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

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Part 3 Insider Tips for Building a Strong Rotary Club Speaker Program; The Mechanics

Engaging, Informing, Challenging, Entertaining, Inspiring
Written by Robyn T. Braley

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I explained why a strong speaker program is important to a Rotary Club. 

To repeat, quality meetings add value to the Rotary experience by keeping existing members engaged. Quality meetings provide a reason to invite prospective members and other guests.

A strong program will also provide opportunities to create public relations events that attract mainstream media and can be promoted on social media. More about that in a later post.

Before reading this, you may want to check out the first two posts

Managing the Bookings

The most effective program committees include some of the busiest members of the club. That also means they won’t be patient wasting time “to and froing” about dates, speaker appropriateness, etc.

Members must have the latitude to nail down an open date while they’ve got a potential speaker engaged. If you wait to hear back from other members giving their approval or opinions of alternate dates, you may lose the opportunity.

But, I must acknowledge there can be inherent dangers in this approach to booking speakers. There are three ways to manage the committee so that speaker quality and appropriateness is maintained.

  • Appoint a strong chair who is given final authority to accept or reject a speaker
  • Recruit members whose judgement can be trusted
  • Create general speaker guidelines for your club; use these posts as a guide.

Free Market Approach

Rather than assigning months, themes, or committee member quotas, I suggest taking a “wide open” approach in order to be able to schedule the best speakers possible. I suggest cutting out the layers.

Why? Many speakers are contacted through spontaneous business or community interactions. Don’t miss an opportunity to book an outstanding speaker because the dates they are available are not your month, their topic does not fit the theme of the month, etc.

Find a date, book your contact and inform the Chair and the committee. Immediate communication is key here. 

If you have a working committee of 5-6 members, each member will only need to book approximately 4-6 meetings during the year. Some will book more and some less. The emphasis for each member should not be on quantity but quality. 

After presentation quality comes topic variety. Scheduling too many speakers in a row like not-for-profit leaders, economists, engineers or famous sports personalities who can’t speak will soon cause grumbling within the club.

What You Are Responsible For

When you book a speaker you are their host. Below is a suggested list of duties and responsibilities.

  1. Book the speaker.
  2. Share the names of 8-10 other speakers who have spoken in the past to provide context for your speaker program and credibility.
  3. Confirm the selected date with the Chair asap.
  4. Identify technical requirements like video or PowerPoint playback, wireless mics, etc.
  5. Do they need internet access? Will they bring a memory stick or their own laptop?
  6. Obtain a s bio and head shot for club promotion.
  7. Clarify the topic, length of the talk, whether a question period is appropriate, etc.
  8. Contact the speaker 2 to 3 weeks before the selected date to reconfirm arrangements.
  9. Arrange for an introducer and thanker. Inform your president who they are are 2-3 days in advance.
  10. Let authors know selling their books or musicians selling CD’s is encouraged. Other products are generally not.
  11. Determine if the speaker will be accompanied by a spouse, an executive assistant, etc. so you can assign a Rotarian to host them.
  12. Give the speaker all of your contact info, meeting location, map, parking info, arrival time, best door to enter the building through and any other info that would be helpful for the day of the event.

Why is the last item important? Most speakers are like you. Incredibly busy. Providing detailed logistical information reduces the stress they will feel going to a place they may be unfamiliar with.  

Some speakers like politicians, public officials like the police or fire chief or senior company executives have official aides or “handlers.” Because of their title, they feel they must “handle.” You may have 2-3 calls during the days leading up to the meeting to reconfirm details. Some of them may be annoying.

Promote your Club

Take advantage of the opportunity to promote Rotary and your club to the speaker. Describe club projects, relevant members of the club and other information. 

The Calgary West Rotary club builds schools in Guatemala, does clean water and micro-credit in Honduras, builds houses for the poorest of the poor in Mexico and a host of local program. Speakers are always intrigued and impressed.  

I try to choose introducers and thankers who have something in common with the speaker. Why? The time spent visiting while at the head table is another opportunity to make a positive impression.

Jay Ingram is an engaging speaker. Perfect for Rotary
We recently had Jay Ingram, a speaker who is a national award winning science broadcaster, a former national newspaper columnist, a world class keynote speaker, the author of 13 books and has a long list of other achievements. 

