When it comes to planning successful events, event organizers often face the dilemma of choosing the right keynote speaker to engage attendees. Many assume that celebrity speakers are the key to drawing a crowd and capturing attention. However, recent research conducted by Freeman, a global event company, that was highlighted in PCMA’s article “Should You Break the Bank to Hire a Celebrity Speaker?”, challenges this notion. In their survey, Freeman discovered that only 1 percent of event attendees preferred celebrity speakers, while a staggering 37 percent expressed their desire to hear from industry leaders and experts.

These findings shed light on the disconnect between attendee preferences and the prevailing trend of relying on celebrity presence. In this article, we will explore PCMA’s takeaways and insights from Freeman’s survey, examine the importance of context in speaker selection, consider the need for greater transparency in event scheduling, and delve into the reasons why attendees are increasingly craving innovation, new ways of thinking, and unique stories.


Shifting Attendee Preferences

Freeman’s survey unveiled a significant shift in attendee preferences for keynote speakers. While celebrity speakers may have once held greater allure, the majority of attendees now seek valuable and relevant content from industry leaders and experts. The survey found that innovation and new ways of thinking were the most sought-after topics, followed by inspiration and motivational talks, as well as unique stories of interest. This indicates a growing demand for speakers who can provide insights, expertise, and actionable takeaways that resonate with the attendees’ professional lives.


The Importance of Context

Ken Holsinger, Freeman’s senior vice president for strategy, emphasizes the importance of context when considering celebrity speakers. While celebrities may be popular and entertaining, their relevance to the industry or the event’s theme should be carefully assessed. Holsinger raises a critical question: “Does that celebrity actually have context for me in my industry? Or are they just somebody that’s cool that we’d love to watch?” This highlights the need for event organizers to prioritize speakers who can deliver content that directly addresses attendees’ professional needs and challenges. By focusing on industry expertise and leadership, organizers can ensure that the content is tailored to the audience’s expectations, maximizing engagement and knowledge sharing.


Transparency in Event Scheduling

Another noteworthy finding from the survey relates to the duration of keynote sessions. Freeman’s research reveals a mismatch between the typical 90-minute keynote session and attendee preferences. Less than 2 percent of respondents favored sessions of that length. This raises the question of whether organizers should reconsider the duration of keynotes to align better with attendee preferences. While shifting all sessions to be shorter may not be necessary, event planners should strive for greater transparency in their scheduling approach. Holsinger suggests adopting a “micro-scheduling” approach where attendees are informed about the specific content and timing of keynotes, just as they are for breakout sessions. This transparency would empower attendees to make informed decisions about their time and ensure that keynotes are valuable and engaging rather than perceived as attempts to hold audiences captive.


5 Reasons People Crave Innovation, New Ways of Thinking, and Unique Stories over Celebrities

Relevance and Practicality

In today’s rapidly changing world, attendees are seeking knowledge and insights that directly relate to their professional lives. Innovation and new ways of thinking offer practical strategies and solutions that can be implemented in their industries or organizations. Unlike celebrity speakers, who may provide entertainment value, industry leaders and experts offer tangible value that attendees can apply to their work, making it a more appealing choice.


Authenticity and Expertise

Industry leaders and experts possess in-depth knowledge and experience in their respective fields. Attendees crave authentic voices that can provide genuine insights and expertise. By hearing from these individuals, attendees gain a deeper understanding of the challenges, trends, and opportunities in their industries. This authenticity creates a more meaningful connection and fosters trust, ultimately leading to a more engaging and valuable experience.


Inspiration and Motivation

While celebrities may offer entertainment value, industry leaders and experts can provide genuine inspiration and motivation. Hearing success stories and personal journeys from professionals who have overcome obstacles and achieved great things can be highly motivating for attendees. These stories serve as real-life examples of what can be accomplished and provide the necessary inspiration to pursue their own goals and aspirations.


Practical Takeaways and Applicable Insights

Attendees are looking for practical takeaways and applicable insights that can drive their professional growth. Innovation and new ways of thinking often introduce fresh perspectives and strategies that can be immediately implemented. Whether it’s discovering innovative approaches to problem-solving or learning about emerging trends, these insights empower attendees to stay ahead in their industries and make a real impact in their work.


Intellectual Stimulation and Thought Leadership

Industry leaders and experts are at the forefront of their fields, driving innovation and shaping the future. By listening to their ideas and perspectives, attendees gain access to cutting-edge insights and thought leadership. This intellectual stimulation fosters a culture of continuous learning and encourages attendees to expand their knowledge horizons. The pursuit of unique stories and new ways of thinking allows attendees to challenge their existing beliefs, explore alternative perspectives, and embrace a growth mindset.


Embracing the Shift: Industry Leaders and Authentic Stories Take Center Stage

As event organizers adapt to the evolving landscape of attendee preferences, it becomes evident that the traditional allure of celebrity speakers is waning. Attendees now yearn for innovation, new ways of thinking, and unique stories that resonate with their professional lives. The Freeman survey highlights the growing demand for industry leaders and experts who can provide relevant, practical, and actionable insights. By embracing this shift, event organizers can curate engaging and impactful experiences that captivate audiences and leave a lasting impression.