Choosing a professional guest speaker can be a pleasure rather than a problem, explains Diana Boulter

“…and while you’re thinking about the Annual Conference, could you just find a really good inspirational speaker to give the main keynote? The Awards Dinner in the evening needs a host or MC, too… ” Words to strike fear into the heart of any seasoned and experienced Assistant, let alone anyone given this task for the first time!

Choosing a guest speaker doesn’t have to be a problem, causing you stress and worry. It can be a pleasure, tapping into the wealth of experience and expertise many people are happy to share. It’s an opportunity to work with someone special and to create a successful event.

There are basic points to remember to save you time and make the process easier. To avoid stress and make this a pleasurable task, here is our practical guide, based on over 30 years of experience working with the best:

How to Find a Speaker

You can find speakers directly, maybe via on online search, but be aware that companies offering “a speaker for sale” may not have actually heard them or worked with them. They may not even have asked the speaker’s permission to “sell” them online. It’s better to contact a professional speaker bureau to find the right person, check all the details, avoid the pitfalls and negotiate the right fee.

Some speaker bureaux act as a search function; others act as an agent and will book any speaker if the brief is right and if the speaker agrees. Other companies manage their speakers (whom they know personally) and curate events, working with you to achieve excellent results.

A speaker bureau gets a fee for their services. This normally comes out of the total fee agreed, so you can end up paying less than if you had negotiated yourself. There are some superb guest speakers who are not on the internet but who are sought out by “people in the know”. Whichever way you do it, be very clear about the basics before you start. The more information you provide upfront, the better the results will be and the easier the process will become.

Key Points to Consider

What do you want the speaker to do?

Be a keynote speaker for a main plenary session? Host or MC a conference or an awards event? Take part in a panel session? Take part in a Question & Answer session with the audience?

Event date and time of day? (For an international event, which time zone are you using?)

Venue? Exact location can be a critical factor if the speaker cannot get to that location.

Details of the audience? Number of delegates/guests? Demographic? Is this event for your staff and colleagues, or for customers, or to impress future clients?

What is the event? What are its aims or objectives?

Why do you need a speaker? (To add insight? To share their story? To inspire? Because the event is boring and needs livening up?!)

What does your boss want? (Does that matter?)

What is the budget allocated for the speaker(s)? Extra costs? These can include additional AV equipment if the speaker has special requirements, and/or speaker’s travel expenses and hotel costs depending on location and timing.

Additional Questions for a Virtual Event

Five years ago, virtual was used mainly for international and global events, but was not so common elsewhere. Now, it is used in many situations. But virtual events raise different questions and need careful handling to avoid problems later. Here are some of the main points to check from the start:

  • Will the speaker be pre-recorded or working live?
  • What platform are you using for the event, and how will attendees be verified?
  • What contingency do you have if broadband fails on the day?
  • Do you intend to record the speaker’s participation and use it in any way on your social media, website or other platforms? (Speakers often charge an extra fee for this and/or may decline to give permission for legal and copyright reasons.)

Important note

Some speakers don’t feel comfortable doing a virtual event, as they dislike the lack of personal connection with the audience. Hybrid events may be suitable in some cases if the speaker is happy to do this. Speakers might not want to tell you they don’t like hybrid or virtual, so they’ll turn down your invitation.

When arranging a public-access event, or ticketed event, you must provide full details of ticket pricing from the outset, and details of how you are advertising or promoting the event.

Looking After Your Speaker

Remember that a speaker is a human being, not a robot. Like everyone else, they must be treated with courtesy, thoughtfulness and respect. You owe it to them (and to yourself) to look after them, make sure they are comfortable and enable them to give their best performance.

Some celebrities can be a nightmare to work with. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! (Forewarned is forearmed.) Alarm bells should be ringing very loudly if their 12-page rider has a long list of additional demands which will cost you a fortune (in plain language, this means extra clauses on a contract, forming an integral part of that contract).

The person youthink you want may not be the right person for the job and may not want to speak anyway. Some well-known people are terrified of speaking at events.

Find out if the speaker has any special requirements. Not all disabilities are visible. For example, a speaker may have limited eyesight, but not wish to say so. In this case, it could be a challenge for them to find their way to the stage if everything is blacked out, all floors are black, and there is no lighting.

Your speaker may want access to a quiet room (known as a “green room”) before they go onstage so that they can collect their thoughts and focus. They won’t welcome random demands for autographs, selfies and quotes for social media. These are just annoying. Think how you would feel if you were in their shoes.

Make sure appropriate refreshments have been provided for the speaker – you’ll have checked this before the event, of course!

Media and Social Media


  • Do you have permission to use photos of the speaker and their biography and details to promote the event? Check your facts. Don’t rely on online search information, which is often wrong!
  • Are there any restrictions on copyright? (You won’t want to be sued for breach of copyright. Your employer won’t want the negative publicity.)
  • Do you have the speaker’s written permission to mention their name and use their image on your social media in connection with your event?
  • Are you expecting the speaker to promote your event via their social media? If so, ask, and check. (Some speakers won’t, or can’t, allow this.)

At the event

  • Are you expecting the speaker to pose for photos with your CEO, other speakers, and/or guests? Has this been checked in advance, and specified on the contract?
  • Is the speaker happy to have photos taken by guests on mobiles or devices whilst they are onstage?
  • How are you dealing with requests for press or media interviews? You must always ask, usually weeks in advance, whether a speaker is happy to speak to the media and provide full details of the media outlet and the journalist for the speaker to consider. It is not acceptable, and is highly unprofessional, to expect a speaker to do interviews on the day.


  • Do you want to use photos of the speaker at your event, afterwards?
  • On your company website?
  • On social media? Again, ask the speaker in advance and get their written agreement.

The Small Print

Be very clear about all aspects of the contract for the speaker booking before you sign. Speakers get paid for speaking, just as you do for your professional work. They also get reimbursed for their travel expenses and for any hotel accommodation – this is also on the contract. It’s quite normal for the client (you) to book all travel and hotel arrangements.

Most reputable speakers and speaker bureaux require full payment upfront as standard procedure. It’s important to understand this so that you can comply with all details for payment and other contractual terms. You don’t want problems later.

And Finally…

Working alongside inspirational people, world champions, gold medallists, leading authors and thinkers, and outstanding achievers can be hugely rewarding. And it’ll look great on your next appraisal when everyone knows you did an excellent job.

Embrace the opportunity. You might find you enjoy it!

Diana Boulter founded DBA Speakers in 1995, having previously worked in investment finance, the travel industry as a Tour Director across Europe, and running a British stately home. Known for her extensive connections, she now manages some of the world’s ... (Read More)

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