Keynoters: Should You Choose Humility Over Celebrity?


A well-known personality can pull a crowd, but a humble storyteller can add purpose and credibility to your event.

Inspirational, entertaining, engaging, and charismatic — these are just some of the attributes people look for in keynote speakers. Deciding how to choose the right one for your event can be every bit as important as the destination, the venue, and food-and-beverage options.

Beatrice Remy, managing director at Hong Kong–based agency Lore, says speakers’ bureaux can help narrow down speaker prospects with the right profile and keep a permanent watch on the latest options. In her experience, clients also like to invite speakers within their own ecosystem, such as prominent personalities on their boards, or partners and vendors.

Whomever you choose, she said, be careful to select someone “who corresponds to the image of the company. Beyond the ‘alignment to the message’ goal, it’s about finding a compatible personality. And when the speaker is ready to make appearances before and after speaking, it doesn’t feel like a ‘paid’ intervention anyone could buy.”

Being able to tell a story and make it personable is also vital and as Remy pointed out, independence matters for both the credibility of the speech and its legitimacy. “Even if some speakers only repeat materials that are readily available online, the delegates appreciate an up-close and personal experience,” she said.

Marine Debatte, head of events solutions, Asia Pacific & Japan, at agency BI Worldwide is more inclined to recommend a high-profile speaker. With so many events and conferences demanding attention, Debatte said, potential delegates have to prioritise which ones to go to; a well-known speaker can be one way to attract them.

“I won’t register even at a trade show before I see the list of panelists or speakers, because I am looking for more than networking, I am looking for value,” Debatte said. “That’s what our attendees and clients are looking for also.”

Be very clear on the event’s purpose and what needs to be communicated when choosing speakers. As Debatte highlighted, some speakers may sometimes “steal the stage” or not be team players, which reflects poorly on the event itself. Specialists too may not always make the best speakers or people who are particularly passionate about a cause or specific issue — they may not perform well on stage.

“Being challenged and having different opinions is healthy and what we are looking for but this also needs to be carefully gauged,” Debatte said. “Preparation is key with panelists, speakers, and keynotes. There are many instances where speakers have arrived at midnight the day before to save costs and it’s damaging to the quality of the ‘performance.’

Staying curious and thinking outside the box can also help. Debatte recalls attending a MICE industry conference in Singapore last summer that featured a speaker from Spartan Race, which runs a series of obstacle races that test strength in teamwork in various cities across the globe.

“That was incredibly relevant,” she said, although the fitness industry doesn’t naturally come to mind when thinking of MICE.

Finally, she said, keep in mind that higher-priced speakers aren’t necessarily better speakers.


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