Less is More: Why considering fewer speakers yields better results

By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster, No More Boring Meetings

In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz shows us why having more choices leads to poorer decisions. Sound counter-intuitive?

Advising hundreds of individuals and groups on external speaker selections, I see organizations often held captive by this paradox.

There’s a common, yet false belief that the more experts considered for a speaker slot, the better the final speaker choice, and the better the audience experience. What happens instead: mired decision making, analysis paralysis, loads of frustration and a great deal of wasted time.

To save you effort and aspirin, as well as boost morale and group cohesiveness, here’s a simple, 6-step process for optimal committee-driven speaker selections:

1.       Move it to the end zone. Begin with the end in mind by identifying your top meeting goals in advance. (Seems obvious, and yet is extraordinarily rare!)

A question to ask of your committee from the very beginning, before even one speaker name is uttered: what do we want our audience to think, feel, do and/or believe after the speaker’s session is over?

This one key question alone will elevate your discussion, add discipline to your speaker selection process, and focus everyone’s thinking on the most important outcomes. For example, if you want the audience to be re-energized following a very challenging market cycle, you eliminate any speaker whose message doesn’t deliver on this point.

2.       Dive deeper. Then, list your top 5-6 criteria for your best-fit expert. Name recognition that drives registration via the speaker’s cache? Experience in your industry?  Willingness to help market the program? Fee? Published author? Compare every speaker recommendation to each of these criteria.  Those who don’t fit are out of the running. Maybe harsh, yet endlessly helpful.

3.       Tap an expert on experts. If your schedule is wide open, conduct all speaker research yourself. For those without this luxury and skill set, tap an expert of experts, a speakers bureau .

Speakers’ bureaus are objective, aggregated sources of top speakers and experts that fast-track your process and handle research, contracting and logistics.  Furthermore, you rarely pay an added fee to book via a bureau—the speakers themselves pay bureaus a commission for generating the booking.

Agencies also have a deep bench—a network of the best speakers for nearly any topic. An internet search for “Customer Service Speaker” yields over 11 million hits. Where would you even begin to hone this list? After all, maybe three truly align with you goals.

If, instead, you start talking directly to speakers, nearly all will say they fit your criteria. Few actually do. Bring the bureau your key goals, and let them do the rest. And then….

4.       Discover how less is more—the seeming paradox. You’ll now have just 3-5 (not an overwhelming list of 30-50!) of the very best speaker choices, all of whom fit your top parameters.  Remember: you needn’t consider every speaker who could possibly fit for you to know you’ve chosen a very best alternative. Using the above process, you can trust that any one of this small group will fully deliver.

5.       Stage a vote, and majority rules. You may be obliged to use consensus-based decision making. But if your group is stymied or tied, or in the 11th hour tries to broaden the number of speaker options, designate a leader who will make a final, informed, thoughtful choice.  You’ll avoid getting bogged down again in more indecision.

6.       Bask in your success.

Having your committee use this strategic selection process, it’ll be no paradox that your event hits the mark on all your most important goals!

Andrea Driessen is Chief Boredom Buster at Seattle-based No More Boring Meetings, the meeting-engagement company. You can reach her at and via 206-783-6338.