Don’t blow your Internal Event budget on a celebrity speaker

‘Tis the season for internal company events, and with it the time when too many leaders think they need to book a celebrity speaker.

Here’s the truth: name recognition is the wrong calculus for this type of gathering.

Don’t get me wrong: celebrity speakers are fantastic for the right event. I should know - I run a speaker’s bureau and I have been booking speakers for over 15 years. Some of those speakers are the biggest household names in the world.

But I make it my business to ensure that clients get the perfect speakers for their events, not necessarily the priciest ones. And celebrity speakers are high-ticket expenses that simply don’t make sense for every event.


Think impact, not celebrity

When planning committees or executives are mulling speaker choices for their events, thoughts often turn to what people are reading or watching. 

Who’s popular? Who just wrote a bestseller? Who’s walking the red carpet right now? Who’s the topic of water cooler conversation (remember water coolers?) 

That’s the wrong place to start.

The question to ask upfront is: WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS EVENT?

Internal company events, like all-hands meetings and sales kickoffs, are unique because attendance is typically mandatory. That means that internal events have a captive audience. So for these types of events, the focus should be 100% fixed on an impact-driven performance that will add substantive value to your audience’s professional and personal lives.

And that impact should drive to the heart of your desired outcome.


TED Talkers and eggheads are celebrities, too


It’s not just movie stars that you should bypass for your all-hands meeting. By celebrity, I also mean brand name academic stars and speakers who are known for a single TED Talk.

The truth is that the person who may be the biggest brain on a topic is not necessarily the best person to speak on the topic. Sure, they might be the leading expert or thought leader, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’re a good communicator or performer

The same goes for people who have little experience beyond their literal 15 minutes (ok, 18 minutes) of TED fame.

Plenty of TED talk speakers are sensational for the duration of their performance. Many of them have gone through a TED training program to speak for exactly that amount of time, and they have rehearsed that one speech a thousand times. 

The problem is that you need someone who can talk for 45 minutes. It’s a rude awakening when you get a one-note TED talker out of their element and expect the same results in a far different speaking context. 

I’ve booked people who were the world experts on a particular topic, people who coined the very term of their topic. Surely, one assumes that the foremost famous mind on a subject would be the biggest “get” as a speaker for your internal event.

Not always.

Inventors, academics, and authors can be brilliant at creating concepts while falling flat as speakers.

When it comes to something like a sales kickoff, you want a speaker who lives and breathes this topic and knows how to perform and deliver the elements of a good keynote. And knows how to customize the discussion for your audience. And can deliver a dazzling discussion that connects.

The bottom line is that great thinkers on a topic are not always great speakers. And great speakers on a topic are not always great thinkers. For internal events, you need the rare bird who is both.


Start with your throughline

Before you start thinking about the right speaker, consider the throughline of your event.

The throughline is an invisible thread that binds your event together. It comprises those elements that are critical to the very heart of your story. In this case, the story is your event, and the connective tissue should remain consistent from start to finish.

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Once you’ve defined the throughline of your internal event, you need to align your speaker accordingly. 

Your goal is to make sure that everyone in that audience looks at the world differently after the event than they did before they took their seats.

You want a speaker who commands the room with a laser-targeted understanding of the needs of this audience and of the client. Many times the real goal of bringing in a keynote speaker is to bring in an outside voice to support or underscore a message, or say it in another way. 

If the speaker does their job correctly, the audience’s perspectives will change so significantly that they will look forward to the next event.

With an internal event, the impact you need is far more tangible and resonant than the fleeting excitement of seeing a star onstage. Save your celebrity budgets for when your company is trying to drive attendance and needs the pull of a big name. Now is the time for steak, not sizzle.

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