Planning Tips

Tips for Running a Successful Speakers Event
Adapted from a publication of the South Dakota Humanities Council

Preparation and Publicity

Program coordinators should be both knowledgeable and passionate about the Speaker’s subject. It is helpful to know certain facts about the Speaker, the subject, and who might attend the program. Encourage attendees to stay and be part of a discussion after the presentation.

Several weeks before your event:

Contact the Speaker.

You have already contacted the Speaker before applying to the Council for funding. Now make sure that the Speaker knows what to expect. Contact the Speaker at least once more before the event. Be sure to tell him or her the kind of audience to expect and the level of knowledge the audience may have about the topic to be presented; discuss technical issues such as podiums, microphones, size of room, etc.; give travel advice or directions; and, give the Speaker the chance to ask you for any other information he or she might need. Discuss what information you can use to briefly introduce the Speaker at the event itself.

The day of your event:

Arrange the room.

  • Arrive early enough to check the site. Have the Speaker arrive early enough for any last minute briefing.
  • Check the sound equipment to make sure it works properly and everyone can hear. Also know how to operate other equipment requested by the Speaker, such as a projector.
  • Make sure the room is ready with chairs and/or a refreshment center with beverages, food & napkins.
  • Prominently display a New York Council for the Humanities poster and announce Council support when you introduce the Speaker (this is required!).
  • Greet people as they come to the program.
  • Arrange to have photographs taken of the event – a good photo image can help your future publicity efforts.
  • Begin and end on time. Leave the participants wanting more, but not feeling cheated. Encourage them to attend future programs.

Conclude effectively.

Help participants make use of what they learn from the Speaker by encouraging their questions after the presentation is over. Be genuine. Convey that you are pleased that the participants have joined you for something that you enjoy and find important.


Developing audiences, both in terms of quantity and quality, takes a great deal of work. Well-written publicity used by your local newspaper and radio station will help, and to that end we include a model press release for your event in your letter of award.

The personal touch is perhaps even more important than press. This list will help you think of a variety of ways to develop local audiences. Successful program coordinators say that personal invitation, and word of mouth are the most effective ways to attract and retain audience members. Here are other ways.

1. Put posters, sign-up sheets and news releases out early. People need time to hear and think about the program.

2. Encourage and invite people to come. Don’t wait for people to ask – tell them!

3. Take the press release to the newspaper in person and ask about when it will be used. Answer questions the editor may have and find out deadlines and other requirements for ads and releases.

4. Reach out to nearby communities that may not host Speakers in the Humanities events. Contact media in those communities.

5. Postcards, brochures, and bookmarks are all good ways to publicize your event.

6. Go beyond the publicity materials supplied in your award packet. Posters can be duplicated and put up in grocery stores or community centers around town. A letter to the editor can also be effective.

7. Phone certain potential participants or make other personal contacts. Encourage participants to invite others.

8. Encourage people from a variety of age groups and occupations to join. Try to attract people who represent a wide range of viewpoints. Encourage segments of your community who might not otherwise come. These efforts will make discussions more dynamic!

9. Invite new people in the community to take part. This is an excellent way to get acquainted.

10. Schedule the event for the convenience of the participants. Look for days and times away from regular community activities, like church, sporting events, or community concerts.

11. Refreshments are crowd-pleasers. In some cases recipes related to the topic can be tried. Ask 4-H clubs or high school groups to prepare recipes to help them make connections with adults who are lifelong learners, and invite them to attend the event.

12. Local coordinator duties can be rotated, like calling participants or making refreshments. Volunteers often enjoy tasks which can make them feel a greater ownership to the program.

13. Use the evaluations for planning subsequent events. Consider thoughtfully the suggestions of participants.

14. Use an unusual color for your flyers or postcards to make them stand out in the mail.

15. Radio stations often look for local stories and would welcome the opportunity to promote the program in public service announcements, and/or through interviews with you and/or your Speaker on a talk show.

16. Churches will sometimes place announcements in newsletters or bulletins. Service clubs, educational and teachers groups, AAUW, Rotary, Kiwanis, and other groups can provide audience members and be willing to promote the event their