It's time for your annual convention, and expectations are high. Last year's keynote speech was delivered by Gen. Colin Powell, who's no easy act to follow. Your challenge is to find someone not only to set the tone for the meeting, but also to make a lasting impression.

Your attendees are looking for specifics--information on improving their bottom line, for example, or communicating more powerfully with their customers or employees. Or they are hoping to hear something that validates their purpose, position, or profession. So instead of a celebrity, consider an expert who can speak about trends and issues affecting your industry. Marketing, communications, or motivation experts can often deliver more of what your attendees want than a celebrity can.

Who do you think would be more likely to deliver value: a $40,000 superstar celebrity, or an industry expert who does a great job of sharing his or her insights?

What to Consider When searching for the right expert, focus first on value. Do not confuse value with a speaker's fee. Take into account the total experience of your attendees and how your company will benefit from this in the long run.

How do you differentiate one industry expert from another? Here are a few factors to consider:

* Entertainment value--No matter what the format is, audiences want to smile once in a while. Humor encourages learning and higher retention. An expert who can entertain and connect with an audience on a personal level without offending or losing credibility always does a good job.

* Experience--There's a big difference between the presenter who woke up yesterday and decided to speak professionally and the one with a track record. Today's top experts generally leave a paper trail of articles in magazines, trade journals, and newsletters. Ask for samples of these, as well as books, tapes, and other products they have developed. Also ask for testimonials. Finally, arrange to talk to the presenter one-on-one.

* Teaching style--Look for someone who can engage your audience. Today, the notion of a keynote speech is evolving into more of a participatory exchange of ideas. This doesn't just mean a simple "raise your hands if" scenario, but rather, soliciting audience input and using it to determine the course of the presentation.

* Results--Does the presenter have a set of governing principles, guidelines, or strategies that are either industry-specific or that are directly applicable to your industry? Is there a way to measure the impact of those strategies?

* Involvement--The most effective experts take the audience on an emotional journey, leading them back to a place where they feel good about themselves and are ready to return to their jobs with a renewed sense of optimism.

* Content over technology--Avoid experts with "PowerPoint Syndrome" at all costs. Choose speakers who know that technology is a tool--it's not the message.

Maxine Kamin, president of T.O.U.C.H. Consulting Inc., has been facilitating teams and helping organizations to develop leaders for more than 20 years. Her customer service program, "Uncommon Courtesy," is in 36 states, in airport restaurants, and retail stores. (954) 473-0794

Jim Barber is an expert on mastering change and profiting from corporate chaos. His concepts and strategies, which he calls "Intuitive Intelligence," show sales professionals how to beat demanding quotas, out-sell the competition, and work together as teams. (954) 476-9252

Sheryl and Don Grimme draw on Sheryl's therapeutic background and Don's human resources experience to help clients attract, retain, and develop star performers. Their presentations teach how to keep employees, investors, and customers happy. (954) 720-1512

Vincent Foy's mediation and arbitration work has made him an expert in communicating succinctly--or as he puts it, using "plain talk." As a speaker and arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, he has worked extensively with financial industries. (561) 737-7002