What are your senior leaders thinking?

Finding out will help you refine your search for the right professional speaker. Clarification is critical before you try to navigate through the millions of speaker options available. Yes, millions! Google “motivational speaker” and you could get 9,960,000 results! It’s an overwhelming task, even for a seasoned pro and especially when senior stakeholders don’t share underlying objectives and interests. Assuming you already know your audience size and demographics, you may need to add some deep-dive questions during your next visit to the corner office in order to capture what’s really on the minds of your executives—the ones who are going to approve or reject your speaker choice. Here are some of the questions to consider:

Understand Senior Leaders’ Perspectives:
1. What books are your senior executives reading?

2. What challenges is your industry, organization, or audience currently facing?

3. What personal interests inspire your executive team? Are they fans of/participants in a particular sport? Are they strictly business, or do they appreciate humor? What about music, creative-thinking, science?

Understand the Meeting:
4. What is the strategic message or theme you plan to convey at this meeting?

5. How will an outside speaker enhance this meeting? That is, are you looking for a speaker to drive attendance? To enhance learner outcomes? To motivate attendees? To reinforce the conference messaging? To entertain?

Understand Expectations for the Speaker:
6. What type of speaker would help you accomplish your objectives? Is it about the person (business leader, celebrity, media personality, sports figure)? Or is it about the presentation style or content (humorous, educational, interactive)?

7. What ideal “takeaway” would you like the speaker’s presentation to deliver?

8. Do you have other expectations of the speaker beyond the stage time? (For example, a question-and-answer session, book signing, reception attendance, follow-up webinar?)

9. How important do you feel the outside speaker is to the overall success of the meeting? 

10. What is the budget for an outside speaker? Does this align with the value you’ve placed on the speaker’s contribution to the meeting’s success?

If this all sounds reasonable but you’re not comfortable asking deep-dive questions, here are four tips from Joseph Grenny and Ron McMillan, speakers and co-authors of Crucial Conversations—Tools for Talking When Stakes are High:

1. Reverse your thinking.Those who are best at crucial conversations don’t think first about the risks of speaking up. They think first about the risks of not speaking up. They realize if they don’t ask thorough questions, they may have to live with poor decisions.

2. Change your emotions.Before opening your mouth, open your mind. Separate people from problems. Try to see others as reasonable human beings—even if they hold a different view.

3. Help others feel safe.Start a high-stakes conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they let their guard down and begin to listen.

4. Invite dialogue.After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views and questions. Then invite responses. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours. 

Share Uncovered Objectives
Once you’ve gathered the answers, share the information with your planning committee, key stakeholders, and speakers bureau partner. Encounter a change along the way? Keep everyone informed! A speakers bureau can redirect its research and respond with updated recommendations. The more your event partners know about what’s really on the minds of your decision-makers, the more bureaus can help you find the right professional speaker and increase your meeting’s success.

Liz Piacentini, CMP, is director of sales & marketing for the Goodman Speakers Bureau in Windsor, Conn.  She is also the director of leadership development for the Connecticut River Valley Chapter of Meeting Professionals International and has been the chapter’s CMP study group leader since 2006. Reach her at liz@goodmanspeakersbureau.com.