10 Ways To Find New Speakers For Your Events

February 7, 2012

in How to

Hasan Elahi at Lift 11

Listening to and meeting interesting speakers is still one of the 3 main reasons to attend an event (the other two being networking and the overall experience). Also, big names are one of the most important marketing levers organizers have to sell more tickets (though word-of-mouth amplified by social media is becoming more relevant).

With the multiplication of events of the recent years, curators of event programs have a continuous challenge to find good public speakers and bring fresh faces on stage to stay relevant to their audiences. So how do you find these new faces?

Putting together a program is no easy task, so I’ve compiled a few methods that I -and many other successful event organizers- use to find new names (at least new for a given audience). There is no “one best way” to do it, and I’ve met quite a few curators that have an inborn instinct to find excellent speakers.

Note: From the tips below you’ll see I have a bias for technology, innovation, design and entertainment events but the same approach is valid for any sector or industry.

1) Create An Advisory Board

This should be your first step for several reasons, one of them being finding new speakers. Identify a few people that are true fans of your event,  knowledgeable about your industry, who are natural and influential connectors (with a vast network of contacts).

The goal of the Advisory Board is to help the organizers identify industry trends and its relevant actors and facilitate introductions to them. Not only will they be useful to shape the program but also to come in contact with potential sponsors. While some events offer cash to their advisors, more usual benefits are free access to your events, prestige and visibility, access to the broader network made by the whole ecosystem around your event (and the other advisors).

Consider including one or two of your past speakers as advisors too. If they were satisfied with the experience at your event, they will most probably want to help to build future editions. Keeping them actively involved (and if possible participating in your events) is a good way to keep a high quality network around your conference.

2) Attend Events Of Your Industry In Other Cities & Countries

The World is flat, but not that flat yet. Take part in events related to your industry in other cities and countries. It’s an obvious way to come in contact with new content and often you’ll have the opportunity to directly invite speakers to your own event.

That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been attending South by Southwest three years in a row now. They feature thousands (yes, you read that right) of speakers -big and small- and not only I discover plenty of new faces or the ones that will be hot in the coming months, but also I get a chance to interact with them in a relaxed environment and invite them to my events.

3) Attend Events Outside Your Own Industry

Two reasons to do this:

At -oh so many- events in a particular industry you see the same old same faces over and over again. Even if they are good public speakers, the lack of novelty is killing many conferences that once were leaders in their sector.

Many industries are being disrupted not by what happens inside of them but at the intersection with other fields. Apple’s Steve Jobs famously said that part of his success or “vision” came from being at the intersection of liberal arts and technology.

Good curators go beyond their specific sector to find people that could help their audiences to “connect the dots” in new ways.

4) Watch Online Videos & Live Streamings

Often budget is an issue preventing many organizers from traveling around the world, but that’s no excuse for not taking part in events happening on different places of the planet.

Many events now do live-streaming of their sessions, meaning that you can follow them in real time from your computer. For example DLD has been doing so for the last editions, and during 2012 it had parallel live-streams of the 2 simultaneous tracks, which were later published in DLD’s YouTube channel.

So many other events publish plenty of online videos for free like the famous TED Talks, Google Zeitgeist, Le WebThe Do Lectures, PICNIC and thousands of others. You can also find those of private or corporate events like the At Google Talks (a series of lectures taking place in Google’s offices around the world) and Singularity University’s Which Way Next? live webcasts.

5) Sometimes The Audience Has More Interesting Things To Say Than The Speakers

We tend to pay more attention to who’s on stage rather than who’s sitting in the audience with us and that can be a big mistake. Look around, meet your fellow attendees and you might discover people with the most interesting stories to share. If they are not good public speakers, you can help them by coaching them, adding them to a panel with a good moderator or proposing shorter sessions (a short amateurish-but-interesting presentation of a great idea/project/etc is more bearable than a long one). It’s all about how relevant that presentation it to your audience.

6) Ask Your Audience

If you already have a faithful following, ask them who they’d be interested to see on stage at your next event or who they consider relevant for their industry/business.

