When you’re planning a conference, seminar, or professional event, selecting the right keynote speaker is perhaps the most important decision you have to make. The keynote speaker sets the tone, establishes the themes, and provides much of the substance that attendees will take away from the session. As such, it is important to approach the hiring of any keynote speaker with care—and that means conducting a rigorous interview before you make a commitment.

What should you be asking your potential keynote speaker before he or she is hired? Let me make a few suggestions.

The Right Questions to Ask a Potential Keynote Speaker

  • What preparations will you make to ensure a successful presentation? A good speaker will do some careful planning and study to ensure that the address fits the theme of the event and provides real solutions to the people who are present. You should expect to hear some concrete answers about how your potential speaker will go about this.
  • How will you ensure that your presentation is memorable to all attendees? Again, it never hurts to ask for concrete examples of how the speaker will make the presentation stick.
  • Do you like to interact with the audience? If so, how so? You may be looking for someone to present more of a one-way lecture, or else someone to stimulate conversation; either way, these questions can help you know what you’re getting.
  • What is your background? Ask not only about professional credentials, but about the speaker’s general life experience—a good way to sniff out any potential prejudices or worldviews that might make the speaker a poor fit for your audience.
  • Who are some other speakers whose work you admire? This is a good way to make sure that the speaker is actually familiar with the field, and with the other players in it.
  • How long is the perfect speech? Some speakers go on way too long, and others come up shorter than expected. It’s good to have a sense of these potential dangers in advance.
  • Why should we choose you as our keynote speaker? Ask for the speaker’s elevator pitch. A good keynote speaker should be able to present himself/herself well!

When you pick a keynote speaker, it represents a major commitment—so don’t hesitate to vet your candidate thoroughly!