How to get a guest speaker at your group
January 18, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

How do you entice semi-popular people to speak in front of your group?

I am representing a campus group, and I brought up the idea of bringing a fairly famous local author to speak to our group. This person has written on their web site that they could speak to book groups in the area, and since we are within the vicinity, I thought it would be a good idea. I don't think money is involved.

The only thing is, in the past, we have invited people who are related directly in our field of interest. Even though this author deals strictly in that particular field, obviously they have made a career out of observing it. Outside the fact that many of us are fans of their work, how could we interest them in speaking to us? What rationale would be suited? I feel that it may be a stretch, since our past subjects have been mainly talked about their career choices. Still, many of us are really excited at the prospect of having the author speak to us. This also has the potential to be a campuswide event, so it could attract much more people.

For my specifics, my throwaway e-mail is

Thanks a bunch!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"Dear X,

I'm writing to you as {your role} of {your group} with an invitation to speak at {your campus}.

{Your group} is {brief description of your group}. We currently have {number of members}, and up to {largest number of attendees ever} attend our events.

We'd love for you to speak to us because {connection between author's work and your group's mission}. Our events are usually on {days of week} in {time period--morning/afternoon/evening}. {If there's a specific schedule like "the last Thursday of the month" or whatever, share it here.}

If you feel like this might be possible--and we hope you will--please contact {contact person's name and contact information} so that we can schedule the meeting time that would be most convenient for you.

Thank you so much. {Additional praise for the author's work and reiteration of its connection to your group's mission.}

Best wishes,

{Your name}"
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

I don't think either you or the author wants to go into this blind, so the more open you both can be about it, the better your chances, methinks. It's not a situation to hold your cards to your chest or try to woo the famous person. You'll be better off approaching them and telling them a concise version of what you told us. Basically, what Sidhedevil wrote.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:51 AM on January 18, 2010

Yep, what Sidhedevil said. But don't be surprised if he comes back to you with a quote for his speaking fee - speaking fees are a sizable chunk of income for many authors. However, given that you're a student group, you may be able to get him to waive the fee, if he does have one. Just ask, and go from there.
posted by lunasol at 10:42 AM on January 18, 2010

Oops, I realized I just totally went ahead and assumed the author was male, even though you used gender neutral language.
posted by lunasol at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2010

One thing about famous-type people is that they are busy. If you ask them to come this month or next, they probably have a deadline or other project they are worried about completing on time. Ask to come sometime within the next 3-5 months or even later. Keynote speakers are often asked 1 year in advance for large conferences and such.

Since you are on a campus, see if a faculty member or dept will co-sponsor the event. Speakers that visit a campus are often interested to meet faculty with related interests, making a day of it through the talk, 30-minute appointments with faculty and grad students, and lunch etc. Moreover, a faculty member might already be friendly with the author since they are in the area increasing your chances of the get.

Finally, you might even better your chances by inviting 2-3 other authors as part of a series or to have them all on the same day. You can craft your invite as "We are having a series and have also asked X, Y, and Z, though they have not had the chance to reply yet." That will give the speaker a sense of the level of event, perhaps they'd like to be involved just to meet the other speakers. Obviously this route has the disadvantage of creating more work for you.
posted by about_time at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2010

I don't think money is involved.

I'm not sure if you man that this author speaks for free, or if you don't have any money. As lunasol says, if they are famous enough to get paid you may want to state up front that you can't pay them, and maybe suggest other nice ways to compensate them for their time or say "thank you" I do lot of public speaking, sometimes for pay and sometimes not. The best requests are ones that indicate that people selected me specially, appreciate that my time is valuable, explain why they'd like me to come and what general thing they'd like me to do and then say in some fashion "We'd be really excited if you would come. Let us know what we could do to make this appealing to you..." or some variation.

I gave a talk in Nova Scotia once and it was far away and didn't pay much but I haven incredibly fond memories of the entire experience because the person who invited me was so clearly psyched to have me there [gave a very nice personalized introduction when I did speak] but also bent over backwards to make sure I was taken care of [had rides places, local information, was set for meals, had what I needed for speaking and etc] and made it clear that having me there was some sort of honor.

Generally either people are used to public speaking in which case they have some sort of set way they'll do it [for money, or for specific circumstances or whatever] and you have to figure out what that is, or they don't speak much in which case you'd want to explain why you'd like to hear from them. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:11 PM on January 18, 2010

You mention he is local. The best is to get an introduction. You need to call up your centers of influences (professors, business professionals who sell services to your school, student body president, parents) and start figuring out who knows him who can personally introduce you. You'd be surprised just how close you are to this local celebrity.
posted by yoyoceramic at 12:19 PM on January 18, 2010

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