A simple way to do this is to put your social media channels to work: ask your followers through Twitter, your Facebook page, Linkedin group or with your Newsletter (you do have one, right?) and collect the answers by creating a form on your website (with Google Docs you can create and embed one for free).

The Next Conference in Berlin went beyond that and created created the Next 100, a section on their website where people can suggest/vote the “individuals who will have the greatest influence on the digital industry over the coming twelve months”. It’s only natural to invite the most voted names to speak at the next edition of the conference.

Next Conference asks the audience for the most influential individuals for the next 12 months

Also, ask on services on Quora who are the most interesting/relevant/good-public-speaker people in any given sector. You might be surprised by how many feedback you can get.

Asking for good spears on Quora.com can be an useful resource

7) Hold An Audition

If you have a broad following and a strong brand, you can host an audition to select some of your next speakers, like TED did in 2012 and is now doing for it’s 2013 edition. Applicants have to pitch online their idea for a TED talk (also by uploading a short video). The auditions will take place in several cities and the best 30 candidates for each city will be invited to participate in a live audition, having a chance to make it to the 2013 program.

The best moments at TED have often come from unexpected places. But this year, we’re pushing that to an entirely new level. We’re staging a global talent search to bring together the most remarkable lineup in TED’s history. A series of public auditions in cities around the world will reveal voices, talents and ideas that delight and surprise. As a result, at least half of our TED2013 program will literally be crowd-sourced through what we’re calling the TED2013 Worldwide Auditions.

Official banner for the 2013 TED Auditions

8 ) Have a Request For Proposals Form

This is a common feature in professional or peer events. People that desire to speak at the event can apply online by providing the reasons or a whitepaper explaining the content they want to present.

9) Organize Your Event Adjacent To A Major Gathering

A brilliant move made by the DLD Conference in Munich has been to schedule their event just before the World Economic Forum in Davos. This way, they intercept a series of high profile speakers and attendees that are attending Davos to invite them to DLD. But placing your event close to another major one is not all there is to attract these people. DLD organizer’s effort in finding a relevant topic, curating the right audience (it’s an invitation-only event) and high budget organization makes people want to attend, having now become a top occasion in Europe to discuss high level “digital, life and design” (the concepts represented by DLD’s acronym) issues.

10) Expose yourself to new content

This might sound obvious, but you need to constantly expose yourself to new content and ideas. Apart from participating in other events and meeting new people, you should be reading books, magazines, websites and visiting Universities, museums and galleries in search for new ideas, projects and people.

Websites/blogs and magazines can keep you updated on what’s hot now. For example Wired’s UK edition curates lists of relevant people in the tech industry like the “Top 100” and “The Smart List, 50 people that will change the world”. Writes David Rowan, editor of Wired UK:

How do you discover tomorrow’s world-changers? It’s a question we confront every month, as we assess the (literally) thousands of press releases, conference programmes and Twitter and email solicitations that hit our collective in-tray. Wired, after all, is about guiding you to the people, products and businesses that will matter long after the hype has subsided — even if it’s too early to know for sure just what their impact will be.

So we came up with a plan. What if we used today’s super-achievers as a filter to source tomorrow’s? We decided to approach 50 of the people we admire now — from activists to artists, designers to philosophers — and ask them a simple question: if you could have lunch or dinner with an emerging talent in your field, from today, who would it be? Someone you may never have met, but who, in your view, will be a hugely significant force in the future?

Blogger Maria Popova and her “Brain Pickings” is an excellent place to discover interesting things/books/stories on  “art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology.”

Universities R&D departments and Museums are places full of experimental projects and interactive experiences that you can import into your next event.


Hire an experienced Program Curator to recruit new/international/great speakers for your event. Finding amazing and relevant speakers is often a full time job, so why not hire an expert?

A last resource

As a last resource, and if you have a [big] budget to spend, you can contact one of the many speaker bureaus out there to ask for speaker proposals. Mind you, they won’t come cheap (the bureau is interested in obtaining the highest possible fee for a given speaker, from which it takes a cut to make profit).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/thornkvist Martin Thörnkvist

    A really good list!

