How to Be a Great Guest Speaker

If you're high-maintenance, boring, or irrelevant, you may not be invited back. Here are 4 tips on being a great guest speaker.

Lisa B. Marshall,
March 8, 2012
Episode #103

This past week Barbara Nixon asked me to comment on her recent blog post that included tips for being a great guest speaker. (Actually her blog post was titled, 14 Ways to NOT Suck as a Guest Speaker) Barbara is a communication teacher at Georgia Southern University and Southeastern University). I found it difficult to just provide a short comment; she inspired me to say a bunch more. So, with Barbara’s help, (and permission) today’s article is the first part of a three-part series about how to be a great guest speaker.  (Thanks Barbara!)

How to Be a Great Guest Speaker

When you’ve been invited to be a guest speaker for an organization’s luncheon or other meeting, you don’t want to be that speaker. And it can be terribly easy to be that speaker: You know, the high-maintenance one, or worse, the boring or irrelevant one.

Who Are Guest Speakers?

By the way, usually a guest speaker is not closely connected with the event or the organizers. Generally, guest speakers add to the event by sharing an outside perspective, giving support, or by providing entertainment (or all three)! The key to being a successful guest speaker is to deliver a message that resonates with the audience AND be easy to work with.  

In this three part series I’ll cover 17 quick and dirty tips to help you be an enjoyable, memorable, and easy-to-work-with guest speaker.

Guest Speaking Tip #1: Learn About Your Audience

A guest speaker’s success is often based on how closely their message matches with the event.  So it’s critical to learn as much as you can about your audience before you speak.  This is the most important step, yet many times it’s overlooked. And it’s so important, I wrote a separate article about how to do an effective audience analysis. Skip this step and you are almost guaranteed to be that speaker (the boring irrelevant one)!

How to Get to Know the Audience

It’s best to talk directly to a few audience members ahead of time --don’t rely on one person or your contact only. You need to gain the perspective of several people so that you can understand exactly what it is that different audience members want to be able to know, say, or do differently as a result of hearing you speak. (People usually don’t agree exactly as to what they want to gain from a presentation.) It’s important to meet the needs of a majority of your audience. Don’t assume or guess; ask, even if you think you already know the answer. 

Even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can still learn just before or during the event. If possible, always attend a meal with the participants.  Listen more than you talk. If there is no meal, then be sure to arrive early so you have time to talk directly to people as they arrive. When you present, weave in examples you know are relevant to this group.  Audience members will greatly appreciate that you have made the talk specific to them. 

Guest Speaking Tip #2: Learn About The Organization and Event

The key to being a successful guest speaker is to deliver a message that resonates with the audience AND be easy to work with.

Next, find out from your contact what the norms are for speaking engagements like this one. Will the audience members expect handouts or access to the slides? Will the audience be tweeting during your presentation? How much time to they want you to speak?  How interactive do they want the presentation? Is there usually a separate Q&A session? What’s the best way for you to share your contact information and bio with every audience member?

Find out who and what was presented in the past. Find out what has worked and what has not. Ask what would be considered an ideal outcome. Ask about the room set up and if necessary, request a set up that works best for you and your topic. Don’t assume anything. Ask.

Send an email CONFIRMING all the final details: your time slot, the amount of interactivity, parking lot, building, room, floor, start time, end time, etc. Everything, in writing. It prevents problems.

Guest Speaking Tip #3: Communicate You’re A/V Needs In Advance

The next step is to let your contact know what your A/V needs are as far in advance as possible, and request only what is necessary. Avoid last minute surprises, as they often can’t be accommodated--and they turn you into that speaker.

Always use a microphone. Request a wireless microphone as your first choice; that way you won’t be tied to lectern and it will save your voice. (Just be aware that one is not always available.) If you need an Internet connection, request a direct connection, as the connection speed is generally faster. Finally, bring your own slide advancer.  I recommend one with the vibrating timer. That way you will be comfortable advancing the slides and you’ll have an external reminder of when you need to wrap up. 

Be sure to confirm your A/V the day before. If possible, communicate directly with the A/V person--especially if you have requested anything unusual in your set up; many times special requests do not get communicated properly, but can be accommodated if given proper advance notice. 

Guest Speaking Tip #4: Allow Extra Travel Time

Allow extra time in travel to arrive at the meeting location, especially if you have never been there before. Some things to keep in mind: Is there construction along your route? When is rush hour and how much more time will it likely add to your trip? Do you know how to get in and out of the parking lot? How far is it from the exterior doors to your meeting room? Never trust your GPS 100% to get you to a new location. Oh, and try to pick a flight that has at least one more flight after the one you’re booked on. 
We’ll pick up from here in the next installment

However, in the meantime, I started a discussion on the Facebook Page.  I’d love to hear your tips for being an effective guest speaker.

This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

As always, I also invite you to join my newsletter or my professional network on LinkedIn (and Twitter).

Interested in co-writing an episode with me? Send me a sample of your writing.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Man Giving Presentation image courtesy of Shutterstock