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15 Ways to Have a Happy Speaker


-written by Speakers Bureau member Ted Cox

Speaking events require a lot of work, hours of planning, and coordination between speakers, schools, student groups, and the Secular Student Alliance. To cut down on confusion and to help out groups that have never hosted speakers, the SSA asked me to write a piece on how to have a happy speaker. I'm calling it, "15 Ways to Have a Happy Speaker." Bam.

For this list I reached out to fellow SSA speakers bureau members Greta Christina, David Fitzgerald, and Hemant Mehta, who provided excellent input. Combined we've spoken at something like 4.3 million events (I'm rounding up). For the most part our experiences with SSA groups have been overwhelmingly positive. We admire you and your groups for all the work you do -- Seriously, you kick ass. But if your group wants to earn a gold star, here are tips to help your speaker events go smoothly.

1) Start planning early. Unless the speaker lives near your city, traveling takes a long time to plan, and some of us get speaker requests several months in advance. So hit us up early and include a either couple of different dates or a range of dates.

2) Get your speaker's requirements right away. Different speakers have different requirements based on their schedules, location, or the speech you want to hear. Ask what your speaker needs in terms of travel, accommodations, and for the speech venue. Ask if your speaker prefers to book their own travel and get reimbursed or if they want your club to cover those costs up front. Does your speaker need some downtime between events? Can we sell our stuff at your school?

3) Tell us what you're expecting. Which speech do you want to hear? How long should it be? How long should the Q&A go? How would you like us to promote the event?

4) Respond promptly to emails. Let us know you're reading the correspondence. Going weeks without a response from a group can be, um, frustrating.

5) Pick the right date. It's tough pulling in a good audience during midterms week. A weekend lecture may only draw a small crowd, especially if you attend a commuter school. Also make sure you're not scheduling at the same time as a popular campus sporting event.

6) Pick the right room. Sure, we speakers would love to address an auditorium packed with hundreds of bodies. But, realistically, it's hard to fill those big lecture halls where you used to doze off during biology classes. A smaller, packed room will have a way better vibe than a larger room with empty seats.

7) Book the room through your school. Don't assume a room you've used before will be available in the future. Ask your school if the room will need to be unlocked.

8) Check out the room weeks before the event. A half hour before the speech starts if the worst time to discover the room is locked, or the A/V system requires a password, or the microphone went missing. To avoid these problems, send a tech-savvy group member to the room to test out the projector, lights, and sound system. Make sure someone from campus facilities is on-call during the event, and keep that person's name and phone number in your phone.

9) Pay us. Please. When an honorarium is requested, pay it. We speakers would love to be financially stable enough  to travel the country and make a living solely off of book sales or blog ads. But for the most part, speaking means taking time off from our day jobs, paying for meals on the road, and other expenses that we wouldn't worry about if we were back at home browsing cat pics on Reddit. So, please, have the honorarium ready immediately following the conclusion of the event. Schools can take 6 to 8 weeks to process payments, so if you're using school funds for the honorarium, get on the payment process ASAP.

10) Help us get around. Travel arrangements include getting to and from the airport, to and from the speech, and to and from the place where we are staying. In most cases we have never been to your school or your city and generally have no idea where anything is. (Remember your first week on campus?) The common name of a campus building may not be the building name on Google Maps. At least a week before the event please provide the name and phone number of the person(s) who will be driving / meeting us on campus / showing us to the room.

11) Make sure the hotel is really paid for. Most hotels require that the credit card holder who booked the room is present at check-in. If that's not possible, the credit card holder may have to fill out a credit card authorization form in advance. If you're not sure what needs to be done for the speaker to check in, call the hotel and ask. They deal with that stuff all the time. (Also: Free Wi-Fi: Good. Bedbugs in the online reviews: Bad.)

12) Be social. Life on the road gets lonely. We love the chance to hang out with you after the event and continue our discussion of global atheist domination. If your group wants to head out for dinner, local establishments are way more fun than chain restaurants.

13) Promote your event.

14) Promote your event.

15) Please, for the love of Spongebob, promote your f****** event. For a speaker, nothing sucks worse than putting in hundreds of hours creating a speech, editing a slideshow, taking time off work and then flying across the country to talk a room with just nine people. Promote your events. Table on campus. Slap up posters everywhere. Post it on Facebook. Tweet it. Announce it in the school newspaper. Get another campus group to co-sponsor. Reach out to the local community. Tell your mom. The SSA has a ton of resources available for promotion ideas.

That's about it. Got questions?
Feel free to contact me. I spend most of my day browsing cat pics.

You can also check out Ted's presentation at the 2012 Annual SSA conference on this subject below!

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