Jay had never spoken at Rotary before our meeting. He was totally impressed by the projects our club does and the difference we make. He got it.

Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL hockey player, revealed many years ago that he had been sexually abused by a coach while playing Jr. Hockey as a teenager. 

He has since become an international authority and spokesperson for helping abuse survivors reclaim their lives and bringing offenders to justice. He has founded an organization that is a world leader in helping recovering kids and adults.

Sheldon had never spoken to a Rotary club before. Our room was packed to overflowing with Rotarians and guests.

Sheldon Kennedy
At one point during his talk he became very emotional and had to pause for a moment. After the meeting, he apologized to me for becoming emotional. I explained there was no shame as Rotarians understand pain and tears.

But that wasn't it. Sheldon explained that he had been moved because he could see in the eyes and body language of the Rotarians that we not only heard but understood the importance of his message. He shared that in the early days, he didn't always get that kind of response. 

What if They Cancel

Stuff happens. People die, politicians are unexpectedly called back to the capital (that’s a big one), the speaker's out of town relatives drop in for surprise visits, speakers are stranded in another city due to a storm, emergency surgery’s come up and scandals are revealed. 

There are many reasons why speakers might cancel. If these sound exaggerated, know that I have known each of these to happen during 12 years of service on our club’s speaker committee.

What to do

A couple of years ago a high profile politician cancelled at noon the day before their scheduled meeting. Yes, you guessed it, he had been unexpectedly called to Ottawa.

I had a major business presentation and couldn’t deal with the speaker problem until I got back to the office. As I am also a speaker, I was thinking of subbing in when experienced a moment of brilliance. 

I went into my speaker resource file and found an email from a not-for-profit organization that had requested a date 6 or 7 months before. I called at 4:00 that afternoon and the Communications Director graciously agreed to come the next day. That meeting turned out to be one of the best of the year. 

Our club hosts 1,300+ guests for a gourmet breakfast and bleacher seating for the Calgary Stampede Parade which attracts 300,000. After the Boston Bombing we started thinking about how vulnerable we were. 

I booked our Calgary City Police Inspector who was in charge of the bomb squad. Wouldn’t you know it, the day before his scheduled meeting someone left a bomb on the steps of our city courthouse. I fully expected a cancellation call which would have been totally understandable. I had a plan “B” in play.

The cancellation call never came. Instead, the Inspector came and delivered a very timely and relevant talk about counter terrorism. 

Why didn’t he cancel? Firstly, he explained his team had determined the bomb was a fake. But, most important, he had been touched by Rotary as a boy and viewed our commitment to promoting peace and helping people who need help as a way to address terrorism in developing nations.

Emergency Program Ideas 

Below are emergency program ideas. Any of these can be organized with some key emails or phone calls on a few hours notice.

A singing dog will be popular.
  • Send a crisis alert to your team. Someone may have a speaker on standby.
  • Set up two bar stools. Conduct an interview, a la TV talk show, with a Rotarian who has recently been somewhere or done something remarkable. Ask them in advance for 3-4 questions that you can ask to start the interview.
  • Choose 2-3 Rotarians who have decidedly different vocations. Ask them to talk about recent trends, innovations or changes that has affected their profession. Limit their speaking time to allow questions at the end.
  • Ask 1-2 Rotarians to share what we call their Rotary Moment, that life changing moment when they first witnessed - and understood - the full potential and power of Rotary.
  • Divide the club into groups. Challenge each group to come up with 5 plausible ways to solve a silly problem. The sillier the better. Make it a contest and time the session. Each group must assign a member to explain their solutions. Give a silly prize like candy kisses to the group that comes up with the silliest and funniest solutions as indicated by wild audience applause
  • Book your spouse, your cousin, your uncle or your neighbor’s singing dog. I can guarantee the singing dog will be a real hit regardless of what kind of music it sings.
Robyn Braley is a marketing specialist, keynote speaker and writer. He is also a Rotarian who is passionate about Building the Rotary Brand. Robyn has led two teams that received the Rotary International PR Award. He has also served as the PR Chair for District 5360. 

Contact Robyn

Email: robyn@robyntbraley.com   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @rtbraley_rotary 

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