What startups can learn from a college campus speaker series

July 21, 2020 | Posted by: Outside Labs

While in-person events are on pause, companies are searching for new, virtual ways to engage with their partners and customers. A speaker series, in-person or not, is one of the most surefire ways to leave a lasting impression with a business audience.

With my recent experience leading an organization that brings keynote speakers to a large university campus, I wanted to share my key takeaways for hosting an engaging, well-executed, and memorable event—and share tips that any company can use for executing their own, dynamic series.

As the age old adage in event planning goes, foresee the unforeseeable—because regardless of how meticulously you planned and prepared your team is for an event, something will inevitably go wrong. If your organization is orchestrating an event featuring a speaker series or a keynote speaker, here are a few tips to ensure that more things go your way.

Who do you envision to be in your audience?

Captive audiences are those that are required or highly encouraged to attend your event. They are not an audience that needs to be marketed to, and will absorb the message of anyone who happens to speak at your event. Audiences that are comprised of members of the general public—anyone else in the industry—need to be sold on your event. They need to be convinced that the speaker featured has a worthwhile message and, even moreso, they need to be convinced to purchase a ticket. Bear in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean you need a celebrity or big-name CEO as the speaker to have a major success.

Choosing a Speaker

With tens of thousands of options for speakers and a finite amount of time to organize and prepare for an event, this can feel like a daunting question. Reputable agency websites are the best place to start. These agencies will let you know who is currently available on the market and roughly what their speaking fees are. Don’t be shy to reach out to these agencies relatively early in your planning to inquire about a particular speaker’s availability. While it’s considered best practice to be relatively serious with inquiries, it’s also important for planning purposes to eliminate those on your list who logistically are not feasible.

Narrow your speaker search down by trend or speech topic

When working with a constrained budget, capitalizing on a trend with a relevant speaker who has less name recognition is a great way to ensure that your event is able to target your desired audience. Do be wary of topic fatigue. What may be topical six months prior to your event when planning, may be irrelevant or less engaging when it comes time to actually sell tickets. Current events are great, but looking to trends on the macro level will help to preserve the buzz around your event.

Allow for time to negotiate event contracts and be prepared for rejection

It’s important to allow several months for contract negotiations and rejections from potential speakers or their agents. Schedules may not align and initial offers may be declined, but with the help of an agent, you’ll be able to counter-offer or pivot with enough allotted time. Have multiple speakers on a list in order from most to least interested. You’ll probably find that oftentimes in booking speaking events, your Speaker A may be just out of reach due to budget or time constraints. Having a list ready can quickly allow you to move to negotiations with Speaker B without losing valuable time.

How to Market Smarter

Traditional event marketing for keynote speakers relies on the talent’s name recognition for posters, targeted online advertising, and word of mouth buzz around an event. While name recognition is an easy sell, speakers with this type of free advertising typically have considerably higher fees. If your organization is working with less funds, the marketing and messaging promoting the event needs to be smarter.

While the name recognition of your particular speaker may not attract a random member of the public, think about other aspects of the speaker that can be emphasized. Maybe their accomplishments or accolades are well-known, or maybe they have held/currently hold an impressive job title. Emphasizing these aspects of the speaker can be as easy as altering the font size on your digital event posters, or even switching the order of the name and title/accomplishments of the speaker on digital/physical marketing materials. The overarching idea: make the public feel as though your speaker is someone they want to say they’ve been in the same room with—even if they aren’t entirely sure who they’re signed up to see.

Create exclusivity and generate buzz

Exclusivity also creates buzz around an event. Create VIP invitations and send them out early to distinguished members of your community. These RSVPs can be influencers and thought leaders for others who otherwise wouldn’t attend your event. Especially if the subject matter of the talk is niche, this can help the right people learn about your event.

If speaking engagements are something your organization is looking to implement semi-regularly, hosting a well-planned, well-marketed, and well-executed event is critical, in the world of speakers and their agents. But building relationships with these speaker’s bureaus will help to move offers from your organization to the top of the stack, with agents going above and beyond to negotiate the best deal for you. This means that, on the day of the event, factors like being professional and making sure to honor the talent’s rider and schedule are of the utmost importance. Ensure that your talent is walking away from your event thrilled to have worked with such organized and friendly members of your organization. Do this, and you will have pulled off the first of numerous successful events—and built considerable rapport with a growing audience of critical business stakeholders.

If you’re interested in learning how 280blue can help you with your speaker program, contact win@280blue.com today!