College Speakers

8 Tips for Staging Events with College Speakers

Inviting college speakers is something many student organizations are familiar with.  In fact, your first experience with your own student organization might very well have been coming out and seeing some college speakers they had brought to campus.  You can capture a lot of attention with college speakers and also draw in many new and interested visitors to see what your organization is all about, but it can take some work, too.  Here are some tips for doing it right.

1. Start the process far in advance

First of all, if you’re going to invite college speakers, give yourself a wide window of time.  Unless you’re inviting your sister-in-law or somebody who lives just up the road from campus, you’ll have to coordinate many different schedules, depending on how many college speakers you plan to invite.

2.  Handle the logistics first

How’s this for a nightmare scenario: one of your college speakers is 15 minutes away from campus, and nobody has the remotest idea about the event—on top of that, you haven’t even reserved a room yet!

It doesn’t need to be this way.  First, look into the availability of a space on your campus.  Some universities have an online interface for setting aside rooms and reserving lecture halls, and at others you will need to talk to the director of facilities.  Get an idea for possible dates for your whichever of your college speakers you’re inviting, and then contact her.  Reach out either directly to them or their agency to get a sense of their schedule (again, if you’re planning far in advance, they should have more openings around the desired time).

Once you’ve confirmed with them, contact their agency or the speaker herself about some possible dates, and then reserve your lecture hall or the classroom where she’s going to be talking.  Is there a particular seating arrangement she prefers?  Do your college speakers want to stand and speak, or sit with the rest of you for a more laid-back conversation?  Will this particular speaker need a projector and a computer ready?  What about a microphone?

Next, put together your team.  Agree with other members of your student organization who is going to be responsible for what.  Who will market the event?  Who will communicate with the administration?  Who will handle the paperwork?  Who will present the proposal to the funding board?

3.  Put lots of time and effort into the budget

If you’re presenting a proposal for funding, do yourself a favor and make sure your budget is detailed.  What sort of things will it include?  Most college speakers request that you cover travel expenses, lodging, and an honorarium, that is, the college speakers’ fees.  There isn’t much you can do about the fee, but your case to the committee will be stronger when you can show proof that you’ve shopped around and looked at many options.

Attach an appendix to your budget that includes screenshots from websites with several quotes each for airfare, bus fare, and hotel room rates.  Demonstrate in your itemized budget that you’ve gone with the cheapest option each time.  If you want to use a particular service that’s more expensive, you’ll need a good reason why, such as it fulfills a commitment to sustainability or that it’s a locally owned business.

Include the source of funding, too.  How much funding do you need from this particular budget committee?  Have any other student organizations agreed to co-sponsor the college speakers?  How much are they willing to offer?  Do you have other grant money available to you?  How much?  The more support you can demonstrate from other groups and grant programs, the more convincing your proposal will be.  It’s also worth thinking about charging admission.  Is the event going to be free?  How will you cover it?  Will you charge admission?  What will you do with the money you raise?  Some universities prefer funding events that are free for their students, so spend some time weighing the pros and cons.

4.  Find a payment plan

Some universities give their student life office or activities department a sum of money for which groups can apply to cover the costs of certain events.  Others have grant programs that disperse funds to student groups.  Still others require you to raise the money yourself.  The budget you created can be useful if you are going to convince other groups to help support you.

5.  Beware of paper cuts

Why?  Because this is where the paperwork can get seriously dangerous.  Once the college speakers have confirmed the date, your room is lined up, and your funding is approved, you’re basically going to be a part time courier.  You’ll need to obtain the contracts from your student activities office and will likely have to mail copies of these to your college speakers and the bureaus that represent them, as well as self-addressed stamped envelopes to have them mailed back to you, signed.  Why so much mail?  Because, at least when this article went to press, many student life offices require hand-signed copies and not faxes or emailed scans.

This is yet another reason to start planning and organizing your college speakers’ events far in advance, since handling so much mail can require between 5-10 business days.

6.  Pack the house

How do you make sure people show up?  We’ve talked before about the difference between passive and active strategies for generating excitement for college speakers’ appearances.  The important thing is to build personal connections with your potential audience.  With your student organization, pick a number, 10, 15, 30, whatever seems realistic, and agree that everyone will reach out to that many people and encourage them to come out to hear your college speakers.

Another effective way to build buzz is to time your event strategically.  Can you set the events up to coincide with a holiday that is relevant to your college speakers’ messages, like Martin Luther King Day or a similar day or anniversary that will have lots of activity around it?

For the truly bold, you can always schedule several college speakers to appear together at once.  If your college speakers are part of a week’s worth of events aimed at building awareness around an issue, or if your college speakers are forming a panel in conversation with one another, you can grab the attention of other students more readily.

7.  Be diligent on the big day

Try to keep your other activities at a minimum on the days your college speakers are scheduled to appear.  You or somebody from your group should be available to oversee that the room reservation is in order, that the food has arrived, and that your college speakers haven’t gotten lost.  Make sure you have your college speakers’ cell phone numbers, or that they at least have yours, and stay someplace where you have good reception.  Be there to greet them, and make sure you have an introduction scripted.  You might want to work with them on this over email before they arrive.

8.  Get covered

Invite the local news media or a writer from your campus newspaper to cover every appearance your college speakers make throughout the school year.  Make sure that others know it happened, and that your group’s name gets tossed around a bit.  You want a record of what you did in order to continue marketing your group in the future.

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