What is a Guest Speaker – And How Can They Take Your Event to the Next Level?

What Is A Guest Speaker

Rather than asking Mark from Marketing to address the audience at your next event (no offense, Mark), consider hiring a professional guest speaker. What are guest speakers, you ask?

To put it plainly, guest speakers are people who are invited to speak at all sorts of events. They deliver a message that is relevant to the event.

Read on to understand more about guest speakers, and how your event can benefit from one? Read on to learn more!

See Related: Best MC Jokes For A Conference

What Do Guest Speakers Do?

Guest speakers serve all sorts of key functions and present on a diversity of industry topics. Here are a few specific reasons why your event planner should hire a guest speaker for your next event:

Bring a Fresh Perspective

Your event’s attendees already have something in common, right? Maybe they’re coworkers, members of a social club, or taking a class together.

Bringing in a guest speaker who is not directly connected to the group is a great way to present a new perspective! They can speak to the theme of your event in exciting and memorable ways.

Provide Entertainment Value

We can’t have audiences getting bored, now can we? Fear not! Here is a great way to avoid the dreaded “Can we take a break?” sighs.

Guest speakers are the answer. An engaging and passionate presenter will perk those ears right up and shut down any groans of needing a snack break (those Oreos are looking good, though).

Whether you are running a multi-day conference or a multi-hour meeting (both can feel overwhelming, I know), I promise you this: sooner or later, your attendees will be craving a moment of levity and humor. Create that moment and engage your audience with a guest speaker!

Bring the Fun

Need some ideas for guest speakers who will achieve a lighthearted rapport with the crowd, regardless of your industry? I’ve got the answer!

The best speakers aren’t always the ones presenting on the most serious industry topics. Hold your group’s interest and create a fun atmosphere by bringing an engaging magician, hypnotist, or comedian to loosen up the crowd!

Help the Crowd Get Loose

Silliness can be scary in a professional setting, but I can’t overstate the importance of it. Sacrificing a little professionalism in the name of fun benefits everyone!

When colleagues connect with each other in new ways, that opens the door for audiences to grow more familiar and comfortable with one another. You never know where this could lead – increased sales, greater retention rates, improved employee engagement, and so much more.

Captivate Audiences With Storytelling

A guest speaker is, at their core, a storyteller. They are capable of communicating with your audience members in an amusing and engaging way while they deliver an inspiring message. (This is an art!)

You’ll want to hire a speaker whose talk includes personal anecdotes and a strong narrative. Perhaps their greatest failure transformed into an unexpected success story. Truthful narratives increase the speaker’s credibility and likability.

Photo of a man speaking to audienceKeep to the Theme

While guest speakers rarely have a direct connection to the company or organization running the event or conference, they can still tie their personal experiences to the overall theme.

Maybe you are planning a staff retreat. Your goal is to rejuvenate your employees and remind them why your organization’s mission is so important.

Create a meaningful and memorable retreat for your employees by inviting a guest speaker who speaks about their journey to finding their own purpose in life. Or, inspire your staff by bringing guest speakers who share stories about the rewards of overcoming challenging obstacles. The sky’s the limit!

Impart Wisdom or Knowledge

There is always more to learn, right? Good event planners – and event emcees – know this. They also know that a successful guest speaker will leave the audience considering new ideas that inspire conversations beyond the event space.

A good guest speaker doesn’t underestimate their audience; they share specific expertise that advances guests’ knowledge of a subject. Relevant knowledge depends on the specific audience, of course. For example, guest speakers for a university orientation will impart different wisdom on their audience than a speaker at an international knitting conference.

Photo of guest speakers onstageShow Your Staff Why Their Work Matters

Sometimes the most impactful guest speakers are those who have directly benefited from your group’s work.

Maybe you work for a nonprofit organization that provides resources to students from low-income households navigating the college application process. To recenter and rejuvenate employees around the organization’s mission, you can invite a guest speaker who has benefited from your services.

Everyone wants to know that the work they do makes a positive difference in the world. Personal anecdotes from direct beneficiaries of their work can enliven your staff and give them the motivation they need to power through a demanding season.

What Is the Difference Between a Guest Speaker and a Keynote Speaker?

You’ve probably heard of a “keynote speaker” before – but what exactly does it mean?

