Event speakers, pleasure or pain?

Event speakers, pleasure or pain?

You wouldn’t trust an unqualified dentist to do a filling, or go to court without a qualified lawyer – but every day unqualified people send £millions in goods all over the world

International Trade has got to be one of the most interesting and yet most misunderstood disciplines in modern business practice.

It’s not often that you can find an expert with a sense of humour and an arsenal of anecdotes to support the storyline throughout, but this is what I do.

When I ran the Institute of Export & International Trade, I used to meet with the trade ministers each time they joined, and over the 12 years I was there we had ten; there was no continuity to the government strategy. Trying to explain the need to have professionals in charge of international trade I used the analogy of trusting a dentist to work on your teeth if he’s not qualified or going to court with a lawyer with no qualifications.Unfortunately, they could never understand that young people and the diaspora would benefit from an introduction to international trade, preferring to leave it to large businesses to train or universities.


The Institute also ran various dinners and awards ceremonies, and as we prepared and briefed the speakers, or agents of speakers, we were full of expectations and hopes. These hopes were quickly thwarted when the speaker arrived and just used the same speech that I had heard several times over.

It’s disappointing but also shows a lack of respect for the audience. If you have 30 minutes of someone’s time it is a gift, although in some cases you’ve stolen it! They didn’t always know they were going to have to listen to you, but it’s an opportunity to reach out, to help or amuse. To do this you must know who you’re talking to. Which means you must take a brief, listen to what the client needs to ensure they are happy, but importantly, to leave a happy audience.

I have sat through speakers that have asked special permission to swear because it will make the story funnier. It didn’t.

Speakers that must have a young, very attractive agent sit on the top table because they will help his confidence – I ask you! Speakers that have bullied my staff because they forgot to ask for a shorter podium, walking microphone or trailing spotlight.

The best speakers on the other hand came and listened to what we needed, engaged with the audience beforehand and delivered a speech that reflected the audience they were speaking to.

Let’s think about what a speaker brief should contain.

Start by asking yourself these questions when writing a brief for a guest speaker:

  • Are you paying them?

    – if so, how much?

  • Who is the audience?

    – age, demographic, industry sector, political views, sensitivities etc?

  • What do you need from the event?

    – purpose and detail of what is happening

  • How long do you want them to speak for?

  • What does success look like to you as the organiser?

I think we could find many more details but actually this is a good starting point to develop a relationship with your speaker and to ensure you get your money’s worth and have a successful event, whatever shape that is for you.

Lesley Batchelor OBE, Speaker, thought leader in international trade as a profession and way of life.

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