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Guest Speaker Tips for Event Organizers

Updated on September 20, 2015
heidithorne profile image

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

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"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.

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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. Click here for tips on handling post-event consultation requests.
  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 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. Click here for "eat neat" tips for speakers and event organizers.
  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!

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne

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    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 2 years ago from USA

      Hi Heidi - Great list of questions for both presenters and event organizers to ask. I find myself asking a lot of these questions when my organization is asked to have a table at an event, put on a demonstration, or provide hands-on activities for an event. Thanks for sharing!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maybe some day I'll be famous and be called upon to give speeches about writing novels. We can always dream, right? Oddly, for a shy person, I have no problem giving speeches in front of large crowds. I'm not sure why that is.

      I hope you are staying warm and safe. Thanks for the tips.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, I'm surprised you haven't been doing some speaking on this already. (A new opportunity to consider?) With your teaching background, you know you have it in you. Staying warm, but had two speaking gigs for this week cancel. Most likely due to weather related issues and people not wanting to go out. Weather says we'll have a high of 10 tomorrow and 2 on Thursday. Yowsa! Thanks for stopping by!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi purl3agony! Yep, the list of questions can apply to a variety of live event activities. Glad you can relate. Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Great advice, Heidi! My teenage daughter recently attended a professional dinner where she and a couple of other high schoolers listened to a prominent speaker before awards were given out for a contest they had won. Most of the audience was middle aged men but there were a couple of high school kids and their parents. The speaker dropped 4 f-bombs and some other salty language during his speech. Knowing in advance that kids were in the audience might have helped him. An event organizer could have warned him. Voted up and more and shared. This is a good list for organizers on what to prepare. There are so many things that can potentially go wrong.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Interesting and detailed advice. Voted up.

      I dislike events in life wherein someone wants to do a real time experiment in front of a live audience. If I have any say so it's gonna be like this: If we didn't practice it we ain't gonna do it.

      Even Microsoft screws up some of it's live, public presentations so why look for trouble!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi FlourishAnyway! Oh dear! Um, yeah, tell the speaker who's in the audience. And, you're right, there are so many details that can go awry, that anything one can do to head 'em off beforehand is a step in the right direction. Thanks for your support, sharing and adding your story that's a perfect example. Happy Weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi poetryman6969! Oh yes, the real time experiment. Brings up another important point for organizers: Prepare your audience, too! So often overlooked. Yep, even the best (interesting you noted Microsoft, creator of PowerPoint) have things go south. I'm definitely not looking for added event drama in addition to whatever is going on on the stage. Thank you for adding that important element to the conversation! Happy Weekend!

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