Building positive working relationships with speakers

A little bit of forethought can make a world of difference


Speakers are the core of your meeting or conference experience. A good speaker can be what makes your conference exceptional, while a bad speaker can be the one thing that drags everything down. This is why your first step is to carefully select your speaker to ensure they will fit your audience, engage participants and boost the overall quality of your event.

The relationship you build with the speaker leading up to and after your event is the next most important aspect to pay attention to. It will determine whether you ask them back or refer them to other event organizers. Here are some tips to developing a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with your speakers:

Ask for permission ahead of time

When getting the speaker to sign the agreement, it’s good to ask for permission to post the presentation on a website following the conference or distribute the recording and speaker materials. You can also ask for permission to photograph the presenter during their talk to have promotional photos for future events.

Ask them for their pitch materials

There are things you will need from the speaker – the earlier you ask for them, the easier it is on everyone. This can include a bio (most should have one already prepared), an abstract of their presentation, a copy of the presentation itself for safekeeping and a reminder to bring the most recent one on the day of the presentation with deadlines.

Find out what their needs are

Facility requirements will vary from speaker to speaker. These may include A/V equipment requests, an internet connection and room set-up. This is also an opportunity to find out if they have any dietary restrictions or other requests.

speaker agreement

Put it all in writing

A speaker agreement can be a life saver for both you and your speaker as you move forward and get closer to the event. The agreement should include the details you’ve collected about the speaker’s needs and permissions. It should also include the program details such as presenter’s name, presentation title, date, time and location. Speaker fees, including the session fee, and reimbursement for related expenses such as travel, accommodation and mileage should also be clearly stated near the top of the agreement.

The agreement should be signed by an event organizer and the speaker, and copies should be distributed appropriately. When in negotiations with the speaker or agencies, don’t forget to ask about getting the speaker to do pre-event interviews with the media and to help promote your event through social media.

Respect is a two way street

There are a number of things that can turn a good speaker/organizer relationship sour. Speakers who don’t respond to communication requests, such as emails or phone calls, or hand in their materials past the deadline date, are likely not going to be asked back. Organizers understand that people get busy, however, they have a job to do and have many moving parts to manage. This relationship is about being able to respect the jobs that the other has to do and it is okay to ask your speaker for some respect. It’s also okay to remind your speaker to:

  • Pay attention to the details provided.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Keep expenses reasonable.

Speaker behaviours to avoid

There will be an opportunity to gently remind your speaker of some bad habits that are best to avoid. Reading notes or slides will deflate a presentation in no time. Similarly, a speaker should not be there to sell something or talk about their firm – a good presentation will boost the firm on its own.

At the end of the day, the success of your event depends on this relationship working well. Always remember to work towards mutual respect and, if it doesn’t work out, don’t feel bad about not hiring the speaker in the future.

About the author:

Over the years, Karen Turner has produced fully integrated, award-winning events for a wide variety of Canadian organizations and companies. She holds a National Program Fundraising Education certificate and a Fundraising Management degree from Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton Alberta. Karen’s extensive experience of working and volunteering in the non-profit sector includes Saskatoon’s first Jail-N-Bail, a unique fundraising event through the Canadian Cancer Society. She developed the business plan for Tamara’s House, a non-profit in Saskatoon that helps women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and coordinated its capital campaign. Karen has been nominated by the prestigious CEIA National Awards several times for best fundraising event, best conference and most recently in 2015 for the First Aid for Mental Health event with Sam Corbett from the Saskatoon’s The Sheepdogs.

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