Working with speakers

Working with speakers

Having spoken at a local conference, local meetup and given a number of guest lectures at universities and schools I've had good and bad experiences working with inviting organisations.  This post is designed to give some tips to those that might be considering inviting a speaker.

You may also be interested in my tips for public speaking.

Choosing your speaker

Depending on the topic there could be many speakers to pick from and picking the "right" one is very subjective.  I've not had to pick speakers for a long time, so I'm limited in experience here, but I'd recommend finding out what others think of the speaker you're considering.  Hopefully they're engaging and know their topic.  Look at their online presence, assuming they have one, as that may provide some useful insights.

Sometimes it's possible to see a speaker in action, either at another event or via recordings found online.  It's possible you'll be able to view slides from previous talks online, although not everyone makes these available.  For my part there's a mixture of some talks available online and others held back - the latter set because they have been paid lectures.

It's worth mentioning at this point that every speaker has to start somewhere so I'd caution against always choosing seasoned speakers.  Absolutely you want your event to be a success, but at the same time it's important to encourage those exploring public speaking.  I note a number of conferences have beginner or rookie tracks for this purpose, and that's really cool.

Mention fees early on

Unless the person you've invited already knows the event is made up of volunteer speakers, I'd suggest getting the topic of fees out of the way early on.  I'm fairly confident that at the conferences I've spoken at not every speaker has been there for free and that frustrates me, particularly when there hasn't been a formal request for speakers.

Deciding how to pay speakers may come down to the type of talk (keynote vs general) or be based on the speaker's own rates.  This isn't an area I have much experience in but when I used to deal with guest speakers we were always clear that travel expenses would be paid.  As a volunteer organisation we didn't hire in speakers often.

The room & access requirements

When I get approached to give a talk I'm always keen to find out about the room.  I'm not worried if there isn't a stage but a podium is useful for placing my laptop on.  To my mind it's more important that I'm heard, and my slides seen, than people can see me[1].  I tend to ask the following questions:

  • Is it OK to bring my own laptop (much preferred) or will you require me to use a machine that's there?
  • How big is the room?
  • Are there microphones?
  • Will the talk be recorded?  (They should ask permission of course)
  • What connectivity is there to the projector (HDMI, VGA etc.)?
  • Will there be guest WiFi?
  • Am I able to play a short video clip, with sound?

Where possible I like to see the room beforehand so I can make sure I know where I'm going.  In my family I'm well known for my talent at getting lost so it reduces my stress levels immensely to visit a venue early on.

In the event that I'm running a workshop I aim to negotiate time to go in and set up the labs ahead of the event date.  Sometimes set up can be accomplished by liaising with an on-site IT team but, even then, it's best to check things before the day.

A note to speakers - it's definitely worth carrying your own cables and present remote (clicker).  I've been caught out there before.


It's a simple thing, but knowing there's free parking at a venue is very helpful.  If there's no on-site parking let the speaker know where they can park and how to get to the venue.  More importantly, if the speaker is bringing equipment for a workshop discuss with them how they can deliver equipment to the room without having to make many trips.

Liaise with the speaker

A shout out at this point to Alex Cachia of CodeHarbour who wins the prize for being the easiest person to deal with when giving talks.  Alex kept in touch and reached out in the lead up to the talk to make sure everything was still OK.  I gave a talk at a school once where the school contacts went completely silent until about three days before the event - it was touch and go as to whether or not I was going to make the journey.

If you require the slides in advance explain that and be prepared to give a speaker a quick nudge near the deadline.  I like to know why the slides are being requested in advance too, so please let me know :) .

On the day

Rule number one: be there when the speaker arrives.  If that's not possible arrange for someone to be there in your place and communicate the arrangements to the speaker.  There's nothing worse than arriving at a venue to find no-one is expecting you![2]

Provide water and preferably a tea or coffee too if possible.  Your speaker may have traveled quite a distance to reach you and they'll need to refresh themselves before presenting.  The logical outcome of drinking something is the need to use the toilet, so make sure you mention where those are.[3]

Wrapping up

After the talk / workshop has finished it's always nice to be thanked.  I'm not a speaker that demands gifts (I wouldn't turn them down, but it's not generally a condition of my attendance) but sometimes that's appropriate.

I've had a lot of good experiences giving talks but there's been some bad ones too.  Hopefully the above is useful for you to make things easy for your speakers.

Banner image: A photo from a lecture I gave in December 2018.  Photo credit "G".

[1] Some attendees may need to see me in order to lip read of course, and I'd have no problems allowing that.

[2] It's happened to me.  I was running a penetration testing training day at a university.  The on-site contact had overslept and the security department weren't even expecting our event to be running...

[3] Not during a speaking engagement but I did do some consultancy work once where the client not only didn't provide any water, they didn't tell my colleague and I where the toilets were either.  In the end we had to go exploring to find the loos.