There is a fine line between a keynote speaker and a guest speaker, but hopefully this will support you in understanding the nuances between the two and hire the one you need:

Keynote Speakers Set the Tone

A keynote speaker is typically the headlining speaker at an event, whereas a guest speaker may be one of a host of speakers given equal stage time.

It is the keynote speaker’s job to set the tone of the event and discuss the main topic. Whatever the intended takeaway of the event is, the keynote speaker is responsible for communicating it to the attendees.

Who Would Make a Suitable Keynote Speaker?

Keynote speakers are usually people with a meaningful amount of recognition within a given industry. For example, a keynote speaker could be a motivational speaker, a credible academic discussing their research, or a distinguished university alumnus.

When in the Program Does a Keynote Speaker Appear?

Keynote speakers may appear at any point – that is, after the corporate emcee introduces them. For example, keynote speakers may give an opening keynote address that acclimates the audience to the spirit of the event. Or, a keynote speech may be made after other speakers have warmed up the crowd (think college graduation, after opening remarks have been made).

Regardless of when it is made, though, the keynote address is typically the pièce de résistance of the event.

Okay, What About Guest Speakers?

Whereas keynotes speakers are usually responsible for setting the tone of the event, guest speakers may serve a more specific supporting role.

This doesn’t mean they’re less important – not by a long shot! Here’s what I mean:

They Get Specific.

On a technical level, keynote speeches address a larger theme pertaining to the event. In contrast, guest speakers are frequently hired to focus on a particular matter under the thematic umbrella.

When in the Program Do Guest Speakers Appear?

They do not frequently open events or conferences like keynote speakers can; rather, they are introduced later into the program to speak to a specific topic and provide more detail.

As I mentioned earlier, they rarely have a direct connection to the company or event itself. Instead, they are often invited because they have industry knowledge pertinent to those in the room, and/or are captivating and entertaining.

Bonus: What Does An Event Host Do?

How Can I Structure the Guest Speaker’s Appearance?

You know I love getting creative as a master of ceremonies – and playing with structure is the perfect opportunity to keep things exciting and fresh for your audience!

You have the ability to design your ideal program. Here are a few tips on how to think outside the box when it comes to featuring a guest speaker:

Ask Guests to Lead Breakout Sessions

You may have invited them to speak, but they don’t need to be the only one talking. Depending on how large your audience is, consider inviting a host of speakers and asking them to engage directly with the audience.

Breakout sessions are an excellent way to add an element of engagement to those who attend your event. Giving audience members the chance to share their opinions and communicate directly with the guest speaker piques interest and encourages collaborative thinking among the group.

Photo of man leading breakout sessionKeeping It Casual Can Add Value

This whole time, I bet you’ve been picturing a single person standing at a podium. Am I right?

Well, as much as I love a good podium, this is not the only way to structure a successful appearance by a guest speaker!

Make It a Conversation

Sometimes, both the speaker and audience members feel more comfortable relinquishing total control and going with a “fireside chat”-style presentation. This looks more like a conversation between the guest and another person who serves as a moderator.

Casual presentations like this give the audience a break from the buttoned-up style many professional events adopt.

Also, your attendees probably won’t expect this kind of style – and the element of surprise adds value by helping hold the crowd’s attention!

Remember Your Virtual Audience

Whether the event is being live streamed or not, filming the guest speaker’s appearance and posting it to the organization’s website as soon as possible will add a layer of success.

By increasing access and giving those who were unable to attend in person the ability to interact with your event online, you will inevitably deepen the diversity of the audience.

Not to mention, making the guest speaker’s speech available online can draw new traffic to your website, introduce new clients to your services, and increase attendance at future events and conferences.

Photo of fireside chat being recordedLet’s Wrap Things Up

When you plan a presentation, think of guest speakers as a multi-use tool in your toolkit:

Want to…

Encourage your employees and foster a healthy work environment?

Inspire your students and help them stay motivated?

Entertain your clients, increase sales, and advance your mission?

Guest speakers can be invaluable resources to support you in accomplishing all of this, and more. There are endless possibilities as far as who you can invite and how you can feature them. Let your imagination run free!

Keep Reading: How To Host A Networking Event

Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetingsspecial eventsgala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of CleanComedians.com. For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on InstagramFacebookPinterestLinkedIn, and YouTube.