This post is part of our 7-part series on Organizing a Mountain Town Meetup.
Here are the previous posts:
Part 1 – Introduction please read this for the background you’ll need to fully enjoy this post.
In this post, we’ll be using Tahoe Silicon Mountain (TSM), the nonprofit we’ve been running since 2010, as an example.
Why Good Speakers Are Important for a Meetup
One of the best ways to improve attendance at your meetup is to bring in a talented speaker to talk about something that is of interest to your group.
Finding Speakers May Not Be as Hard as You’d Think
Finding speakers may seem like a daunting project, but it’s often not as difficult as you might expect. Why?
Speakers Like to Talk About Themselves 🙂
Many people are flattered to be invited to give a presentation. Often the topic of the presentation may involve their own life or a passion. I like to joke that speakers love to be invited to talk about their favorite topic, themselves.
Speaking Benefits the Speaker Too
Giving a presentation will likely benefit the speaker as well as your meetup group. Even if you don’t have a budget to pay your speakers, they may say yes for a few reasons:
- Giving a presentation for a meetup is good practice for anyone trying to get more comfortable with public speaking
- They want to share their knowledge with the community
- They need more experience to eventually get paid speaking jobs
- They want to practice for speaking at conferences
- They may be able to use your event video (read about livestreaming in Part 6) in their speaker portfolio
- Some speakers may be expected to perform outreach by their employer (company or university).
- Some speakers may be interested in selling a product to your audience (more on this later)
Where to Find Speakers
The first place to look for a speaker is within your own group. Many of the people attending your meetup will have a presentation topic that is relevant to the group.
If no one in the group is available, they may know people who are. Ask people to give you recommendations or make introductions. A warm introduction to a potential speaker makes it much easier to book them for your meetup.
Industry groups, companies, research groups, universities, etc. may be willing to send a speaker. For example, a hiking meetup could try reaching out to a company like Garmin for a presentation about GPS devices. At Tahoe Silicon Mountain (TSM), we’ve made good use of the local universities like the University of Nevada, Reno. We’ve had great speakers from UNR to talk about everything from robotics to the next evolution of libraries.
Warm Introductions and Cold Emails
Most often, you’re not going to know the speaker personally when you first contact them. If this is the case, an introduction from a mutual acquaintance is very helpful. But in some cases, you may need to make a cold contact with the speaker or use a general contact email.
What Your Email Should Contain
Whether a warm or cold email, your initial message should be brief but contain the following basic pieces of info:
- Name of your group with your mission or focus
- Rough size of your group or expected attendance
- Date, time, and length of the presentation
- The topic you’d like the speaker to talk about (this may be general or you may suggest several possible topics depending on what you know about the speaker)
- Any benefits that you can offer (livestreaming or recording, compensation, free meals, lift tickets, etc.)
Keeping the email brief and to the point shows that you value the speaker’s time and you’ve done your basic research about them. Often speakers will respond back with ideas for other topics or other times when they’re available to speak if they can’t make the proposed date.
Your Speaker Pipeline
If your meetup occurs monthly or more frequently, you’ll definitely want to develop a pipeline of speakers. This will help you avoid scrambling at the last minute prior to each event.
It also allows you to plan the flow of topics from event to event. At Tahoe Silicon Mountain, we like to have a variety from month to month. It can be easy to get into a topic rut because we find that we receive speaking inquiries around the topic that was most recently presented. People who perhaps didn’t think they could speak see a similar topic at our event and then reach out about speaking.
How Far in Advance to Schedule Speakers
Schedule speakers too far in advance and they’ll cancel. Schedule them not far enough in advance and you’ll miss press deadlines and be stressed.
A happy medium for our monthly events seems to be about 2-3 months out. This minimizes cancellations, gives plenty of time for promotion, and allows us to control the flow of topics.
Working with Speakers to Determine What Their Talk Will Be About
Once you’ve contacted a speaker and they’re interested, you’ll need to work with them to determine the exact topic.
At Tahoe Silicon Mountain, we have a long-standing policy of disallowing any topic that promotes a business or is trying to “sell” something to our group. We exist for people to connect and learn, not be sold to.
Many talks that seem sales-focused at the outset can be easily re-focused to be more educational and only tangentially related to a speaker’s business. We do allow the person’s business to be used as an example in their talk.
Dig Deeper if the Speaker Fit Is not Obvious
Often, a topic that is not immediately obviously relevant to the group can be reframed to be an incredible fit. TSM’s primary speaker topic focus is the intersection of technology with the environment, community, and entrepreneurship. When we had the opportunity to have a producer from Monday Night Football come speak, at first it didn’t seem like a fit. Upon talking to him, we learned that there are enormous technological hurdles to setting up every aspect of the productions each week. He talked about the setup and the just-in-time editing that occurs behind the scenes to produce instant replays.
Setting Clear Expectations
It can be difficult for speakers to know what to expect, particularly if the information is spread out over a number of emails or they’ve never been to one of your events.
Speaker Guidelines Document
Provide your speaker with a clear set of written expectations. It should spell out all of the things you expect the speaker to adhere to. Be sure to include this document in all of your communications. Speakers should be asked to read the document and acknowledge it. Just because you attach or link to it does not mean your speaker will read it. Clearly asking them if they read it and agree they can follow the guidelines is key to avoiding surprises.
Some expectations to consider for your event.
- presentation length
- Q and A length
- time and location
- whether food will be provided
- inclement weather plan
- dress code
- the font size required for their slides to ensure accessibility
- the aspect ratio of their slides
- the Code of Conduct that you expect them to adhere to
At TSM we require all speakers to have slides. Our events are all educational and we want to be accommodating for as many different learning styles as possible.
Get the Slides Early
Getting your slides ahead of time will help ensure your event goes smoothly and there are not any last-minute panics.
There are a few reasons to get slides from your speaker ahead of your event.
- To ensure the presentation is about what you agreed on and that they meet the aspect, font size, and any other requirements.
- To make sure they work on the computer you’ll be using.
- To provide to your livestream service.
We found that 5 days ahead of the event was ideal.
At the Event
When your speaker arrives, be sure to first greet them warmly.
Give them a tour of your space and introduce them to anyone who will be helping them during the event.
Give them a quick overview of the schedule and remind them of any important details.
Show them key items for the actual presentation, like where they will be speaking, where the laptop will be positioned, and how to use the remote.
Make Sure Your Speakers Are Comfortable
Provide water and snacks and coffee if your event is in the morning.
Show them where the bathroom is.
We find that at TSM events, many speakers do not want to eat the dinner we provide before their presentation, so we ensure that we save a plate of food for when they are done.
If you know some of the attendees are relevant to the speaker, be sure to make introductions.
Thank Your Speaker
Make sure to show your appreciation and thank your speaker both personally and in front of the audience.
After the Event
Thank Your Speaker (Again)
Follow up with your speaker and thank them for coming. In the TSM thank you emails, we thank them for their time, send a link to the livestream recording and mention a few positives from their talk – either a few things we learned or perhaps feedback from our attendees.
A hand-written thank you note would also be a nice touch, as well as a small gift.
At TSM we give each speaker a wooden nametag made at our local makerspace with our logo as a memento.
Ask for Referrals
If appropriate, you can ask the speaker if they have any referrals for other speakers. You may not want another speaker from the same company or about the same topic, but former speakers are often your best source of future speakers.