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Guest Speaker Tips for Event Organizers

Updated on February 15, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


"We'd love to have you as a guest speaker for our upcoming event," says a chipper email requesting my speaking services. Awesome! But after I reply and the event organizer confirms the most rudimentary of details such as date, place and time, then... nothing. What follows after that is often a game of 20 questions to figure out all the details.

I've been speaking for quite a while and have been in and around events and trade shows for a large part of my career. So all those crucial details are second nature to me. But I realize that many event organizers are new to the game of hiring speakers. Some may have just been elected to a post that dumps "education" or "events" on them. Others may have been doing this for a while, but may still struggle with this function. Either way, their unfamiliarity is obvious and can have a negative effect on the outcome of the event for everyone.

So for all those event organizers out there, here's a list of the things I, and every other speaker you hire, will want to know long before arrival and stepping onto the stage.

WiFi Woes

Stopped by my conference room about 7:30 a.m. to see if all the audio-visual, WiFi and other arrangements were ready to go for a session about YouTube. All good.

Arrived back at the conference room at 10:30 a.m. for the actual session. No WiFi! A-V techs were nowhere to be found. Ack! What was I going to do for a 45-minute conference? An attendee even volunteered his mobile hotspot. What a nightmare and an embarrassment for both myself and the conference!

After that disaster, I always use a non-WiFi version of the presentation. Then, if WiFi is working, we can use some live online examples.

Lesson for events: Don't skimp! Buy additional WiFi bandwidth when a presentation requires it! And always be prepared for it not to work.

20 Questions for Event Organizers When Hiring Guest Speakers

Remember I said it often feels like a game of 20 questions when I'm working with events? Let's put those questions to work!

Some questions seem so obvious as to be laughable to include in this list. But I can't tell you how many times I've had to confirm some very basic details.

Though this list is not exhaustive and could likely be longer for specific events, here are 20 common questions that event organizers should know the answers to when hiring guest speakers:

  1. Date(s)? Probably easiest question to answer.
  2. Time and Timing? This is a two-part question. The time the event begins may not be the time the speaker actually is speaking. For example, at a networking lunch, the event may officially begin with registration at 11:30 a.m. But then the speaker may not start speaking until 12:15 p.m. In addition to providing the agenda, advise the speaker how much time is allotted for both the actual presentation and for the Q&A (question & answer) period. Also advise speakers if they are expected to be present during any pre-presentation activities and when they are expected to arrive onsite.
  3. Number of Attendees? Why does it matter what size group? Shouldn't a speaker be able to speak to any group? Usually speakers are professionals that can adjust their presentation to accommodate any event. But there is a vast difference in a presentation for a group of 12 versus a group of 1,200. Speakers may require additional equipment (microphones, speakers, lighting, etc.) for larger audiences.
  4. Signed Contract or Speaking Agreement? As a speaker, I have a contract form ready for clients to sign that covers all event details and payment. It also includes cancellation policies. Some events wish to provide a contract for speakers. As a speaker, I am amenable to either party preparing the agreement, although some speakers may insist on providing the contract. Either way, there should be a written agreement to prevent any misunderstandings.
  5. Disclaimers? A speaking engagement is NOT a consulting engagement... although some event attendees try to make it such, especially during the Q&A and post-presentation "meet & greet." Speakers may include disclaimers about limited liability in their contracts and agreements. Some events already include this language in contracts and attendee event materials to protect themselves, too. Seek legal advice for proper handling of this issue.
  6. Payment Details? Even if the presentation is provided by the speaker for free, the gratis terms should be confirmed. If it is a paid presentation, confirm the presentation cost and when that will be paid. Speakers often request payment in hand prior to the presentation. If the event host or sponsor requires an invoice from the speaker, the speaker should be advised as soon as possible prior to the event. Don't play games with speakers by playing the "we needed an invoice" or "we thought it was net 30" card. Some speakers will refuse to go on stage unless payment is received in hand prior to or upon arrival.
  7. Expenses? Who will be responsible for expenses for handouts, audio-visual, transportation, parking, etc.? If the event will reimburse the speaker for expenses incurred, how and when will they be reimbursed?
  8. Travel, Hotel and Parking Arrangements? If the event is an out of town engagement for the speaker, confirm who will handle air, hotel and ground transportation arrangements and expenses. For local events, provide parking procedures and any necessary passes so that the speaker is not hassled or delayed upon arrival.
  9. Security? With tighter security in many locations, speakers need to be advised of procedures for access to the venue and event area. Snafus with access could cause delays and create a negative experience. Speakers, especially celebrities, also want to be safe and secure before, during and after their appearance. Have a discussion with the speaker or his/her agent about any security details.
  10. Presentation Slides and Materials? Organizations who are concerned about the content of speakers' presentations may request slides and handouts prior to the event. Some speakers may be reluctant to comply due to concerns about the organization cancelling, swiping their copyrighted materials or even pre-event posting of the slides online. If pre-event review will be requested, indicate how the review will be done and how materials will be protected from unauthorized use. Be aware that speakers may not wish to provide a copy of slides for attendees post-event either. Whether pre or post-event, confirm availability and sharing of presentation materials when booking.
  11. Audio-Visual Requirements? Who's providing the projector, screen and laptop/tablet? What type of connections are available to the projector? How will the audio-visual equipment be set up in the room? All of these can impact the quality of the presentation.
  12. WiFi Availability? If WiFi will be required, it better work! See sidebar for more on that.
  13. Electrical Connections? Though everything seems wireless these days, audio-visual equipment needs power... in the right places. Strings of extension cords are hazardous and need to be properly secured.
  14. Display Tables? Usually speakers want to have brochures, business cards, books and other promotional materials available to attendees. Find out if a table will be required and advise where it will be situated in the event area.
  15. Rules for Speaker Self Promotion? Some events do not want speakers to promote themselves... in any way. If any self-promotion will be disallowed, the speaker must be clearly advised.
  16. Photos, Video and Audio Recording? If speakers cannot get photos, video or audio of themselves presenting, it's like those events never happened and it can hurt a speaker's career to not have them. Some speakers may require these as part of their contract! If the event will not be offering them, speakers may expect the privilege of taking their own photos, video and audio during the event. An agreement for these arrangements should be done BEFORE the event.
  17. Social Media? Will the speaker be expected to promote the event on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? Clearly state expectations and provide a tracking link and Twitter or Instagram hashtag to follow how it's trending. Note that paid speakers should disclose that they are being compensated and sponsored.
  18. Meals and Drinks? Don't expect speakers to be chowing down or sharing drinks with attendees right before they go on stage. It's a mess and getting something in one's teeth can be very distracting. Tell speakers about food and beverage arrangements so they can adjust their eating and drinking accordingly.
  19. Post-Presentation Activities? Will the speaker be required to be on hand for a "meet & greet" afterwards? Or will she be able to leave as soon as she's finished? Some speakers may ask for additional fees for post-presentation activities. Again, setting expectations in advance can avoid disappointment, ill will and confusion.
  20. Surveys? If a survey about the speaker's presentation will be done, sharing those results with him or her is recommended to help make the next event even better for everyone!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


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