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by Deborah Gardner | October 12, 2018

Deborah GardnerOne of the biggest concerns of meeting and event professionals is keeping up with what's really on the mind of their attendees. This of course will inform the process of choosing a speaker to address pertinent issues -- no easy task. Indeed, matching speaker to audience can sometimes feel like running a dating service: The match has to be just right for both parties to work. With this in mind, I offer the following five proven ways to select a presenter who will truly meet your -- and your attendees' -- needs.

1. Hire now. Unfortunately, choosing a speaker often winds up at the tail end of a planner's decision-making process. A short lead time not only makes it more difficult to find an appropriate presenter, it often doesn't give that person enough time to properly prepare for the engagement, especially if there is a strong educational component. The solution: Move up your search for a speaker early in the planning stage, and include this person as part of your team. Get his or her expert input to help ensure an effective presentation.

2. Hire expertise. Too often, planners discuss the fee with a speaker before they've even outlined the event in question. Hiring the right presenter should not be all about paying for the hour or day, but rather for the speaker's years of education, gained experience, applied knowledge and research. First determine if the person is the right fit before discussing fees. And if you're budget won't support it, don't include a speaker in the agenda.

3. Hire a pro. By this I mean a speaker who well understands the process and responsibilities of presenting. During your interview, see if they ask pertinent, probing questions; know the subject/industry; are attentive to your goals and objectives; have an overall proactive attitude; aren't consumed with their own ego, and seem capable of meeting deadlines. Get references -- and contact them.

Also remember that communication is a two-way street. The more information you provide to a speaker, the better he/she can deliver. Come to the interview knowing what your attendees want to learn. Share details about your meeting's history, what your audiences tend to like/dislike about presentations. Armed with this information, the speaker can better prepare for the task.

4. Hire engagement. The most important element to consider for a meeting or event is the quality of the education. Yet, today it is not so much about learning from a speaker as it is about learning from each other. That's one reason why the term "attendee" is rapidly being replaced by "participant." Most audiences today want to control their own experience and drive the outcome. Since speakers generally present for but a single time-limited session and then are gone, participants are left with one another to determine how best to effectuate the learning. Under such circumstances, a speaker not only has to be dynamic but also needs to know how to facilitate the engagement between the participants, to ensure that the learning will have an impact going forward. Hiring someone who understands the need for live, interactive learning and how to truly engage the audience can't help but be the right choice.

5. Hire safety. Ranking at the top of everyone's list of concerns today is safety and security. Whether it's a terrorist attack, fire, weather emergency or any manner of meeting mishap, a crisis can happen at any time, any day. Let a prospective speaker know about the importance you place on risk management and how to be part of the plan when there is an emergency. I once was in the audience as a speaker froze when a fire alarm went off. After a few uncomfortable moments, the meeting's organizer had to come from the back of the room to the stage to give the audience instructions. If there had been an actual fire, even that brief delay could have cost lives.

Remember: If an issue occurs while a speaker is onstage, he/she has the microphone and is in a position to help direct the audience in a helpful way.

Deborah Gardner, CMP, is a swimming champion, longtime hospitality veteran, ambassador for Meetings Mean Business, author and competitive-performance expert who presents to hundreds of companies and organizations worldwide. She can be contacted at DeborahGardner.com.