How to Pick Great Speakers

Who better to tell our Student Ambassadors how to pick great speakers than Matt Harvey of Stanford Technology Ventures Program. As Content and Communications Director at Stanford, Matt is responsible for finding some of the great speakers who come talk to Stanford engineers within the Entrepreneurial Lecture Series class. Most of these talks are made available by podcast or video at Stanford’s ECorner. Here are some pointers for students holding events and workshops designed to inspire other students to pursue technology entrepreneurship:

  • Favor honest dialogue for flashy events. High profile speakers that fill a room are great, but smaller name companies can ‘keep it real’ and give an even better experience. Don’t be afraid to keep the event intimate. An event that’s too large might deter the speaker from giving the inside story.
  • Be wary of self-promoters. You don’t necessarily want people who have just written a book or are there to promote a certain agenda.
  • Be careful of leaders delegating to another person in the company, who will give an infomercial to recruit. Let the marketing person know that an infomercial will backfire.
  • Capturing the content just as important as the live event; great promotional tool.
  • Raffle away three exclusive spots to dinner with the speaker, rather than give away free food (which will attract people who want to eat).
  • Reach out to your Development Office to provide alum prospects a more meaningful way to engage with campus.
  • Be sure to ‘network up the chain’ by showing that speaker a great experience… give them a tour, show them what’s up and coming, intro them to key people. After they leave, you can contact them for people they know who can also come speak.
  • Contact smaller start-ups before their fame. Especially before they get involved in acquisition activity where they can’t speak about things freely.
  • Contact serial entrepreneurs who can speak of their past successes/failures more honestly than if they’re living it.
  • Contact smaller, newly acquired subsidiaries and you’ll find yourself referred up the chain in a big GE-like company.
  • Look for large companies practicing ‘intrapraneurship’.
  • Be flexible in the format: long talk, panel, interview, storyteller v slides… ask speaker what they are most comfortable with.
  • Frame expectations about the talk in advance. What is the most appropriate topic given the audience [of student engineers].
  • Regarding vetting speakers, be sure to find multiple data points who can attest to the quality of that speaker. You can also find video or audio of a person, or people who have heard their talks firsthand.
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