About the Author

Who is Robyn
Robyn Braley is committed to helping Rotarians grow their clubs to become better equipped to help people who need help. He has led two club teams that were awarded RI PR Awards and served as the District 5360 PR Chair. He has been a Rotarian since 1999.

Rotary Speaker
Robyn draws from his experience as a Rotarian and as a Communications Professional to share ways to more effectively tell the Rotary story to your community. He starts by asking the questions, "Is your club ready to grow, and why does it matter?" The ultimate focus is on attracting new members.

He is available to speak at District Conferences and Rotary leadership training institutes. Content also applies to other not-for-profit organizations.

Free Content for #Rotary and NFP Use
Please use any posts for Rotary District or club Newsletters. Include the profile at the bottom of each article, Robyn's headshot and a link to this blogsite. Let him know and he'll promote it to his social media followers.

Contact him at robyn@unimarkcreative.com

Monday, 14 September 2015

Part 1; Can Your Club’s Speaker’s Program be Improved

Jack Toth spoke about working with First Nations youth

Written by Robyn T Braley


A strong Speaker’s Program plays an important role in keeping Rotary clubs healthy and vibrant. Strong programs help keep members engaged. 


Put another way, programs with insight, information, entertainment or other relevant content give members another reason to look forward to each meeting.


But, exceptional programs don’t just happen. They require careful thought and planning.

I am very fortunate. My club, the Calgary West Rotary Club, has a decades long reputation for great programs. I have served on our program committee as a member or as the Chair for more than 12 years.

While I am mostly leaning on that experience to write this series, I also include insight gained as the Executive Director of a community based organization that staged 4-6 Gospel concerts per year. They were produced in a 1,200 seat church or in one of our city's two major concert halls that sat 2,200 and 2,700.

As a board, we balanced high cost versus lower cost artists; groups vs soloists; southern Gospel vs pop vs jazz vs inspirational; high profile vs. unknown performers. Striking a balance helped grow the series into one of the most successful series of its type in Canada.It was a subscription based series that also had business sponsorships. 

In this series of posts, which may not be published concurrently, I will focus on three topics;

Part 1 – Setting the Stage
Part 2 – Where to find Great Speakers
Part 3 -  Meeting Preparation

Where to Start


Clubs manage their program’s in different ways. Many have committees comprised of members who are connected within the community. 

Others have one Rotarian who handles all of the bookings. That can work as long as the individual is open minded and has a long list of contacts and wide interests. If that works for your club, awesome. 

A carefully assembled committee will expand the exposure to good speakers by bringing together people who come from different walks of life and circles of influence. An active committee also spreads the responsibilities associated with hosting a speaker.


Be intentional in assembling the group. Steer away from members with agendas or those who may not contribute to the process. Also, members who have “great ideas” but never book a speaker are generally not helpful.

Have an Understanding


The second step is to have a strong pipeline to the club board. In fact, I feel the program chair should be on the board. That ensures that that all club leaders are in the loop. Issues can be resolved before they become issues. 

At the beginning of the year, develop a content calendar. First, I suggest booking all club driven programs like the Rotary Foundation, Youth Exchange, Classification Talks, 4-way test presentations, club projects or any other programs requiring full program time into a specific or approximate time slot. 

In the fall, leaders of club initiatives may not know the exact date that will be required in April or May. But, if it is on the calendar, a specific date can be written in ink two to three months out.

More than once a club leader came to me in a panic requesting a date 3-4 weeks away from a deadline because they had forgotten to book a meeting for their project.

At that point there are two options. Either say no, which may cause hard feelings, or cancel what promised to be a great speaker that the committee may have pursued for a year or more. 

I have been trying to rebook a speaker who was cancelled for two years. Both options should be avoided.

It Just Makes Sense


If the Program Chair is on the board, they will be aware of board thinking and directions the board wants to take the club or issues or concerns that have evolved. Booking a relevant speaker based on that inside information may very well help all concerned.  


Finally, I feel there is value in discussing programming plans and directions at the board level. 

If you are stretching as a committee and thinking outside the box with your program strategy, there may be speakers some in the club would consider controversial. However, they may offer insight into particular issues. Board knowledge, affirmation and agreement will add to the success of that program.

Who Said What?


Clearly identify the process for booking programs. Every Rotary Club President or Director receives requests from far and wide to speak at their club. 

Many are cause related and may or may not be of wide interest. Others may conflict with similar programs in the works from other sources. I encourage such requests be passed on to the program chair for vetting as with any other content option.    

A few years ago our President committed time to a Rotarian from another city club who was hosting a guest from Africa. The gentleman was touring area clubs speaking about an amazing initiative that was supported by many Rotary clubs. The two arrived assuming the African gentleman was the guest speaker for the day.

Our scheduled speaker had been booked months in advance. We didn't clue in to what was happening until we were seating the head table and the African gentleman took a seat.

Afterward, our President shared he understood African speaker was to give a 2 minute report. It was – shall we say – confusing for everyone and - AWKWARD!

Once we figured things out we cancelled some reports and the Sargent at Arms. We also asked each speaker to shorten their presentations. Neither had the impact they would have had if the foul up had not occurred.



A Committee Empowered to Act


When scheduling programs, this question must always be asked. "What value will the program bring to the Rotarian experience?" The wonderful thing about Rotary is being exposed to many different ideas, topics and experiences.


In Part 2 I will discuss developing a strategy that will work for your club.


the end

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