13 Ways To Look After Your Speakers

How to make speakers love your conferences, events and you!

You want a good, funny, competent, low maintenance speaker for your event? But is your event a good event for your speakers? And are you a good event organiser for speakers?

This list is not exhaustive but if you get these things right you will stand out already! This list of how to look after a speaker is based on my good, and bad experiences, and those of a number of friends, colleagues and clients.

I have spoken regularly at events for over 10 years — though not as frequently as some people I know! Some are chargeable workshops, some are keynote speeches. Some are paid gigs, some are for causes I care about, some are because I have an affection for the organisation behind the event and some are as a favour to a friend. Some are organised by professionals but some of the best organised events I have spoken at were organised by enthusiastic volunteers.

Some have been a pleasure to be a part of — some not so much.

Of course, I understand that some speakers are total divas — whatever you do. But if you follow these 13 pieces of advice, without being prompted, your diva ratio may fall.

1. Brief your speaker! The Audience.

This should at the very least include: age range, native language, education, voluntary or compulsory attendance, knowledge of the topic and whether they are paying for the event or is it a free event.

2. Brief your speaker! Your Goal and Purpose

Is it a fundraiser, a call to arms, a skills based taster or a proper workshop? What do you want to do — raise money, raise awareness, lure potential members, entertain, educate or train?

3. Brief your speaker! The Running Order

This usually gets juggled several times depending on speaker arrival and departure times. But let your speakers know as early as possible when they are speaking and who is speaking before and after them and what the other speakers are speaking about. Some of the best conferences I have spoken at are when speakers are ‘spatially aware’ of the other speakers.

4. Brief your speaker! Your Expectations

What do you want them to talk about? Once you have decided what you are trying to achieve — talk to the speaker about your brief and what you expect from them. Saying “Just do your thing” or “Be funny, they will need some variety after the morning session” is unhelpful! Talk about the specific outcomes you want to achieve through their talk.

Being clear and specific stops speakers rambling, gives them focus and often prompts them to put more effort into it — especially politicians who otherwise may unthinkingly give a speech they have given before which could do little, or nothing, to achieve your aims.

5. Promote Your Speaker as well as your event

It makes sense to promote your speakers well for your own benefit plus they will appreciate it. Ask the speaker to give you their preferred bio and mugshots and the link to their websites and Twitter accounts. Promote them strongly, individually — and early. Have them on your website or your Eventbrite page with live links to their websites. If they are speaking for you for free it’s a good way of showing your appreciation.

6. Be wary of Panels — they require work. And skilled chairing

You should at the very least explain who the other speakers and the Chairman are, give them each other’s contact details and outline what each panel member is there for. Discuss the rules of the game openly too.

If you are chairing a panel, you might want to read my colleague Denise Graveline’s book on moderating or chairing a panel. https://store.bookbaby.com/book/the-eloquent-womans-guide-to-moderating-panels

7. Be Clear about Details and Logistics

Be clear and direct early about hosting, flights, rail, mileage, accommodation, meals etc … and who is paying for what! And when.

This should be obvious. But…

If you have them scheduled to speak early in the day and it’s far away — get them a room for the night. Send a map and a mobile number (that someone will actually answer) in case things go wrong. Use WhatsApp if international. Offer them parking or pick them up from the train station or airport. Pay for their expenses — ideally in advance or on the day so they don’t have to send you an uncomfortable begging letter with receipts.

Obviously if it’s a paying gig with a professional speaker, this will be slightly different and expenses will probably accompany the invoice. But if you are asking them to do a series of talks with lots of flights, hotel bookings and associated costs — either pay them yourself or ignore your normal terms and conditions and pay the expenses early!

I had a 30 day, multi-country speaking assignment for a large global company with 7 international flights and the cost of the hotels, flights, taxies and meals were significant. They changed their payment terms for me so I received their expenses reimbursement before I had to pay the credit card.

8. Organise them some Downtime

Speaking is intense. It’s work. You probably also want your speakers to “mingle” before and after their event. That is work too. It is tough being “on” all the time.

Schedule in some downtime for your speakers. And make sure they know that this time is theirs! Speakers may well want to do their own thing, especially if they are in familiar surroundings, but show them that you care and want to make it a pleasant experience. Especially if they have never been to your country.

One of the most professional organisations I speak at is the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, based in Vilnius, Lithuania. Not only do they organise a full and very varied, professional programme for their conferences, their logistics and down time planning is perfect. At their conference in Lithuania, they organised me a 3 hour city tour of Vilnius with an English speaking guide, pre-paid taxis to and from the (very good) hotel and the airport and they went out of their way to make me feel like a valuable asset.

9. Schedule in Jet lag Recovery Time

If you expect someone to fly across a few time zones to come and speak at your event or conference have the decency to give them the option (and pay for it) of coming a day or two early so they can acclimatise to your time zone. They will appreciate it and perform better — plus it gives you a buffer if their plane is delayed. And it’s just a nice thing to do! When I coach at TEDMED I fly out a few days early so that my body clock can adjust.

10. Pay The Fees and the Travel Costs

“That much money for a 10/20/40 minute talk!?”

Yup. There is a fee. Because…

It’s work. They are working for you. How do YOU pay for your mortgage?

They probably took years to get to where they are and enable you to sell tickets based on their attendance.

It’s not just a 20 minute speech is it? It’s the time to prepare, rehearsals, the lost earnings, the travel time, the time you want them to stick around and talk to the delegates before and after the conference and and and…

A US based friend and colleague was regularly asked to speak in the UK. He did it for free at first because he agreed with the organisation’s aims and usually built a week long business trip around it. But the “client” started taking him for granted and he couldn’t always organise cost-justifying meetings around the event so he stopped doing it. Their loss. But it left a bad aftertaste.

The least you can do is to pay their ‘before and after’ accommodation, connecting transport, flights, food and drink and a decent thank you gift.

U.K. politicians are an exception as they will often speak for free because they may see it as part of their job. But even if you get a speaker who does work for you for free — get them something thoughtful as a thank you gift!

There are speakers who are willing to speak for free because they want the exposure or the experience. That’s fine and works for you both — but don’t take the p***!

11. Get good quality Photos and Video

Social media loves photos and videos. Speakers all have websites. Make sure you have an enthusiastic photographer, professional or keen amateur, for the event. Get them to cover ALL of the conference and take photos of all your speakers and send them an email or a link with the pictures.

Photographers are very happy to be guided in terms of “targets” and the names are in the programme with pictures so it shouldn’t be hard. @Andrew__Kennedy and Tim Montgomerie @montie are amongst those who have done this for me and it’s really appreciated.

The conference is over, you are exhausted and wallowing in the praise from your delegates. But your work isn’t finished.

12. Follow up 1: Write Hand Written Thank You Notes

A hand written note costs a few minutes and has a disproportional impact. I keep all the hand written “thank you notes” I have received. In fact, if you can’t be bothered to send your speakers a hand written note after the event don’t bother to invite them.

13. Follow up 2. Share the Feedback

Follow up by emailing your speakers with any positive feedback that you received about them.

Remember — your speakers are the “talent” for your event. If you look after them they will be happy to return. It’s good for you and your organisation’s reputation …plus it’s nice to be nice!