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
4-minute read
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. 


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.