Speaker & Debate Resource Guide
Speakers and debates are some of the most common events put on by students. They attract attention, both in terms of audience and publicity, and they serve as a direct forum for ideas. Secular Student Alliance already has a great collection of materials for you to use when planning these events. The vast majority of these will be useful for both speakers and debates.
The most popular service that we provide, the speaker's bureau is a list of freethought personalities (scientists, authors, activists, and others) who have agreed to speak to SSA affiliates for free. To request a speaker, visit our Bureau page and use the Speaker Request form; you should also send an email to our campus organizer to go over preparations for your event. In order to make sure you can get a speaker, and to get things rolling smoothly, contact the SSA as soon as possible, at least a month or more ahead of time!
While some speakers will come for free, their travel and lodging still needs to be paid. SSA can provide up to $400 to cover these costs if you fill out a Speakers Bureau Funding Request; however, our budget is limited, so apply as soon as possible! At the very least, we need one month's advance notice to grant a request. If you're not sure about some details, contact us anyway - we can help you sort through planning difficulties.
To make sure you have everything in place for your event, SSA has created a Speaker Event Planning Checklist. This includes a detailed list of what you need for the event, as well as information on when you need to have things ready and on what resources you can utilize. The information therein will help you plan the event from start to finish, and will ensure that you don't forget anything.
There are a number of very good reasons to record your speaking event. A record of the event proves that it happened, and serves to promote your organization to media and potential members. It will be an important part of your group's library, as well as a reminder of the great things your work with the group has done. However, you'll need your speaker's permission to make such a recording. In order to cover your legal bases, the SSA has a sample waiver that can easily be filled in for your event.
Sample Debate Format
Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation has debated wide variety of religious apologists over the years, and has created a sample debate format that will ensure a lively, entertaining event. The document also includes a detailed description of how each segment should run; how to moderate and host a debate; how to keep the audience civil yet involved; and how to manage miscellaneous other details of the event.
Do you want to alert local and campus media to your event? If so, you'll need to know how to write press releases and media advisories, as well as how to handle interviews and craft talking points. Information on these and other media relations are available here.
If you're bringing a popular speaker, or one who's just written a book, you may want to capitalize on this by holding a merchandise sale at your event. More information is available in the Merchandise Sale activity packet.
You'll want to have a table at your event to promote your group, inform the public about other events you're putting on, and let people sign up for your mailing list. A number of good ideas for tabling are included in the Awareness Tabling packet. Talk to your speaker(s) about bringing literature for them or their organization.
If your event is restricted to ticket holders, or if you just want to get a handle on the number of attendees, you may want to have them register beforehand. Wufoo.com will let you set up a registration form online, as well as a survey form to send out after the event.
Local groups may be helpful to get attendees, secure funding, and attract a prominent speaker. For tips and approaches to working with off-campus groups, see our online guide.
Working with Religious Groups
A really entertaining debate requires speakers with diametrically opposite points of view. Alternatively, you may want someone who bridges divides, who has some understanding of both atheist and theist ideas and communities. Either way, working with religious groups can help to get a particular speaker, promote an event, secure funding and boost attendance. See the Collaborating With Religious Groups activity packet for a practical guide.
Venue, A/V Systems & Security
As a student group, you have a great advantage in being able to reserve space on campus, often for a low or no cost. Your conferences & events department can help you reserve a room and make arrangements. Some of them also offer a periodic tutorial in how to use their services, which will give you a leg up on planning for these and other events.
If your speaker is especially prominent, or attendance will be particularly high, talk to your public safety department about security. This may incur an extra fee, but in some cases is required by the university.
Many of the people listed on our Speaker's Bureau go to several campuses a year. If your group is hosting one of them, one place to look for advertising ideas is our Flyer Exchange, which collects flyers from a variety of student events all over the country. After your event, please submit your flyer design for inclusion in the exchange!