s to be dumb. They take complex issues and demystify them. They disassemble them into small, bite-sized nuggets that are easily digestible.

By doing so, they can keep the audience involved and engaged throughout their speeches.

The best speakers don’t use the standard techniques of audience involvement. Instead of using the all-to-common approach of saying, “Raise your hand if you like the color blue,” they say, “75% of all CEOs like what color?”

By encouraging the audience to fill in the blank, the speaker forces their brains to actively process information and provide output. It sounds like a minor thing, and it is, but it shifts people from a passive mode to an active mode.

The best speakers don’t have data, they have stories. When a speaker provides data, the audience listens with the intent of critical reasoning, which makes them judge whether they agree or disagree.

Alternatively, when a story is being told, the audience suspends its state of critical reasoning, which makes them more open to new ideas and new concepts.

In addition, stories have multiple layers of meaning that go beyond sheer data, so stories are more rich and nuanced than other forms of information sharing.

The best speakers usually (but not always) dominate the stage. They have an intangible charisma that helps them own the stage. This is the case in about 90% of the top speakers, although 10% can have a quiet, humble presence that can still make a huge impact.

The best speakers talk quickly without sounding rushed. The human brain can process 500 words per minute, but the average person speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute, which gives the audience time for their minds to wander.

Many top speakers deliver about 250 to 300 words per minute which prevents the audience from getting distracted by lights, cell phones, microphones or anything else that can detract from their attention.

(Note: Speaking quickly does not mean flooding the audience with an overwhelming number of new concepts at once. The brain needs time to digest new concepts in order to process them. A top speaker will lay out new concepts in small chunks, but they’ll fill in the gaps by telling stories around the new concepts.)

The best speakers don’t talk, they share. By sharing emotions, insights and life stories, top speakers open themselves up to a more genuine, intimate dialogue that facilitates communication.

By being vulnerable, they’re asking the audience to share in their vulnerability by bringing the walls down between the speaker and the audience.

The best speakers are playful with the audience. They don’t always rely on old jokes or stories as much as they engage the audience in a back-and-forth, spontaneous conversation filled with levity and mutual joy.

The best speakers don’t just provide information, they provide insights. Top speakers don’t deliver content. Instead, they deliver insights, usually in the form of a compelling story that takes conventional wisdom and flips it on its head.

The very best speakers have a powerful way of using this approach to create ongoing “Aha!” moments throughout their talks.

The best speakers say things in non-standard ways. By saying things in a way that’s non-standard, they engage the listener’s mind in a fresh, new way.

Instead of saying, “We’re trying to reduce the number of people admitted to our hospital,” they’ll say, “We’re trying to put our hospital out of business.”

That outrageous contradiction re-wires the brain so that the listener hears a common phrase with fresh ears.

The best speakers change the audiences’ state. They make people re-frame their preconceived notions, their life models or their approach to things.

That doesn’t mean they get them to throw away what works. It just means they get people to get out of their rut, re-frame their thinking and help them shake things up a bit.

Action Steps for You.

A lot of people ask me for advice on how I worked my way up from someone giving local speeches to someone who speaks around the globe and appears on TV.

Here are the steps I took — feel free to use these tips to start your speaking career, too!

Get Professional Help: It never hurts to get coaching and training from a company that specializes in speaking and personal brand development. I got my training from a company called SpeakEasy more than 25 years ago.

The company is run by a very down-to-earth guy named Scott Weiss and the techniques they teach go way beyond the standard tips and tricks approach. I’ve been using what I learned from SpeakEasy for the past 25 years.

Start Small: A little known fact is that college professors are often looking for guest speakers for their classes. One of my first speeches was in a classroom with my friend Dr. Reshma Shah at Emory University. Once you can say you’ve spoken at Emory University, it opens a lot of doors.

What local college or university could you contact for a guest speaking spot?

Move Up to Local Business Groups: After you’ve spoken at a university, contact a local business networking group and let them know about the university gig. Ask them if they’re looking for speakers for their next event.

(Side note: Be sure you have a unique twist to your content. Don’t say, “I want to talk about social media.” Instead say, “I have a speech that explains why most businesses are doing social media wrong.”)

Take a Leap to National Events: This is a big (but not impossible) leap. Contact your trade organization or other corporate events and let them know about your university and local business speaking gigs. That’ll open a few (but not all) doors.

Create a Speaker Website: If you really want to be seen as a top-notch professional speaker, create a separate, stand-alone speaker website like the one I have at JamieTurner.Live.

Write a Book Then Get on TV: Once you’ve done steps 1 through 5, you’re ready to take the next step which is to write a book.

Being a published author is a game changer and was probably one of the best things I did for my career — it opened up international speaking gigs, a global following and TV appearances all of which led to a whole slew of other wonderful things.

I hope those tips help you. It’s the path I’ve used to navigate my career as an entrepreneur and a business owner. If you’re interested in improving your speaking skills, don’t just read this post — put the tips into action.

About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Verizon, Mercedes-Benz and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. To have him speak at your event or organization, email him at: Jamie@JamieTurner.Live

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