So you say you want to book a celebrity speaker for your next event? Great idea. Celebrity speakers bring highly engaging presentations and real-life success stories to spice up any event.
We love helping our clients book big name speakers who reel in attendees, hook their attention, and sink in the message. But when booking a celebrity speaker, keep in mind that just as celebrity speakers come in all shapes and sizes, so do their contractual specifications and riders for fulfilling each speaking engagement. While some riders may seem oddly specific or even frivolous they do serve a purpose.
Take for example the infamous brown M&M rider in Van Halen’s contract which stated that there must be a bowl of M&M’s in the green room with all of the brown M&Ms removed. Rumors swirled about the reasoning behind the rider. People speculated over reasons why the band members might dislike the color or simply summed it up as a high-maintenance demand from a band consumed by their fame. It turns out that the rider was put in place by Van Halen’s stage manager. According to lead singer David Lee Roth, the shrewd business move was an indicator of whether the concert promoter had actually read the band’s complicated contract. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl on the catering table, then they knew the event organizers had not read the contract rider and that a serious review of the entire stage setup was needed.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of what to expect in the process of booking a celebrity speaker like Magic Johnson, Fredrik Eklund, or Steve Wozniak:
Start booking a celebrity speaker 6-8 months in advance. Sometimes 10 months to a year depending on the event and desired speaker. Keep in mind that most big name speakers are big name speakers because they are still actively working in their industries, so scheduling might take some negotiating. If the celeb is filming, typically their shows take precedence over speaking engagements, so it’s a good idea to have 3-4 event date options. Also, have 3 potential speakers in mind in case of scheduling conflicts.
Find out exactly how long they are willing to speak. Most seem to prefer about 30 minutes, and some will only do moderated conversations or fireside chats.
Flights are often booked only a few days before the event due to schedule changes. If the event is later in the day, most celeb speakers will try to fly in the day of. Also, many require a private plane, so make sure to find out who is responsible for booking the private plane and how payment will work. Will you as the client book and pay for the speakers flight? Or will the speaker’s office be responsible for booking and paying for travel arrangements? These are things that should be worked out early on.
Celebrity speakers require a 4-5 star hotel suite on the client contract. Some high-profile celebrity speakers prefer to stay at a separate hotel from where the event is taking place. And some may be traveling with an assistant who will require a room as well.
Some high-profile speakers will personally be on a pre-event call while others may be handled by the speaker’s manager; this will be written into the contract as well.
Event day timeline
The onsite timeline needs to be buttoned up. Celebrities do not usually like to have dead time between engagements, with exception to the 30 minutes in the green room before their presentation.
A car service to transport the speaker to and from the event could be a contractual requirement.
Often a big name speaker will require an on-site handler or professional security to escort them from the hotel to the venue. Also, the speaker will usually want to enter and exit from a back entrance to avoid crowds.
Additional event activities
Of course, with a high-profile speaker, event attendees will likely want photos or autographs. Or event coordinators might want additional activities like photo ops, VIP meet and greets, book signings, and video/ live streaming, but it’s important to discuss and finalize these details early on in the planning process.
Videos/ live streaming
Celebrity speakers usually request that the audience not videotape the keynote. Occasionally they may allow a livestream accessible only to business employees and VIP customers who could not attend the event. These live streams are password protected, one-time use, and non-recordable.
Attendees love a good Q&A after a keynote, but make sure you get this pre-approved with the speaker before event night. If there’s a Q&A, find out if the speaker requires a moderator and questions to be submitted ahead of time.
Autographs & Book Signing
Some celebrities will charge extra for signed items (footballs, hockey pucks, headshots, etc.). With books, sometimes they will sign them in person with attendees; other times they will pre-sign books before the event due to scheduling reasons.
Find out what is required for the green room. Does the speaker prefer certain drinks and snacks? These specifications will be outlined in the speaker’s rider. (Hint, if the rider specifies “No brown M&Ms” you can bet it’s a test!).
While there may be a few extra steps and details to work out when booking a big name or celebrity speaker, it is truly to benefit the event. Riders are in place so that the speaker can comfortably perform at their best, ensuring the success of their performance. The opportunity to meet a beloved public figure, and be able to sit down with them to hear their success story is often a once in a lifetime experience—one not to be missed because of a contractual conflict.