    I would like to add “create a framework for others to think within”. Before you ask people for help or hold auditions define some broad topics and be clear with the challenges and goals you are facing. By doing that it’s much easier for people to come with adequate and helpful advice. 

    • http://www.gchicco.com Gianfranco Chicco

      Thanks Martin. It’s true that organizers need to set a few boundaries to make the most out of the collaborative effort… otherwise it can become a useless exercise.

  • http://jeffhurtblog.com Anonymous


    I’m with you that we need to get out of our peer circles and comfort zones to find new faces to present to their audiences.

    Two items I would like to add to your post.

    First, I firmly believe that meeting professionals should not search for speakers until they’ve identified the content that they want covered. Adult learning 101 says that adults are problem-centric, not content-centric. So identify content that helps attendees solve their problems. Then look for speakers that align with those slots.

    I don’t believe people come to events because of speakers. I believe that it’s education opportunities that cause people come to the event. The research by ASAE, PCMA and MPI says that education and networking are the top two reasons people attend events…not speakers. I don’t think speakers and education interchangeable.

    Second, we should be very careful of falling into the illusion that a big name speaker causes people to register for an event (paid or free). From the research we did this past fall of meeting professionals (international), 80% of them said that a marquee name speaker did not cause someone to register for the event. Once people were registered, it did help fill seats onsite at the event but it didn’t increase registrations in any way. 

    • http://www.gchicco.com Gianfranco Chicco

      Thanks Jeff, in effect it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you start looking for it… but also serendipity plays an important part and you might find solutions that you didn’t imagine could exist. Personally, this happens to me often when I go to events out of my industry or comfort zone.

      Re: big speakers and sales, it depends on the sector, the community around your event, etc. When I used to run management events with very expensive tickets but “low community” factor, it was mostly the big names that justified the very expensive ticket in the eye of the payers (names like Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, etc), but then they were more satisfied by the lesser known names that we had in the program of each event. 

  • Anonymous

    This is a great list.  As a speaker I also would add not to book ALL your speakers a year in advance (if you have a “must have” celebrity you may need to act early) but some topics that are really relevant or a speaker you might find while attending another conference may not appear until a few months in advance.  

    Also, look beyond the presentation when you see a speaker at an event and witness if they stay around and talk to the audience.  While the big celebrities might need to be ushered out the back door, many audience members like to meet and socialize with speakers, so ones that are engaged with your audience bring additional value to the event.

    • http://www.gchicco.com Gianfranco Chicco

      Thanks Thom. I usually add as an extra line to the  “speaker duties” that they should stay during the whole event, meet people, etc and in several tech conferences have even eliminated the speaker room (except for a room where the speaker can go before his session to prepare herself/relax/etc).

      In several of my  conferences, speakers actually like this because they’re there to meet new potential clients/partners/interesting people.

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  • Eithne

    Running a speaker bureau based out of Amsterdam (NL), I read your 10 tips with interest, even shared with some of my clients. Let me just clarify that not all speaker bureaus are looking for for the highest possible fee for the speaker for each event. Some of us look for the best deal for both speaker and client, making it a win-win-win….speaker finds an interesting audience, client finds an interesting speaker and the speaker bureau has a happy speaker and a happy client to work with into the future

    • http://www.gchicco.com Gianfranco Chicco


      You are right that there probably are some speaker bureaus out there that do put their client’s interest in the first place too. I haven’t come across one yet, but no doubt it was more my (mis)fortune. 

      I’m glad to hear about your bureau’s approach and who knows, we might be doing business one of these days! 

  • Cheryl Lawson

    Great list.  I would add.  Be purposeful about diversity in your speaker line up.   It goes hand in hand with picking people outside of your circle, maybe with a bit more intent.   Seek out  men and women from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds.   

    • http://www.gchicco.com Gianfranco Chicco

      Yes, though diversity depends also on the scope of the event (but even if it’s very focused on one specific topic diversity can be applied).

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