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
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 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
In addition to giving information, speakers’ bureaus can be used to gather
information. From collecting names
a mailing list to getting comments on flip charts
speaker can learn how well people understand a project, whether they are
supportive of proposed actions, and potentially recruit new
How To Do It
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
2. Prepare the presentation
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.
Depending upon both the presentation and project budget, it
may be useful to include props such as slides, computerized projections, maps,
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
flyers, or other informational and promotional material that explains the
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Timing is Everything
speaking opportunities throughout the planning stage of a project.