You’ve just been elected Chair of the Events Planning Committee of your Old Scholars Association and you are indeed honoured.
However, before you can catch your breath, you’re saddle with your first event to organize! Chewpse! But you’re gonna show them!
So you choose a “hot and popping” guest speaker who is not well known to your association, but you know she can wow an audience.
Furthermore, she has lots of experience and success in writing projects and getting funding for NGOs. And this is exactly what your association needs to hear about.
Now that she has accepted the invitation, you will work really hard with your team to make sure every detail is just right.
You know from experience, nothing but the the best floral arrangements will do and the colour of the tablecloths has to be just right. And…
But hold on…aren’t you forgetting something or rather…someone?
Does you planning include supporting your guest speaker to deliver the best speech of her career?
Why you need to support your Guest Speaker
You see, very often, the guest speaker is not closely associated with the organizers or the event.
But we usually expect them 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 really 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, 13 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 able to deliver the best speech ever.
The big question is “How will you do that?”
To help you, here are 8 surprisingly simple ways you can make your guest speakers very comfortable and willing to accept your invitations to speak, every time.
1. Let the Guest Speaker know why you chose them
No…I don’t want you to say “Richard Branson was soooo unavailable so we had to make do with you!”
What I had in mind was “We want 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 give an excellent speech on that topic!”
With this knowledge, the speaker is inclined to want to give a top class presentation. In other words, they are encouraged to try even harder to more accurately connect their topic to the occasion, and the needs of the audience.
Furthermore, even though it’s not at immediately obvious, you benefit from this as well.
For example, when you support them in this way, they think of you as the consummate organiser of classy events.
2. Provide relevant information about your organisation and the event
This should be a no-brainer and should not even be worth the discussion.
But in many cases, this info does not exist, especially if the organisation is fairly young. And if as a guest speaker you dare to ask for it, you only receive promises instead.
Here’s what’s even worse.
Sometimes you glibly refer the speaker to “the website”, not realising yourself there’s not much there or worse, the site is offline.
Reminder: you should provide the info about the event as early in the process as possible.
3. Help the Guest Speaker to write a meaningful bio
I bet you’re wondering how is this your responsibility.
Let me explain.
Many speakers are invited to speak because of their specific knowledge and not for their knowledge of public speaking.
As you can imagine, they will often give you bios which do not accurately reflect their skills and experience or worse, include everything about their life.
To really support them, and help yourself in the process, you can develop a little template with the info you think you need. This way you can rinse and repeat it many times. Look again at the one in the graphic at the beginning of this section.
Sometimes you get lucky and your speaker has a “Speakers’ Page” complete with a one-page downloadable pdf. If your speaker has such a page, support them by getting the info you need from this source.
4. Tell the guest speaker who else will be speaking on the programme
You think this is not important?
Then ask any speaker who’s had to speak after a government minister seeking re-election or 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 their office safe.
Here’s why that’s important.
When they know who else will be speaking on the program and something about what areas they are covering, guests speakers can 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 you see, sharing this information, especially when they ask, is a great way to support guest speakers and help them to build confidence, even before they speak.
5. Keep corsages and boutonnières small
Could you, PLEASE?
Listen! speakers hate it when you pin vases of flowers (or so it seems to me!) on us. It’s even worse for women when they are not securely attached to our clothes.
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.
Happily, I finally solve that problem for myself. Now, I request a boutonnière instead. It’s easier for me to deal with the raised eyebrows and facetious questions about my secret desire to be a man.
6. Introduce your Guest Speaker effectively
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.
The ideal approach is to follow the info collected in your bio template, while answering the following questions:
1. Why this speaker?
2. Why this audience?
3. Why this topic?
4. Why at this time?
One of my popular blog posts is How to Introduce a Speaker. In this post I lay out the “no-fail” steps to doing an awesome introduction, complete with examples. Do your Guest Speakers a favor and check it out.
When you introduce guests of honor in a competent and efficient manner, you smoothly connect your speaker with your audience.
This makes your speakers feel less anxious and shows you really have their best interests at heart.
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 friendly handshake to the speaker sends the message that you wish them well.
Simple as it seems, it also goes a long way to reducing their nervousness.
8. Thank Guest Speakers correctly
I hate to have to tell you, but very often, even if 1 – 7 above is done well, it goes all wrong when it comes to the “thank you” stage.
The first way you blow it is with the gifts.
We accept that Guest Speakers are not always paid and in recognition of their contribution, they are given a gift instead.
The problem is, very often, not much thought is given to the speaker in choosing the gift. If your organisation cannot afford an inexpensive, thoughtful gift, it is better not to give one at all.
But a scroll with the club’s motto or a badge with a photo of the organisation’s founder? Really?
The second way you blow it is with the vote of thanks.
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.
I’ve attended functions where I felt like hiding under the table in embarrassment during the vote of thanks.
From critiquing the speech to telling inappropriate jokes about the speaker to mispronouncing their names, I’ve heard it all. And sometimes in the same speech.
A great vote of thank is an effective and touching way to support Guest Speakers. After all, they put so much into the presentations they deliver to your audience, it demands nothing less.
So to help you nail it, here is an excellent example of how to deliver a vote of thanks.
Wrapping it all up…
There you have them! 8 surprising, simple ways to support your guest speakers and get the best out of them.
Now, you no longer have any 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 support guest speakers.
Now here’s a quick summary of the things you can do to make speakers want to speak at your events.
- Let the guest speaker know why you chose them
- Provide relevant info about your organisation and the event
- Help the guest speaker to write a meaningful bio
- Tell the guest speaker who else is speaking on the programme
- Keep corsages and boutonnières small
- Introduce the guest speaker effectively
- Remain on the platform after you introduce the guest speaker
- Learn how to thank them correctly
Take a good look at these suggestions. Not one of them is difficult. None requires you to take a course or learn anything complex.
Surely, you can implement them next time you’re in charge of the guest speaker for your organisation. Or tell me why you can’t…
To your event organising success…