Blog Nordic Business Forum 2018

The Secret Life of a Speaker Relations Pro

Here at Nordic Business Forum, we take content seriously. Whether it’s our blog or website, the physical materials that we provide during our seminars, or the practical lessons and new contacts that you walk away with after each networking session, we want to give you as much value as possible.

Our speaker lineup is no different.

We put time and effort into selecting the speakers for each of our events to maximize your learning opportunities and foster engaging discussions during the seminar so that, hopefully, you continue these conversations long after the show is over. Since our Speaker Sourcing Contest is a brand new opportunity for people like you to not only attend Nordic Business Forum 2018 but speak on stage to the 7,499 other attendees, we thought we’d give you a little insight into what it’s like on our side of the table. How do we decide on speakers? What do we look for in a presentation?

Meet Ville Saarikalle: our speaker relations superstar. Ville is in charge of all things related to our speakers during the year. We sat down with him to ask him to give you an idea of what goes on behind-the-scenes at NBForum, as well as what to expect as a winner of the Speaker Sourcing Contest.

Nordic Business Forum: Hi Ville! Thanks for speaking with us. As our Head of Speaker Relations, what does a typical day look like for you?

Ville Saarikalle: My typical day is pretty typical in every sense of the word: emails, phone calls, etc. I’m all the time investigating what’s possible, negotiating with speaking prospects (or their reps). It’s important to know what’s happening out there so I follow the market by watching talks, listening to podcasts, following different events (sometimes even visiting), meeting and talking with industry pros, and I’m also asking questions from customers who follow closely what’s happening out there. Many times, my job is just about asking practical questions from speakers (or their reps) when we’d need to do something different than what’s been agreed and things like that. Basic customer work is also a huge part of my work.

NBF: Fantastic. You must come across a lot of talent on a daily basis. What makes speakers stand out to you? Are there traits that separate the good from the great?

VS: There are many good speakers, but it’s not easy to find the great ones. It could be sometimes that you hear a phenomenal talk by a speaker but days are different too. We’re dealing with human beings, after all! I could give a long list of characteristics for a good speaker but great ones are great in a unique way. One person may be great because they are “a stage lion” while someone else will touch your emotions but could be more modest. There’s always some X-factor with the great ones. But one very concrete tip I have comes from a quote by a great speaker, Daniel Pink, who said: “Saying something important is better than saying important things. Your goal isn’t to show how much you know or how many thoughts you’ve had, but to leave the audience with one idea to ponder or one action to take.” Don’t try to say too much and too many things. One great takeaway is more than enough if it’s actionable and of value for the audience.

NBF: When sourcing speakers, do you have particular criteria in mind?

VS: I have some general things in mind, yes. I’m always after good speakers. If the presentation is super boring, it doesn’t help even if you have an accomplished messenger. Presentation matters. Not so that it’s all show and no content, but you really need both. The best ones are able to do both things: to deliver great content and engage the audience.

Many people remember how Tony Fernandes engaged the audience. That kind of interaction is great – and Alex Osterwalder also does that really well.

There are event-specific criteria as well. For example, event themes impact the choices we make to find speakers. At the end of the day, I want to have speakers who people will love and who are able to deliver great value to them, by content and inspiration.

NBF: If the feedback from our audiences over the years is any indication (and it is!), you’re doing a great job. What’s the biggest challenge you face with speaker relations?

VS: My biggest challenge is that we can’t get everyone we want to get! I’m always working with the most sought-after business speakers, so it’s not that easy. There are always some tradeoffs too: if you take someone amazing, you may have to leave some other great name out. Timing is also difficult. We’re working well in advance and it could be too far in the future for a speaker to commit. Sometimes, we need to get answers fairly quickly and that could be an issue as well.

NBF: So, at the other end of the spectrum, have you noticed challenges or mistakes for which speakers should be on the lookout?

VS: Everyone likes to have those “do” and “don’t” lists. It’s hard to say what’s THE biggest do for speakers but here’s one a big one: Know your audience, know your stuff. You gotta know the audience in order to customize your presentation, to be able to speak the language of your audience. You should speak differently to teenagers than you would to CEOs. And know your content, your “stuff”. It makes you credible and your talk smooth, and that’s already a lot. “Faking it” is not a good strategy.

Knowing your audience is not just about style and examples but it’s very much about speaking on something exciting for the audience. You’ll be able to provide the value if you know your audience.

The opposite is a big don’t: not customizing your talk to match your audience with relevant examples, and an appropriate style, and trying to speak about something that you don’t know. Another don’t: don’t be boring. You don’t have to be funny and tell jokes, but you can always make your talk much more interesting with great examples and stories. Information overload is a big no-no.

NBF: Sounds like you have a lot to consider. And now, one of the spots in the NBForum 2018 lineup will be filled by the Speaker Sourcing Contest. What can the winner of this contest expect at the main event?

VS: For the winner of speaking contest, the prize is great! It’s really worth trying. And if somebody gets to the NBForum stage, he or she will have many new fans!! There are not too many chances in a lifetime to feel the energy of that stage. Thousands of people are watching and eager to hear and learn from you. I would say that it’s a dream for many speakers! It’s a really demanding place but, if you’re able to take it and win the contest, it’s really awesome. I know there are many talented speakers who have a dream to speak at NBForum and now it’s possible. On the main stage, no less.

NBForum is the event. It’s just fantastic. Take the chance.


For more information, visit our Speaker Sourcing Contest info page, read the How To Apply, and check out our 5 Ways to WOW People with a Video Audition.

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