Speakers Bureau

What We've Found

Use a speakers’ bureau anytime you need to spread the word about your project or if you are trying to gather public input. People are busy; they may not be willing to come to a public meeting about a project because of schedule conflicts, distance, not driving at night, or many other reasons. By sending speakers out to regular meetings of civic and church groups, service organizations, neighborhood associations, and other types of clubs, we have been able to reach many more people.

Just the Facts
Organizing a speakers’ bureau requires three distinct steps: recruiting volunteers who are knowledgeable about a topic or project, preparing a script and presentation, and finding and scheduling speaking opportunities. There may be one presentation that several different people give or each volunteer may have his or her own specialized presentation. Speakers’ bureaus are educational outreach; they are also about promoting positive public relations and building community support.

In addition to giving information, speakers’ bureaus can be used to gather information. From collecting names for a mailing list to getting comments on flip charts or distributing surveys, the speaker can learn how well people understand a project, whether they are supportive of proposed actions, and potentially recruit new volunteers.

How To Do It


1. Recruit
Find volunteers who are comfortable speaking and who may have experience. They do not have to be members of a project team as long as they are willing to receive training and the team feels confident of them as their ambassadors. If the project is especially long, it may be necessary to recruit others to join the bureau or to develop means of motivating the volunteers.

2. Prepare the presentation
The first step is for the full project team to agree upon the message and key points. Then delegate to a sub-team the actual preparation of the presentation and accompanying materials. Try to include on the sub-team people with skills in photography, writing, and graphics. This team may act as a support to a subject expert if the speakers’ bureau is going to offer different presentations. If there will be only one presentation, consider preparing different scripts for different sessions: breakfast meetings require the briefest remarks; lunch meetings are more businesslike; and after-dinner speeches should not be too serious. It may be also helpful to script potential questions and answers so that speakers are not caught off-guard. In a Q&A session, one of the most important responses is: "I don’t know the answer, so let me get your name and number and get back to you." Remember the purpose of these speaking engagements is to spread accurate information and strengthen credibility and trust in the community.

3. Prepare props
Depending upon both the presentation and project budget, it may be useful to include props such as slides, computerized projections, maps, displays, etc. Ideally, each speaker should have a separate set of presentation materials to avoid confusion and potential scheduling conflicts. If this is not possible, arrange for storage of props at a central location, ideally one where all speakers can have 24-hour access. Speakers should also be supplied ample copies of brochures, newsletters, flyers, or other informational and promotional material that explains the project.

4. Coach and practice
Have the volunteers go over the scripts and practice many times. Depending upon the project budget, participants may benefit from a professional speaker. At minimum, there should be "dress rehearsals" where each speaker is videotaped and then the group reviews the tape. Don’t forget to also stage a Q&A session and have the speakers use and be familiar with any props.

5. Make contacts
To find groups, begin by having the project team brainstorm a list. Prepare a flyer that lists the topic, or topics, of presentation and contact information then mail the flyers to every community organization. Follow up with the mailings by calling or, ideally, making a personal contact with a known member.

6. Get the Facts
Information about an engagement should include the time, date, and place of the meeting; an agenda or any pre-publicity if applicable; the anticipated audience size; the format such as lecture, panel discussion, or workshop; amount of time allocated to speak; and, if applicable, availability of aids like a microphone, lectern, slide projector, etc. If the presentation will be at a distant location, travel and lodging arrangements will need to be discussed. Speakers should not arrive at a facility expecting a slide projector only to find an overhead unit instead. Ask beforehand what is available, what should be brought, or what will need to be done without. Being prepared for different facilities means using different props.

7. Assign a speaker
Unless the presentation is speaker-specific, assign a presenter that might already have a connection with the group or organization. If that is not possible, just make sure there is not a negative history between the speaker and the audience or for some reason the speaker would be uncomfortable. Respect the reasons and remember that the speakers are volunteers.

8. Keep a master calendar
In case of last minute cancellations or emergencies, speakers should have a list that includes each speaker’s name and phone number and a calendar showing all engagements. One person should be responsible for coordinating schedules, responding to special requests for information following a presentation, and soliciting new engagements.


A group of volunteers who make presentations about a specific topic, project, or resource.

Use It If...
  • You want to increase visibility and people’s awareness of your project.
  • You are having trouble getting publicity or are not able to disseminate information to broader, diverse interests.
  • You want to counterbalance rumors, misinterpretations of newspaper articles, and elements of controversy.
Forget It If...
  • You do not have the volunteers because they are already stretched too thin, are not comfortable with or good at speaking in front of audiences, or will not be positive ambassadors for the cause for other reasons.
  • You do not have clear project goals.
  • Your project is extremely controversial and a session could turn into a debate. A trained facilitator is better able to handle an unruly crowd.
Timing is Everything

Seek out speaking opportunities throughout the planning stage of a project.

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