Is it Time to Lose the Keynote Speaker?

Aug 17, 2012 by

This year, for the first time, our three-state regional convention (8000 attendees) will not feature a keynote speaker. For us, it made sense. In fact, we probably should have canned the keynote years ago. Have you considered the real value a keynote brings to your convention attendees?

Clearly there is more than one right answer to this question and you should look at your convention to determine if the keynote speaker brings value or not. Here are some of the considerations we discussed when we made the decision that a keynote speaker offered too little bang for the buck.
Cost and More Costs: We’ve always tried to keep the cost of attending our convention down, so our budget for keynotes is lower than many conventions. We could never think about affording a really BIG name keynote and we had to settle for mid-level keynotes. Even a mid-level keynotes will command between $15,000 and $25,000. The really big-time keynotes can run you $50,000 or more.

We simply decided that our mid-level keynote speakers were too costly compared to the value members received. Virtually no one was making the decision to “attend or not” based on who our keynote was going to be.

Program and Space Disruption: Keynotes are also disruptive to the overall convention schedule. All other programs are typically put on hold so EVERYONE can attend the keynote. Scheduling around a keynote disrupts the entire schedule and not having one allows you to pack in more valuable education classes.

Why Do They Attend? People attend our convention to fulfill their requirement for continuing education. If your attendees are attending for motivational encouragement or general inspiration, then a keynote may still be a good idea.
Personally, I love attending the keynote presentation and never would have considered canning it for our convention if someone else had not asked the question. After I thought about it, it made perfect sense for us. Does it make sense to you?

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3 Comments

  1. I absolutely think associations should get rid of keynote speakers. To me, the thought that keynotes–who are almost always totally irrelevant and out of touch with what attendees are there for–are getting paid tens of thousands of dollars, while those presenting the actual content are not only not getting paid but paying their own way AND registration for the conference is very “emperor’s new clothes.” Especially in the association world, where keynotes often try to tailor their message to associations but fail miserably because they don’t understand how associations work–just makes it more ridiculous.

    I think that in this day and age of budget scrutiny and restrictions on travel, very few people/companies probably are willing to pay for employees to attend a conference for motivational encouragement or inspiration.

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the eye-opening post. I’m curious – was there any negative reaction, either anecdotal or in attendance? We do have conferences where people attend for encouragement and inspiration. Or perhaps that’s only what we think!

    Again, thanks for sharing that.

    Anthony Demangone, COO, NAFCU

    • Anthony,
      No negative reaction so far, but our conference is in December and the brochure just went out this week. We’ll see, but we are not expecting any significant outcry. Each conference is different and motivation is always needed. Some conferences will still benefit from the keynote, but it is always good to ask these tough questions.