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Top 6 Reasons Why Booking a Celebrity Keynote Speaker Could be a Bad Idea

By Richard Gibbons | April 27, 2018

Engaging a celebrity keynote speaker for your event can be one way to add sizzle to your meeting.  For many conferences though, a household name on the platform may not be the right call; by understanding the pro-and-cons of hiring a big name, you can navigate the selection process more effectively.

Consider the following:

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Outsized Audience Expectations

Star-struck audience members can sometimes have an unconscious, overblown expectation of a high-profile presenter in the minutes before a speech.  Unconsciously thinking that one will be an inch taller, lose five pounds and be better looking as a result of a 60 minute keynote is often followed with, “Meh. He’s such an amazing athlete…I thought it was going to be a better speech…”  This is an absurd exaggeration of course, but when expectations are an unrealistic 10, and the speaker delivers a 7, the net effect feels like a 5. Conversely, the opposite holds true for many thought leaders with actionable, customized, compelling content who have a relative lack of fame.  This dynamic instills a more undefined expectation on the part of the audience; at a subconscious level, they react to the speaker’s billing/introduction with a “Who’s that?” type of reaction.  When expectations are a 5 and the speaker delivers a 9, the net effect feels like an 11. We’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Customization of Messaging 

Our customers expect the speaker they hire to be able to tailor their talk accounting for industry nuance, specific terminology, audience background, theme alignment etc.  Celebrity speakers (with limited headspace and motivation) are often famous for delivering their off-the-shelf presentation without any regard for the aforementioned (despite all of it being referenced in a pre-event conference call).  We’ve even heard horror stories of high-profile speakers thanking the event sponsor and getting the company name wrong! If you’re desiring a highly customized program, a celebrity speaker is likely not the right answer.

Non-Elective vs. Elective Meeting Attendance

Many trade groups use high-profile names to draw registrants to their event.  Big names can create a buzz and energy for a conference, but for private, corporate functions where attendance is not optional (participants can choose not to attend, but they’d get fired), engaging a famous personality may not be the right tool for the job. Have clear in your mind which type of audience you’re creating content for; that will better guide your decision.

Name Draw Investment

Recently, an industry expert advanced an interesting concept; he theorized that the appearance fee for a keynote speaker could be deconstructed into the various elements of their profile; fame, message relevance, platform energy, charisma, pedigree of achievement, authorship etc. etc.  Think of each component as a dial; if you turn up ALL the dials, the fee becomes staggering— six figure price tags are common. Most event stakeholders have finite budget resources; if a speaker’s celebrity status is not central to your event design, turning that dial down allows turning other dials up.   It’s all about clarity of priorities.

Care & Feeding

Many high-profile speakers have extensive on site requirements; common items include a security detail, airport greeter, and a host of other logistics on site that create headaches (and potentially added cost) for the meeting production team.  Another stressor can be the speaker’s insistence on a last-minute arrival time; what many consider a “normal” buffer between arrival and platform introduction is viewed as too early on the part of a celebrity. Arrivals backstage 30-45 minutes before introduction are not uncommon and leave event teams sweating bullets.

Cancellation Potential

Luminary speakers sometimes view keynoting as an avocation to other activities which they consider to be more central to their practice.   Because of this, their managers typically write provisions in their agreements that include voluntary out clauses. These should be scrutinized carefully as they can sometimes rear their ugly head in the 30 days leading up to an event.  A speaking venue that sounds like a good idea 6-7 months out can suddenly seem like a horrible idea 6-7 days out when a competing obligation or interest looms in the wings.  Bear this in mind.

Again, installing a celebrity name on your agenda can be a terrific way to add excitement to your event, but it’s important to understand which events can benefit the most.

How would yours benefit………or not?


Written by Richard Gibbons


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