How to Invite, Engage, and Best Utilize Conference Speakers

How to Invite, Engage, and Best Utilize Conference Speakers

By Jacki Van Oort, senior program and product development manager

"If you build it, they will come." If associations build an innovative, meaningful, networking-rich event that their audience members can take key messages from and implement in their place of work, they will be successful.

But how can this be built? By rethinking the foundation of the event: the speakers. Speakers are subject matter experts that associations thrive on to make good events great.


The first step is getting the right speakers in place to make the event great. This may not always mean selecting speakers from abstract submissions. Instead, invite speakers that are proven experts in the field, that connect with the audience, and that may not normally submit an abstract.

Often, however, there is a barrier to obtaining speakers like this, especially for a small event. In 2015, The National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) launched its inaugural National Quality Summit. The Summit is a boutique and intimate event capped at 300 attendees. While it was a small and new event for NAHQ, our goal was to set the bar high and contract high-level speakers.

We knew that, to obtain the level of speakers we wanted while keeping the limited budget intact, we needed a summit chair that was a big name in the field and could draw top-notch speakers. NAHQ invited a well-known person in the industry to a paid chair position to recommend speakers. We utilized the chair to make the initial contact with the speakers because they already had a relationship, therefore increasing our chances of the speaker accepting. NAHQ discovered that spending the resources on a well-known individual to act as chair of the event ultimately provided us with access to the best speakers while limiting other honorarium.


Once speakers are secured, they need to understand the audience and the purpose of the event itself to ensure a meaningful presentation. Part of engaging speakers includes setting clear expectations for their presentations and their role as content leaders. NAHQ implemented several methods to ensure its speakers understood the expectations and were engaged. In the contracts that speakers signed, NAHQ included expectations such as:

  • Speakers will help to promote the event within their own professional network.
  • Speakers must end their presentation with three to five takeaways that attendees could implement in their organizations within three to six months following the summit.
  • Speakers should engage the audience as much as possible; this includes but is not limited to role playing, videos, and audience Q&A.
  • Speakers will attend a mandatory conference call that staff and the planning team host. The goal of the call is to discuss the purpose of the summit, what speakers can expect once they arrive onsite, who the audience is, how to cater presentations to best meet the needs of audience members, an overview of all other sessions so that there can be a common theme and connection throughout the entire summit, and future speaker deadlines.


The obvious role of the speaker is to deliver a great presentation during the event. However, challenge your association to look beyond just that and utilize speakers as much as you can.
One way to utilize speakers is to have them promote the event. NAHQ created email and social media text to give to speakers that made it easy for them to promote the event. NAHQ staff crafted messages that speakers could simply post to their LinkedIn or Facebook pages or paste into an email and hit send. NAHQ staff did the work, but the speakers distributed. Additionally, they had contacts the association didn't, therefore helping us to reach new targets.

Another way to utilize speakers is to highlight them in marketing messages. For example, NAHQ staff created a YouTube video with a speaker discussing why an individual should come to our event. We also get quotes from speakers on the importance of the event and included them in our blast emails.

Speakers can also be tapped into after the event by gathering quotes on why the event was successful to encourage post-event product sales or to be used as a teaser for the next year.
Inviting, engaging, and utilizing speakers connects them to the event and ultimately creates a more impactful event and generates excitement for futures ones. As a result of implementing these methods, NAHQ received feedback on evaluations that 96 percent of attendees would consider attending a future National Quality Summit.

Copyright August 2015, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, Washington, DC. Originally published at Republished with permission.