How to Book a Virtual Keynote Speaker

Keep in mind these guidelines for finding the right presenter for your digital event.

How many times have you heard, read or said "new normal" this week — or just today?

There is little "normal" about the current pandemic and the way it has disrupted the way we hold meetings. Moving from face-to-face events to virtual meetings, online conferences and video platforms are a few of the changes we've had to make in the meetings industry. We've certainly seen major changes here at BigSpeak when it comes to seeking engaging online presenters. So, with all this change, what should a meeting planner look for when booking a keynote speaker for your next online conference? 

You may have quietly lowered your expectations in the past for webinars, after suffering through one too many PowerPoint decks or presenters who seem more focused on what they're going to make for dinner than the audience in front of them. But today's virtual keynotes can be far better — if you know what to look for. They are interactive and — dare I say — fun. 

However, there are a few differences you should know about when you book your next virtual speaker, in terms of presentation formats, booking dates, speaker fees and contracts.

Format: Focus on Interaction and Specificity

Effective keynotes deliver tailored presentations that connect directly with the audience in a variety of ways. They might involve an emcee, interactive polls and surveys, brief video clips and back-and-forth exchanges with particular audience members. We recommend that the presenter interact with the audience at least once every few minutes (or four to five slides). When selecting a speaker and working out the details of their presentation, be sure you ask for this level of interaction. 

In addition to being interactive, the speaker's presentation should be tailored to your specific group. It's always been true with in-person events that strong keynote speakers will customize the talk for your organization's needs. But that's doubly true for digital events, where audience members have numerous distractions to deal with. Speakers should join in pre-event calls to hear from your team and find out your needs. But it's also important that you as the planner provide them with insights that will help presenters tailor their keynotes to what is currently going on in your company and industry. Presentations that specifically address the situations you are facing will have far greater impact than will something generic.

Dates and Fees: Factor in Flexibility

As you might expect, virtual keynote speakers tend to be more flexible with presentation dates and times than they were before the pandemic. A speaker is more apt to move a date or work with a company to select three or four possible dates in advance and then fix a date closer to the event. 

Speakers are also more flexible in terms of the event time since there is no travel involved. It's more likely you'll be able to freely choose a morning, afternoon or evening slot at your convenience. Some speakers are also willing to do multiple talks on a day or over several days.

Expect to pay less for virtual presentations — most of the time. Many keynote speakers are willing to speak for reduced fees, potentially as little as 30-40 percent of their in-person fees, depending on the format or length of time of the presentation. However, there are always exceptions. High-demand and famous keynote speakers still are likely to command their top fee.

Contracts: Reduce the Wrangling

While the written contracts for booking virtual keynote speakers are about the same as they were, the pre-contract discussions seem to be more streamlined. Contract forms have new sections related to technology needs, recording, whether a "studio look" in the background is required and special provisions about cancellations due to pandemics.

You'll definitely spend less time going over event details than you may have for live events. Plus, there is no wrangling over travel, hotel and per-diem costs. There is no discussion of how a speaker's time will be spent on-site. Once a keynote speaker has agreed to a date, time and fee, the contract is almost done. This way you can spend more time talking to the speaker about how to best frame the talk for your company or organization, rather than stressing over the fine print.

Ken Sterling is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau, a keynote and business speakers bureau. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches entrepreneurship, marketing and strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant, and sales and marketing expert.