People come to a conference for two reasons, the networking and the speakers. The educational content that builds an event will make or break it's success.
If you are a meeting planner on a limited budget, you may have to choose to place a great keynote speaker as an opening or a closing keynote. Below are some ideas to help you decide which spot is best and offers the most value to the event.
The Case for A Great Opening Keynote Speaker
The opening keynote speaker will be one of the first speakers on the agenda and is meant to raise interest in the event and boost attendance. Even more importantly the right keynote speaker will set the tone and get audiences in the right frame of mind to learn and network.
Some audiences don't get a lot of professional development opportunities, and also don't spend a lot of time with people outside of work. Thus, the prospect of networking and learning soft skills is very daunting for them. It's important to make sure people feel comfortable at events. Attrition at events happens because there is a group of people who think they belong and a group that doesn't. These may be newcomers to the industry or the event. Having a great opening keynote speaker who can bring a positive message that lifts people up and gives them lots of content as a conversation starter.
The opening keynote speaker needs to set the tone. I have seen many government officials invited as the opening keynote. It works well if their message is hopeful and somewhat inspiring. Too much heavy content with a threatening or negative undertone could throw the energy in the room off.
Audience members are busy and may feel they would rather sneak away and do work in their hotel room than attend sessions or network. It's important to start them off in an inspiring way, so they feel drawn to stay at the event.
The opening keynote speaker is a critical slot. Generally, the opening motivational speaker will have the most audience members. Consider more people will be able to attend the opening session than the closing session because they often have to leave to catch a flight or impending weather can impact schedules.
At the opening session, the audience is usually excited and eager to learn and have fun. It could be argued the opening keynote speaker has an easier job, as they don't have anyone to follow, their job is to set the tone for the event. A fabulous motivational speaker lifts audience expectations for the next keynote speaker.
The Case for A Great Closing Keynote Speaker
A closing keynote speaker is essential to build anticipation and encourage people to stay for the entire conference. A great closing speaker will send people off inspired, hopeful and looking forward to next years meeting. If your goal is to make sure people make the right travel plans and stick around for the closing session, you need to have a compelling closing speaker.
Many conferences chose to end with a legislative session or an AGM. This dense content at the end of an event serves to challenge peoples optimism going forward. A great way to end a conference is with a keynote speaker, some conference giveaways and a presentation to announce next years conference. Unveil next year's venue, agenda, and speakers at your current conference to encourage people to register right away.
I may be biased as I am a motivational speaker and I strongly believe people need more inspiration, hope, and soft skill training. Soft skills make the hard stuff worth doing.
To decide if you want a keynote speaker to open or close the event, consider the following:
The rest of the guest speakers and conference agenda. If directly following the opening keynote speaker, there is a technical guest speaker than a funny motivational speaker would be a good choice. Humor is the most significant way to build rapport and camaraderie in a group. Laughter also lighten people up and makes them more eager to learn.
The conference theme. Ideally, a theme is weaved throughout the entire event. Many topics are relatively generic to make sure to include everyone. Some great themes are stress, wellness, change, innovation, etc. For instance, if your theme is innovation, a change management motivational speaker would be a great choice. Also, industry experts on the topic of change would fill out the schedule and support the theme.
The event the night before the closing keynote speaker. When people attend receptions with an open bar and are up late, then you naturally see audience attrition for the closing keynote speaker. Sometimes a well known motivational speaker will be the impetus to get people to stick around for the closing keynote ( that and the draws where you must be present to win, or mandatory attendance to obtain CE credits).
The location. Hard to reach locations that only have several commercial flights a day ( one being early morning) will pretty much guarantee the closing keynote will be sparse.
The closing keynote speaker may have fewer audience members. Plus, after days of intense learning (recognizing some guest speakers, although experts are dry and hard to listen to) partying and networking- audiences are tired. Add to this; they may be distracted by flight, transportation, and family/work agendas.