After about 20-30 minutes we had generated a rather lengthy list of people: (1) known to be good speakers, (2) with a demonstrated body of quality work, and/or (3) possessing a strong professional reputation.
At that moment, another committee member asked a question that changed the entire conversation: But what are their big ideas?
Too often conferences focus on speakers and their identities first rather than thinking more about the needed content. We need a Gladwell-type who doesn't charge anywhere near that much. The conversation changes when you start by identifying the big ideas participants need to be exposed to and learn about and then asking who might be able to speak about those ideas.
We've become obsessed with session descriptions and learning outcomes (at the end of this session participants will be able to ...), so much so that we might have lost sight about one of the main reason people say they come to a meeting or conference; to get new ideas. For a time period tapes of speaker presentations on the Do Lectures conference website listed a Do Now (tactical idea) and Do Wow (longer-term big idea) for each of their speaker presentations. I loved that approach.
I've been speaking for more than 25 years, but I've never been asked on a workshop proposal form or in a session description to specifically state the big idea(s) I am going to talk about. Maybe your conference will be the first.
P.S. One of the big ideas I've been working on is a keynote (and follow-up breakout) addressing our seeming inability to say no and how we can't really mean yes if we never say no. The presentation addresses why we find it so difficult to say no, how saying yes all the time is causing us great stress, and ways to give ourselves permission to say no and how to do it in a helpful way. Let me know if that's a big idea you think your conference attendees would enjoy learning about. I'm current scheduling 2013 dates.