You’ve just been elected Chair of the Organising Committee and you are indeed honoured.
However, before your behind can connect with the Chair, you’re saddle with your first event to organize! chewpse! But boy, you’re gonna show them!
So you chose a “hot and popping” guest speaker who is not well known but one that you know can rip the room apart.
Then you work really hard with the organisers to make sure they get all the arrangements right. Nothing but the the best floral arrangements will do and the colour of the tablecloths have to be just right. And that's just for starters...
But …hold on, have you given any thought about how to get the best out of your guest speaker? After all, she can make or break your event and reputation.
Excuse me? Yes! You heard me correctly.
You see, very often, the guest speaker is not closely associated with the organizers or the event. But he or she is usually expected to enhance the event by sharing their unique perspective on a topic, which is important to the organisation or the occasion.
Because of this, your guest speaker will certainly be working hard to deliver a world class speech.
And that's not all.
They will invest some serious brain matter in deciding on the “perfect” outfit. And depending on the gender of the speaker, the process could include getting hair and nails done, thirteen revisions of the speech and washing the car.
All to make you look good.
So given the above, you Chairperson, have an unwritten and often unrecognised responsibility to ensure that your guest speaker is comfortable and in the frame of mind to deliver the best speech ever. Oh Yes!
The big question is "How will you do that?"
Fear not...you are in luck.
I will use my experience as a many-times Guest Speaker and an even-more-times Event Organiser, to transform you into The Committee Chair that no Guest Speaker can refuse.
If you're ready, I will share with you, 8 surprisingly simple things that you can do to make your Guest Speakers very comfortable and willing to accept your invitations to speak every time.
1. Provide phone contact details from the outset
When organisers first call to invite persons to speak, they tend to focus on the specifics of the occasion and the requirements of the speech. But very often, the person who makes the initial contact is not the person whom the guest speaker should call if she needs any further information.
For example, you might invite the Speaker by the organisation's email, which you don't check very often. Once you've completed you part, you then forward it to the Secretary for follow up, and you're back to not checking your mail until the next maybe 5 days.
Meanwhile the poor Speaker is emailing for additional information and getting no response. to make matters worse, there's no phone contact in the email.
If you make providing the Speaker with details of the person they should call if they need anything, this goes along way in reducing their anxiety.
2. Let the Guest Speaker know why you chose them
No…I don’t wan’t you to say “Richard Branson was soooo unavailable so we had to make do with you!”
What I had in mind was “We wanted a unique perspective on the right side from which to mount a horse and the Stable Boy recommended you as a great rider who would make a and an even better guest speaker!”
In this way, the speaker is in a position to prepare an awesome speech that connects the topic to the occasion, hooks it on to the reason you invited him and really bring it home on the needs of the audience.
This takes his performance through the roof and cements your reputation as the consummate organizer of high-class occasions.
3. Prepare a packet of information about your organisation for the guest speaker
This should be a no-brainer and should not even be worth the discussion.
But many times this packet does not exist, especially if the organisation is fairly young. And if as a guest speaker you dare to ask for it, you could run the risk of experiencing how a promise is a comfort for a fool.
Here's what's even worse.
Sometimes you glibly refer the Speaker to your website, not realising yourself there's nothing there or worse, the site is offline.
On the other hand, here's an example of a "Speakers's Page" complete with a one-page downloadable pdf. This makes it very easy for the organisers to acquire some relevant info on the speaker.
4. Tell the guest speaker who else will be speaking on the programme
You think this is not important?
Ask any speaker who's had to speak after a government minister seeking re-election and a minister of religion seeking to impress God!
Even when speakers ask, organisers are often reluctant to share this information, behaving as though we're asking for the combination to a bank safe.
Knowing who else will be speaking on the programme and having some indication of what areas they are covering allow guests speakers to deliver a speech that’s fresh and relevant. It also allows them to be flexible when the above-mentioned two ministers deliver marathon presentations to a “captured” audience.
So please share this information, especially when we ask. It builds our confidence even before we speak.
5. Keep corsages and boutonnières small
Could you, PLEASE?
Speakers hate it when you pin vases of flowers (or so it seems to me!) on them. It’s even worse for women when they are not securely fastened.
I don't mean to be ridiculous. But more than once, I've been "pinned" in such a way that the corsage kept falling forward and taking my neckline with it. I leave the rest to your imagination.
Look, we really understand and deeply appreciate your intention, but trying to deliver an unforgettable presentation with these flowers precariously perched on our chests is an award-winning feat in itself.
Here’s my very workable solution.
I usually ask for a boutonnière - which immediately raises eyebrows and questions about my secret desire to be a man.
You really think so?
6. Learn how to introduce a guest speaker properly
I can't stress the importance of this enough.
Calling the speaker’s name and reciting a list of accomplishments is not enough. Mentioning that she likes to sleep naked facing the east might be too much. And it actually makes speakers nervous when you introduce them in such glowing terms that they feel they cannot fulfil the audience’s expectations.
Moreover, this is not the time to share personal stories if the "introducer" knows the speaker. So what should you do?
Recognize that the introduction is a public speaking occasion in itself that answers questions such as:
- Why this speaker?
2. Why this audience?
3. Why this topic?
4. Why this time?
So learn how to do it properly. Please.
When you introduce the Guest Speaker in a competent and efficient manner, you make the right connection between your speaker and your audience.
7. Remain on the platform after you introduce the guest speaker
You see it all the time.
A speaker is introduced, there is welcoming applause and the introducer walks away leaving him to walk on to an empty platform.
Not only are you demonstrating your lack of platform etiquette, you are also failing to extend a final pre-speech warm and reassuring gesture to the guest speaker.
Remaining on the platform and offering a handshake or hug to the speaker sends the message that you wish them well and goes a long way to reducing nervousness.
8. Learn how to thank them properly
I hate to have to tell you.
But the Vote of Thanks is the speech that if not done correctly, has the capacity to create the most ill will between you and the Guest Speaker.
Calling the speaker’s name and saying “thank you” in the vote of thanks just won't cut it. Thanking her parents for having given birth to her and her husband for giving her permission to deliver the speech is too much.
So what is a good way to do it?
Recognize that the Vote of Thanks is a public speaking occasion in itself. A good approach is to ensure that the person giving the vote of thanks listens to the speech and mentions something significant that the speaker said.
Here is an excellent example of how to deliver a vote of thanks.
And one last thing, do keep your gifts appropriate to the speaker and the occasion...
Wrapping it all up…
There you have them! 8 surprising ways to get the best out of your guest speaker!
Now, you no longer have an excuse for not treating your Guest Speakers well and with respect.
As Chairperson of the Organising Committee you want to build a reputation that guarantees you have speakers lined-up waiting to speak at your events.
Since word gets around, let the word going around be that you know how to treat guest speakers.
Now here’s a quick summary of the things you can do to make speakers want to speak at your events.
- Make a point of providing contact details
- Let the guest speaker know why you chose them
- Prepare a packet of info about your organisation for the guest speaker
- Tell the guest speaker who else is speaking on the programme
- Keep corsages and boutonnières small
- Learn how to introduce a guest speaker properly
- Remain on the platform after you introduce the guest speaker
- Learn how to thank them properly
Take a good look at these suggestions. Not one of them is difficult. None requires you to take a course or learn anything complex.
You can implement them to next time you're in charge of the Guest Speaker for your organisation. Or tell me why you can't...
To your organising success…