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Secret Agent

Here’s how to take the stress out of booking a headline act  

April 25, 2019

One of the most critical elements to an event is choosing the right keynote speaker or headline talent. Whether it’s an entertainer, industry expert or author, selecting the right talent is a ‘make or break’ process. Here are five things to consider to ensure a successful event.

Use an accredited and trusted advisor

Hire an agency with demonstrated experience in the events space, to do your talent buying for you. Working with a contact that artist agents know and trust gives you buying power, an opportunity to negotiate and an easier contracting process. A reputable agency can guide you in selecting the artist and they’ll know which artists are more successful at working corporate events.

Budget, Topic and Genre

Tick the boxes of these talent scouting essentials and you’ll hit the nail on the head. Have a budget in mind or at least, a range. Artist fees vary considerably and can be anywhere from $10,000.00 to upwards of $200,000.00 or more. It’s imperative that your agency or talent buyer knows your parameters to recommend the right talent for your needs.

Also, prepare speaking topics and/ or a musical genre. Communicate your group demographic or psychographic, and your topic, goals and objectives with your agency or talent buyer so they can identify the perfect talent for your event.

Are you looking for a motivational speaker? Are you interested in certain subject matter, or industry-specific topics like energy and renewables; a futurist/forecaster, or specialist in building high-performance teams? Would a rock band, country band or singer-songwriter be best for your audience? It’s crucial to contribute to the creative direction.

We learned that having a motivational speaker at the end of a conference boosts audience engagement. It’s common for them to open a conference, but consider one to close the event. Ending with a motivational talk leads to higher audience satisfaction after a long day or more of conference speakers.

contracts and rider

Until your contract is signed and you have paid your deposit, don’t consider your talent booked. Riders are negotiable, but only to a point. There are two types of riders; the production rider and the technical rider. They sometimes come as one document embedded in to the overall artist contract, but often they come as separate documents. The production rider will cover the artist’s ground, air, catering, hotel and personal needs. The technical rider will cover all of their technical requirements. Both riders and the elements within them can be negotiated.

A reputable agency will discuss what is important and negotiate on your behalf. Items that incur additional expenses include travel – often first class air for your talent and potentially their manager - per diems, meals, ground transfers, hotel suites and technical requirements. Your agency or talent buyer will negotiate these expenses and details on your behalf, but it is always best to anticipate them and budget up front.

Meet & greet

If executive meet and greets, photo signings or anything outside of the performance scope is required, they need to be written into the contract with details, timelines and numbers of people clearly defined in advance. Once an offer is accepted and contract signed it is very difficult to get things added or approved after the fact.


It’s common for headliners to request $5 million dollar insurance policies and to be listed as additionally insured. This is non-negotiable. Make sure you speak with your insurance agent or legal team to get the artist listed as additionally insured and give yourself at least two weeks turnaround time.

The main thing to bear in mind when booking an artist is the trust, reputation and knowledge an experienced buyer brings. Many agencies can look up an artist agent’s number online and contact them, or say that they can contract the speaker or artist on your behalf. But if they are unknown to the agent or artist, they may not be taken seriously.

Agents are highly protective of their celebrity speakers and headliners for obvious reasons, and putting their artist in the hands of someone they know and trust makes contracting a much easier and much more successful process.

Blog Author: Sarah Sheehan, US Manager, Event Strategy & Design, CWT Meetings & Events



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