Saturday, March 24, 2018

Speaker Comforts

It's Saturday. This is the day I often spend teaching beginning genealogy workshops for local organizations. That often turns out to be a symbiotic relationship for both the group I'm representingour county's genealogical societyand the organization hosting the event. The host group provides the administrative legwork of promotion, computer and classroom set-up, registration, and sometimes even the niceties of refreshments. And I show up and talk for two hours.

What more could anyone want?

Actually, as it turns out, there could be quite a bit more. When the roles are reversed and it is our organization hosting an event (read: we are bringing in speakers for our own group's benefit), we find ourselves being quite attentive to the needs of our guest speaker. Being concerned about microphone, podium, screen, projector, backup laptop, and (working) remote is only the beginning. When I was vice president of our local genealogical society (and thus, also the program director tasked with bringing in guest speakers), I guess I became highly sensitized to what a speaker might require to insure his or her successful presentation.

One Saturday, recently, I found those concerns coming to mind as I waited for the coordinator at a new presentation site to return to the classroom with some missing technical items for my presentation to their group.

Hello? Hello? I felt myself thinking. The clock didn't seem to be jiving with the amount of progress that had been made on the setup. Tick, tick, tick. The class needed to start soon. And the site coordinator was nowhere to be found.

In that moment of solitary reflection, I thought about just what it takes to make a speaker feel like the team effort of the day's presentation would include one hundred percent participation from all the administrators involved. What makes a speaker feel abandoned? What demonstrates that the hosting organization has done that due diligence to make the event a success?

I realize there are always going to be glitches when a group sets up for a special event, especially if it is not something that occurs on a regular basis. This doesn't necessarily happen only in big occasionsnor only in small ones. We've heard of logistics nightmares at some of our most vaunted national conferences, and, come to think of it, run across small seminars struggling with unanticipated eruptions, as well.

But with this episode, I started thinking about what a speaker would like to see in the organization which has extended the invitation to speak. What makes a speaker feel at home, ready to do his or her best in a new venue? What allows a speaker to relax in the confidence of being supplied with anything needed (think: creature comforts for speakers)but without the side effect of a helicopter-host whirlwind?

I certainly thought of a few things this particular organization could have done better to preparebut if I return for a next time, should I intervene ahead of time to insure that administrative duties on their part are being taken care of? Partner to provide better publicity?

I know what I feel about this situation, and how I will seek a cooperative effort for future successes, but I'm curious to know how others see this type of situation. For one thing, a discussion like this might help organizations see such experiences in a new lightthese are, after all, considerations necessary for groups to put on successful events. But reflecting on these questions also has helped me reshape a proactive approach to future engagements, as well. Our society is, after all, a group which needs to see things both ways: an organization willing to go out and teach our communities ways to research their heritage and a society whose meetings' mainstay is hosting educational presentations for our own members.

It is vitally important that we make our speakers happy at our own events; we want to have our best speakers happy to return for future engagements. But when we go out into the community at the invitation of other organizations, it would be optimal if those organizations would have a sense of how their interactions at their events can augment the successful presentation we wish to provide their members, as well. 


  1. Out of curiosity do you as the speaker provide a detailed list of the technical items you might need, specially to a smaller group, or offer to bring items

    1. Good point, Haz! And yes, these are items covered in the pre-meeting. Speakers addressing smaller groups are often expected to bring all their own equipment. It's nice, though, when the engagement is for a facility already equipped with a classroom setup.

  2. When I was at the Museum I would ask the speaker what they needed. I would send out an email to them a week prior to the event stating what I would have on hand for them and then afterwards I would send them a Thank you note...usually with a photo of them at the presentation. I liked to be prepared to make everything go smoothly. Sometimes you have a glitch with equipment...stuff happens. :)

    1. I know you would always be prepared, Far Side! That idea about the photo of the speaker is a nice touch for the thank you note. We may borrow that for our own group, if you don't mind :)


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