6 qualities to look for in a conference speaker

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It’s an unavoidable fact that a conference is only as good as its speakers. No matter how impressive a venue is, how stunning the conference location is, or how good the food and drinks are – attendees are going to feel deflated if a much-anticipated talk ends up being disappointing.

This is a lot of pressure for conference organisers, of course – who are tasked with creating an entire conference program filled with speakers that leave a lasting impression for the right reasons.

But how can you tell if a speaker is truly good or not? Are there specific speaker selection criteria you should be sticking to? Or is it more about trusting your gut? The truth is, it’s probably a bit of both. It can certainly help to have a set criteria list to use as a guide, but it’s also crucial to trust your instincts. 

After scouring Quora forums on the topic, we’ve compiled a shortlist of must-have qualities for conference speakers to help you get started. Let’s go.

What makes a good conference speaker?

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  1. Excellent at storytelling

    Conference speakers must be excellent storytellers. That doesn’t only mean they have to be able to engage their audience with interesting content (although this is vital). They have to be able to formulate a narrative that is logical and flows seamlessly from start to finish. One of the most off-putting things when listening to a talk is the feeling of the content jumping from one point to another. This has the tendency to leave the audience feeling lost, as though they’ve missed some vital piece of the puzzle. Instead, the most interesting and crucial information should be explained with utmost clarity first (while the audience’s attention is still in full-tact). Then, every point from here-on-out should clearly relate back to that first compelling argument.  

  2. Unwavering with time-keeping

    When talks go over-time, this not only reflects poorly on the speaker’s own ability to keep things concise, but can lead to a logistical nightmare for the rest of the conference. Other slots may be delayed, and attendees can feel disgruntled that they weren’t allowed enough time to move from one talk to another. Looking for a conference speaker that sticks confidently to their allotted time, then, is key.

  3. Unafraid of audience interaction

    Most conference talks benefit from some level of audience interaction, which helps to keep attendees engaged and switched-on to the session. Looking for conference speakers that are confident in getting their audience involved can make the difference between a good talk and a really memorable one.

  4. Adept at public speaking

    Everyone remembers how easy it was to drift off to the sound of the monotone drone of certain teachers’ voices at school. To avoid this kind of snooze-effect at all costs, you'll want to look for conference speakers who have excellent diction, feel confident in projecting their voice, and also speak with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. It works both ways though – while confidence is key, there’s such a thing as being too over-the-top which can come across as disingenuous. 

  5. Genuinely unique and insightful

    Of course, a conference speaker must be an expert in their field. But what really tends to stand out at conferences are speakers who are able to offer thought-provoking and unique insights – those that audiences remember because of the way they got them thinking. This is really to do with the speaker’s creativity and ability to think outside the box as much as their knowledge in their field. So watch out for those who spark your imagination, rather than just relaying information, no matter how in-depth.

  6.  Ability to make content relevant to audience

    Some conference speakers have been around the block enough times to be exceptionally good at talking on their given subject matter. This is great, but it’s equally as important to keep content fresh and appropriate for the audience at hand. One of the most engaging aspects about any talk is being able to relate to its content on a deeper level – to feel like the speaker really understands you, their audience. This is only achievable if a speaker is willing to lead with an audience-first mentality, rather than regurgitating old talks regardless of who’s watching. What makes this an even more desirable quality to look out for is that we’re living in a world that increasingly demands inclusivity and equality (quite rightly) at events and beyond. 

And there you have it – some of the top qualities to look for in a guest or conference speaker. Just remember that, when looking for the perfect match for your event, following your gut is equally as important as ticking boxes. No matter how qualified a speaker is, ultimately, if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably because they just don’t fit with your ethos, vision or brand. And that’s what counts above all else. 

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