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Event Planners’ Guide to the Keynote Speaker Briefing Call

Jessica Welch
Wednesday, May 26, 2021

As events begin to flood our calendars it’s always good to reexamine how we build out impactful events. From finding a venue to ensuring the keynote speakers are applicable to your client, there’s a long to-do list. With so much going on around each event, it’s no surprise that the pre-event briefing call with the keynote speaker gets little attention from anyone but the keynote speaker. Once a great speaker is found, the box is checked, and you—as an event planner—would like to move onto the next task.

However, this pre-event call can be the difference between an event people rave about and just another waste of company funds. Taking the time to show up to the briefing call prepared and well-informed can make or break your event. In a recent interview with world-renowned speaker Peter Sheahan, we dove into the pre-event briefing call. He breaks down the goals, the tempo, and the must-do’s of this important piece of the event puzzle to ensure your headliner is speaking to the true interests, challenges, and objectives of your audience. Here is Sheahan’s advice for hosting a pre-event call that will guide your event to maximum success.

Ask for an overview of what your speaker will be looking for.
When you are paying for highly customized and consultative keynote speaking, the speaker will work with your company to fully understand their goals and the challenges they face in reaching them.

This means experienced speakers will show up to the call with a full understanding of your industry, the changes you’re experiencing, and an outlook for its future. They will be prepared to dive into the ins and outs of your specific company with the background knowledge that allows them to speak insightfully.

Oftentimes speakers will send out a questionnaire or an overview of their intended areas of exploration on the call. If they do not, be sure to request a brief overview of the topics that will be covered on the call. And most importantly, make sure each member joining the call is given this information with an ample amount of time to prepare their thoughts.

Do your homework BEFORE the call.
Whether you are leading the call for your company or you’re facilitating the call for your company’s leadership, it’s important you feel prepared to answer questions about the topics the speaker sent over.

If you are leading the call it’s imperative for you to fully understand the objectives your team is trying to achieve by bringing this speaker on. Sheahan warns that on his pre-event calls he pushes past surface-level, fluff goals like “collaboration.”

“Okay you want collaboration, but what does that look like? Is that cross-functional collaboration, internal team collaboration, or something else? Why do you want collaboration? What do you see collaboration offering your team?” Sheahan wants his clients to take an in-depth look at their organization so he can discuss the true root of their goals and challenges.

He suggests knowing general answers to the following questions before you get on the call:

  1. What are some big things happening in your industry?
  2. How is your company changing in response to what is happening in your industry?
  3. Why are you having this event?
  4. What are your objectives?
  5. Tell me about what success looks like for the speaker’s session?
  6. What are any risks you want the speaker to know about? (ex: don’t call them consultants, call them specialists).
  7. What does a day-in-the-life of one of the audience members look like?

Make sure you have the right people on the call.
Maybe you don’t feel qualified to speak for your company at such great lengths. That’s okay, as long as you make sure the right people are on the call. Use the pre-work questionnaire or topics the speaker sends over to get a feel for who should be on the call.

Do you need your Head of HR to speak to the nature of your company culture? Maybe you need the COO to talk about how they envision streamlining your company’s processes. Be sure whoever jumps on the call with you is confident and capable of speaking for your team as a whole.

Things to look out for.
Sheahan believes event planners can also use the pre-event call to weed out any speakers who don’t plan on customizing their speeches. He knows there is a difference between a mountain climber who tells their story of summiting Mt. Everest and a business consultant brought on to build the foundation of company culture. Regardless of the speaker, there should be a customized aspect to every keynote.

If the mountain climber is addressing adversity, they should know about the adversity your company faces within your industry just as well as a business consultant should. If you are on a call with a keynote speaker who isn’t trying to dive into your organization and industry—or even worse, trying to maneuver every conversation to fit their cookie-cutter keynote—there’s a pretty good chance the keynote they deliver on the day of the event will not be customized to your company.

To avoid a generic keynote and receive a speech that truly changes your company, take the time to make your pre-event briefing call a deep dive into how your speaker can truly help your organization.

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