V. Speakers and Presenters

Methods for Finding Speakers and Presenters

The term speaker often refers to a person who makes a presentation at a general session. Presenters are persons who make presentations at other sessions, such as concurrent sessions, workshops, and breakouts. For the purpose of this chapter, "speaker" will refer to both types of persons.

Few things can do more damage to a beautifully conceived conference than inappropriate topics or incompetent speakers. Usually your speaker needs will depend on the topics to be addressed, but sometimes this may get reversed. If a speaker is selected because of his or her reputation for making dynamic presentations and the topic is determined solely by the speaker's preference, this can lead to an unpleasant surprise when the topic is out of sync with the purpose of the conference.

One way to avoid this problem with speaker topics is to put out a call for papers. Speakers can then be chosen from respondents. The other method is careful planning by the Conference Planning Committee, the coordinator, and the sponsor. If the people responsible for the conference have done their homework, they will know what topics they want to cover, and their job will be narrowed to searching for speakers with expertise on the chosen topics.

Call for Papers

The call for papers is usually associated with a professional sponsor by whom papers are actually read. Although this practice has changed, some coordinators still use the term "call for papers" when requesting proposals for presentations, which often confuses speakers. Many coordinators instead use the term request for proposals. Appendix D contains a sample request for proposal form, which can be used for screening prospective speakers. It includes more detail than may be needed for a particular conference, but all the items on the form are important. You can modify it as necessary.

To whom do you send the request for proposal? Speakers from previous conferences, attendees from previous conferences, speakers from conferences sponsored by your colleagues, State and national associations and their members, administrators from State compensation and assistance programs, local assistance programs, and OVC's Trainers Bureau.

Searching for Speakers

Where do you find good speakers? A good place to start is with fellow compensation and assistance meeting planners. Speakers who have done a good job for them could do a good job for you. Here are some other sources for speakers:

* National organizations and associations (a list can be found in Appendix E).
* Local and State associations and coalitions.
* Local assistance programs.
* Government organizations, including the OVC Trainers Bureau (See Appendix F).
* Speakers and attendees from your previous conferences.
* Speakers from conferences sponsored by your colleagues. Create a file of brochures publicizing other related conferences.
* Journals, local papers, and magazines. Think about speakers when you are reading; you can find some interesting prospects.

Once you've found prospective speakers, you can contact them without presenting a firm invitation by phone. Tell the prospect about the conference and that you are considering a session on whatever the topic may be. Give the date and approximate time of the session, if possible, and a description of the audience. Tell the prospect how long the presentation would be if you included the topic in your program. Include information about expenses you will cover, what honoraria you offer, accommodations, etc. If the prospect is interested and available, neither one of you are locked in at this point.

Talk a little longer. Inquire about other presentations he or she has given. If you can identify the conference sponsor or coordinator of these previous presentation, call him or her and ask for opinions.

When you have made a final choice on which speakers you would like to invite, contact the speaker again. If the speaker agrees to participate in your conference, follow up with a letter.

The follow-up letter should include:

* Location and address of the conference.
* Purpose of the conference.
* Size and general profile of the target audience.
* Topic of the presentation and length of time of the session.
* Layout of the room where the presentation will be given.
* Acceptable attire or dress requirements.
* Honorarium and expenses to be paid.
* Details regarding travel, accommodations, and where and when your conference representative will greet the speaker.
* A deadline for requesting audiovisual aids, if unknown at the time of the invitation, or a confirmation of what will be provided.
* A request for a picture or biographical material, as needed.

Include any promotional material you may have on the conference and let the speaker know you have put his or her name on the mailing list for future mailings.

Two weeks before the conference, send the speaker a reminder and include:

* Any program changes that could affect the speaker.
* Any information the speaker might find valuable.
* What accommodations have been arranged.
* Confirmation of where the speaker will be greeted and by whom.
* Your current telephone number, the date you will arrive at the site, and a number at which you can be reached onsite.
* The names of other guests and any appropriate background if the speaker will be seated at the head table.

The search for speakers and the subsequent selection and invitation may be done by anyone who has a role in planning and organizing the conference. Whatever arrangement works best for you is the one to use. However, some formal control and status record should be the responsibility of one individual. In most cases, this responsibility will fall to the coordinator. The development of a speaker status control sheet for each speaker can be a valuable tracking tool. Appendix G provides a guide for developing your own control sheet.

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