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July 27, 2006 - Ask Your Training Vendors for Keynote Speaker Leads in a Pinch

In your training office, you are tasked with sourcing trainers, coaches, and organizational development consultants for your internal clients. Sometimes, you might be asked to find a speaker for an offsite, an all-hands meeting, or to kick-off a long-term development program. Where should you start?

The first place to start is your current database of training vendors. You might not realize this, but these companies all have contacts with top-notch speakers, or they can supply you with one themselves. Many trainers double as keynoters, but you have to watch out – not all of them are as good at speaking in a 45 or 90 minute format as they are at presiding over a longer training session. The skill sets are quite different. So, be sure to do your homework before hiring someone who does both. Here's how to make your homework painless.

Experience Matters
As we said, some trainers will try to pass themselves off as keynote speakers, when they really don't have adequate experience distilling their message into a short, exciting, and interactive keynote address. Ask pointed questions about their experience, including number of keynotes given, audience sizes, importance of the meetings where they spoke, etc. Then, have them send you copies of evaluations from their keynotes as well as a list of at least five references. If they have trouble giving you at least five references, this could be a signal that they are too inexperienced for your client.

Examples Are Key
In addition to getting examples of a speaker's experience, ask for a video sample of a past keynote. All serious keynote speakers have a demo video of past performances. It's a key part of their marketing strategy because it enables you to see what you're getting before you commit to hiring them. Within 10 minutes of viewing a demo video, you'll know if the speaker is worth hiring.

Even better than a video (or it can be used to complement one) is a live audit of a speech. People who make their livings by making speeches usually speak at least two to five times per month. Ask the potential speaker if you can sit in and observe an upcoming keynote address. Often, none of the speeches will be local to your office, but even if you can't travel to an upcoming program, at least you'll know if the speaker is keeping busy. If he or she is busy, take this as a good sign.

Friendliness Goes a Long Way
Those who have hired keynote speakers in the past know that the personality of speakers off-stage can indicate how they perform on it. Make sure you hire friendly, customer service-oriented, non-arrogant speakers. If you talk to a potential speaker or meet in person and the person repulses you, run the other way - fast. Life's too short to deal with divas and ogres. If you don't like the personality of a speaker, your client won't either, no matter how well she speaks or how motivational she can be. People can smell a fake the minute she opens her mouth.

If your current vendors do not supply quality speakers, they can probably help you find one. They'll be happy to refer you to others in the field whom they've seen live or have heard are excellent. If your vendors come up empty, ask your fellow training officers in your network. They usually have experience hiring keynoters for their own clients.

If you get some referrals and are still stuck, contact a speakers bureau (they can be found all over the web), or get in touch with the National Speakers Association at www.nsaspeaker.org. NSA can refer you to a quality speaker on just about any topic.

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