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When You Invite a Visiting Speaker…

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Since most people who invite speakers (and the same goes for musicians, I daresay) are not themselves professional speakers, and especially in the volunteer-dominated world of Christian organizations, basic courtesies, conveniences, and even crucial information can be withheld from visiting speakers through no one’s unkindness, but just lack of knowledge. So here’s some counsel.

When You Invite

Give all the information necessary for a speaker to make a decision in the initial ask. Don’t be coy with “Are you available on such-and-such a date?”

Instead, specify all of the following in the initial approach:

• who you are, and whom you represent (your organization);

• what the event is, and particularly its purpose (what “success” will look like for the event);

• who the expected audience will be;

• what date(s) and time(s) you’ll want this speaker to perform;

• what length and kind of talk you want (and what “success” will look like for each talk);

• whether there will be Q&A and how it will be conducted;

• whether there will be live-streaming or other live broadcasting, or whether and how it will be recorded, for whom, and whether profit will be made;

• what the schedule will be, who else is participating, and how this speaker’s work will fit into what else is going to happen;

• what media are available (e.g., microphone types, projection [and whether 4:3, 16:9, or otherwise], computers, cables [VGA, HDMI], WiFi, etc.);

• what costs you’re prepared to pay, and what quality (of airfare, ground transportation, accommodation, meals, etc.);

• how you’re prepared to pay for it (e.g., whether you’ll pay the air tickets, or expect the speaker to do so with reimbursement following); and

• what fee you’ll pay.

This information should be provided to everyone who gets invited to anything, including “pulpit supply” or Sunday school teaching.

Acknowledge fully in writing what you have agreed with the speaker when he or she replies. This will be important for the speaker to review when he or she is preparing, and it will be critical to have available if the person doing the inviting somehow has to drop out of the picture, as happens more often than one might think.

1-2 Weeks Before

With time to make adjustments as needed, do the following.

• Confirm all particulars with the speaker and with your colleagues: “Everything good to go?”

• Notify the speaker of any changes he or she can expect: higher/lower attendance than projected, different audience than expected, alteration in schedule or venue or tech, etc.

• Notify the speaker when and where he or she can expect to make first contact with you or your colleagues on site.

• Ask the speaker what he or she needs for pre-speaking prep: beverage, quiet room, etc.

• Finalize how the speaker will be introduced: (1) what the audience needs to know in order to quickly get this person into focus + (2) credentials—why this audience should attend to this person.

• Get the speaker to sign a release for broadcasting or recording, if you haven’t already.

• Exchange cell phone numbers in case communication must be made in transit.

• Have a cheque prepared so that the speaker can receive it immediately upon finishing his or her work.

At the Event

When the speaker arrives, do the following.

• Have someone meet the speaker at the assigned place and time of meeting. (Make sure the meeting person is available 15 minutes or more in advance, in case the speaker arrives early. Make sure the speaker and the meeting person have each other’s cell phone numbers.)

• Inform the speaker of the physical layout of the meeting place, including the speaking venue, the “green room”/place to prepare, washrooms, and food & drink options.

• Connect the speaker with the techs regarding audio and video, to perform sound checks, etc.

• Give the speaker a “run of show” so that the speaker is properly oriented and can work out with you any possible problems.

• Be sure plenty of water is available–room temperature is generally best (cold water chills vocal folds), but ask the speaker what he or she prefers–and have a glass available for public use (on stage), rather than mere bottles.

• Introduce the speaker to the emcee for any last-minute adjustments to the introduction.

After the Speaker Has Concluded

• Have someone meet the speaker and facilitate his or her transition from speaking to whatever is next: meeting, meal, departure, etc.

• Give the speaker his or her fee cheque and confirm how remaining expenses will be billed and reimbursed.

After the Event Is Over

• Follow up with report to speaker about how the event went, including how you and your colleagues saw the speaker’s performance in terms of the agreed objectives of the event.

• Request response from speaker about what went well, and didn’t.

• Ensure that expenses have been filed and reimbursed.

I could give a rationale for each of these bullet points, and almost certainly tell a story (one positive, one negative) about each one as well. But perhaps a word to the wise is sufficient. And if I have left off something here, please let me know and I’ll update this post:

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