Best Speakers of Today

An excellent keynote speaker sets the stage -- and the tone -- for an excellent meeting ahead. By the same token, an underwhelming presenter will have the crowd wondering if they should have stayed home. Choose wisely, because there's only one chance to get it right.

Here is a good place to start. M&C asked the heads of several top speakers bureaus to name some favorite current audience-pleasers. Following are their picks, with price ranges to suit any budget.


The most popular speaker on this bureau's roster is Kim Lear (fee: $15,001-$25,000), founder and content director of Inlay Insights, which identifies cultural trends that affect the workplace. "Kim Lear combines three key important qualities in a great speaker," says Jenna Jorge, president of Goodman. "She's dynamic, with great stage energy, she has in-depth research to back her heavy content messaging -- and she's a Millennial female. Kim checks the boxes for everything that we as a bureau are often looking for in a speaker. She doesn't fit the mold, she creates it. We always get fantastic feedback when we book Kim."

The process of picking the right presenter for your audience is a microcosm of the whole event's planning process. Following are some items for the speaker-selection to-do list from Ruben Trevino, marketing and events director for Evenium, who spoke on the topic at IMEX Frankfurt in May.

• Know your attendees' priorities. Is their primary purpose to network, learn, be entertained or hone their business personas?

• Find dynamic presenters who know how to engage the audience. Watch a lot of promo videos, and then ask potential speakers about their techniques, their style and their expectations when they are onstage.

• Prepare to train your speakers. At the very least they should know about your expectations, what your company or association is about and how your attendees learn best.

Attendees at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Florida event in 2016 got to hear Lear speak on how generational differences in behavior and expectations are continually reshaping the workforce.

Going high-end with Goodman means hiring Bert or John Jacobs (above, fee: $50,000+ for either), brothers and co-founders of Life is Good, an apparel and accessories retail and lifestyle brand. Their story focuses on innovative business lessons, using humor to recount how, with just $78 in the bank, the brother's launched their company, a business that now sells products at more than 2,000 retailers.


Dave Romanelli (fee:$7,501-$15,000) is Goodman's choice for cost-conscious planners. Romanelli is the author of Happy Is the New Healthy, featuring wisdom gleaned from his friendship with a 111-year-old woman whose secrets to health and happiness were "sex, vodka and spicy food."

"Dave Romanelli is equally great to work with on and off stage," says Jorge. "He brings a positive energy to every event. Our clients always love Dave, and we always get great feedback as well as repeat bookings. Happiness, optimism and positive mindset are deservedly hot topics for all meetings right now."

Jorge adds that Romanelli is a perfect cure for talking-head syndrome, when participants are tired of the same-old same-old. "He uses humor and stories to motivate and change the energy of the room," she says.


Alison Levine (fee: $20,001-$30,000) is an adventurer who was team captain of the first American Women's Everest Expedition. She has climbed the "seven summits" (the highest peak on each continent) and has skied to both the North and South poles, achievements that help make her the top draw for Keppler. Her book, On the Edge, was a New York Times bestseller, and she focuses on leadership in today's competitive environment in talks titled "On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership" and "Peakonomics: Success Strategies From the 7 Summits."


One of Keppler's best for the budget-minded planner is Jerome Mayne (fee: up to $10,000), who talks about fraud and ethics in corporate America. Mayne developed his expertise in his 20s, while working as a loan officer. He got involved with some shady cohorts and ended up charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, resulting in a 21-month prison sentence. His life in the business world and behind bars is documented in his autobiography, Diary of a White Collar Criminal. Mayne now help business professionals lead clean work lives by addressing the importance of ethics and the consequences of fraud.

Natalie Fikes (fee: $10,000) is another popular choice from Keppler. Currently central region manager for the International Association of Women, Fikes founded Code Next Generation in 2013, a community-service/life-coaching organization for young people. She also is the author of the book, Empowered to Prosper: Discover How to Become the Woman You Were Created to Be.



National, which this July became a division of the Premiere Speakers Bureau, says its top draw is Nichole Malachowski (fee: $17,501-$22,000), a combat veteran, a fighter squadron commander, the first female Thunderbird pilot and a former White House fellow. She spent 21 years in the Air Force and now speaks on embracing change and overcoming challenges.

Malachowski offers "authentic stories about becoming a fighter pilot, being the first female member of the Thunderbirds and having a challenging pregnancy with twin girls," says NSB's president, Brian Palmer. "Then, as a rising Air Force colonel, she had to retire and battle a bad case of Lyme disease, something she continues to work on."

Palmer warns event planners about the huge lines of attendees that inevitably form to speak with Malachowski after her talks. "In my 38 years here, she's one of my favorites, and among the most effective in every facet: before the event, on-site before she speaks, the actual presentation and after she speaks. She's kind of magical."


Another top draw for NSB is Jon Acuff (fee: $22,001-$32,000), a marketing wiz who has previously worked with companies such as Bose, Home Depot and Autotrader. Now a bestselling author, his latest is called Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, a topic he is happy to talk about for groups. He also tackles change management, and how to sell with hustle and empathy.




For tight budgets, one of NSB's best bets is Ivan Joseph (fee: $10,000), athletic director of Ryerson University in Toronto. His specialty is cultivating self confidence, on view in his TEDx Talk on the subject, which has garnered more than 13 million views. "Joseph receives extremely high ratings from some of our most demanding clients," says Palmer. And he charges just $10K plus travel, which is unusual for someone with such a popular TED Talk.



One of the bright stars in the BigSpeak stable is Matthew Luhn (fee: $20,000 and up), a veteran storyteller who spent 25 years with Pixar. You'll find his name listed in the credits for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc., Monsters University, Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, Up and more.

At 19, Luhn became the youngest animator to work on The Simpsons. Today, aside from continuing to work in Hollywood, he trains CEOs, marketing teams, directors and other professionals on how to craft and tell stories.

"Matthew is really funny, and his presentations are unique for each audience," says Ken Sterling, Ph.D., MBA, executive vice president and chief learning officer for BigSpeak. "His work centers around getting people to connect and feel emotionally around a brand or company or product."


Srinivas Rao (fee: $10,001-$20,000) is the founder and self-described "chief creative instigator" of Unmistakable Media. As the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast, he has interviewed more than 700 people from every walk of life. Rao also is author of three books, An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake; Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best, and The Art of Being Unmistakable.

"Rao is a very unique speaker with a fun topic, which essentially is getting more creativity into the workplace, something that is good for people on a personal level and also for organizations," says Ken Sterling, who notes that BigSpeak hand-picks its portfolio of personalities for their expertise, gracefulness and unique approaches to solving world problems.

BigSpeak's top draw is Robyn Benincasa (fee: $20,000-$25,000), who Sterling affectionately calls "the human dynamo." Benincasa is a full-time firefighter for San Diego County, an adventure racer (a multidisciplinary team sport) and founder of Project Athena, which helps women who have survived medical or other traumas reach their athletic goals and adventure dreams.

"She's very authentic, engaging and inspiring," says Sterling, as more than one rapt audience will attest.