When you need to bring in a speaker for your company or association event, you have two choices on the kind of presenter to hire: An expert who speaks or an expert speaker. While those two terms may seem similar, there’s actually a big difference.

An expert who speaks has real-life experience in relation to their topic. Because of this insider knowledge, they can confidently say, “I’ve done this and I’ll show you how to do it too.” In contrast, an expert speaker may have done research on their topic and may have a lot of book smarts, but they can’t offer a personal perspective. Even though the expert speaker is knowledgeable and perhaps eloquent, their main focus is “I’ve read about this.”

In most cases, hiring an expert who speaks is preferable to hiring an expert speaker because an expert who speaks will add power and focus to the event as they share their real-life experiences and compelling content. Additionally, because they’re so personally involved in their topic, they often stay-up-to-date on the current research, which means your attendees will get the best advice possible.

Since hiring the wrong speaker can cripple your event, here are a few steps to take to ensure you make the best decision possible. 

Check the speaker’s background.

Look for industry experience in the speaker’s bio. What did they do (or what are they still doing) in their life aside from speaking? For example, corporate speaker Scott McKain runs several multi-million dollar companies outside of his speaking business. So when he gives advice on how to grow an organization, people know that he speaks from experience—not from a textbook. If specific experience isn’t apparent in the speaker’s bio, don’t be afraid to ask a candidate specific questions about how they came to be an expert in the areas on which they speak. A true expert loves to share why they know so much. In fact, you’ll have a hard time getting them to stop talking! 

Listen to the speaker’s stories.

Watch a few of the speaker’s video clips or preview the candidate in person. Listen for stories where they share examples of things they were involved in, rather than only re-telling other’s stories. Experts who speak will include other’s research and experience in their material, but they will have a lot more of “my research shows…” and “When I did this…” Additionally, find out if the speaker has a compelling personal story. Many experts have a signature story or experience they share that has been polished to perfection and can help carry the message. This is not required to be an expert who speaks, but it’s a bonus. 

Make sure the speaker goes beyond the “canned” presentation.

An expert who speaks goes beyond what he or she thinks is relevant and focuses on what your audience deems relevant. So not only will the speaker get to know your attendees, but he or she will also tailor the presentation to your group’s needs. Unfortunately, many expert speakers don’t focus on the message the audience needs to hear. Rather, they give the same presentation to every group, regardless of the group’s dynamics or special circumstances. An expert who speaks may have some stock material, but he or she frames that material in a way that resonates with a particular audience. 

Know what you really need.

What kind of expertise are you looking for? Realize that the expertise you want from your speaker isn’t always technical or industry specific. For example, if you’re trying to get a group of banking professionals through a time of tough change, it may be better to bring in a change expert rather than a banking expert. Expertise in “change” can come from a variety of scenarios. Chad Hymas is a speaker who survived a horrific accident that left him a quadriplegic (talk about a major life change!). As a result, he has powerful insights on how to handle disruptive change and turn it into a positive. Often, you’ll find that the speaker’s personal life story can do as much to inspire your audience toward the goals of the meeting as the specific “how-to” oriented words they offer. 

Don’t forget the “speak” part.

Getting the world’s foremost expert in a particular topic could be a huge mistake if the speaker can’t deliver their knowledge in a way that engages your audience. Of course we’d all love to find the leading expert in the field who also happens to have incredible platform skills. But that’s a rare find. If you have to give something up, it’s usually safer to err in favor of speaking skills and give up some technical expertise. An engaging speaker with a little less technical knowledge is a better choice than someone with the deepest technical knowledge and a sleep-inducing delivery. 

Your Expert is Waiting

Experts come in all flavors: Some speak, some are authors, some are CEOs or entrepreneurs, some have navigated a major life or business challenge, etc. However, just because someone calls him or herself an expert doesn’t mean that person is one. The title of “expert” is never self-proclaimed. Rather, it’s a descriptor bestowed on a person from outsiders. So always ask around and find out what others are really saying about a particular speaker you’re considering.

The expert who speaks that you want to hire will have good presentation and communication skills, provide compelling content, and share real-life experiences. When you make a conscious decision to hire an expert who speaks rather than an expert speaker, you’ll be bringing in someone who can engage your audience and carry the message with enough force to allow for real improvement in your attendees’ lives.

Joe Heaps and Dave Reed own eSpeakers.com, a 14-year-old technology and marketing company providing the speaking industry with the tools to do business online. Their newest product, eSpeakers Marketplace, launches summer 2013 and will be the largest directory of professional presenters available online. With real-time availability, verified reviews, online contracts and digital payment, putting the right speaker in front of your audience will be easy and safe. For more information, 888-377-3214, or visit marketplace.espeakers.com.