Give Your Guest Speaker A Chance

Guidelines for ensuring you get the most out of your guest speaker

Why do people bother having a guest speaker for your training courses?  Well, there are many reasons and it depends on what the course is trying to achieve but a couple of obvious reasons spring easily to mind. 

Firstly, by bringing in someone who has real life experience of the course subject matter they can provide some reality to the theory and scenarios covered by the course material. 

Secondly, and some people may disagree with this, it gives the students a break from the trainer who is running the course and in that way provides a different style of delivery. This prevents over familiarity with one trainer and their way of working, no matter how good they are.

But to make sure you get the most out of your guest speaker, who may well be a volunteer or in some cases has been volunteered for the role, they need to understand what on earth is expected of them so that they can suitably prepare.  Remember too that they may or may not be comfortable with talking to groups large or small. It’s their experience and expertise you want them to impart so you need to help them understand what’s required of them up front. 

Using the following few items as a checklist ought to help ensure guest speakers are as well prepared as possible.

Session Brief

Speakers brought into courses can often deliver material that is at odds or even seem irrelevant to the content of the rest of the course.  This is usually because they have been inadequately briefed on what the whole course is covering or more often than not, not briefed at all.  It doesn’t have to be much, course objectives and outcomes, a course timetable and overview of how the course operates (mostly presentations or very interactive with lots of group sessions).  Most importantly, what should the students be getting out of the session by the guest speaker.

Group Description

Demographics, whether the students are fresh out of school or college or have significant work experience together with gender and geographic mix are all important considerations for any speaker.  Is the course of an academic or more of a training nature? Is it part of a wider series of courses (and if so what are those subject areas?) and have the students paid for this course themselves or is it part of an employer paid course?  Do any of the students have particular disabilities that need to be accommodated e.g. hearing or visual?  Do any of the students require translation or if you are presenting in a language which isn’t the first language of some of the students then you may have to keep the pace to a level that allows everyone to be able to follow what is being said. 

Providing answers to all of these questions can really assist a guest speaker appreciate where the students are coming from and enable them to better pitch their session.


Even if the background information isn’t provided any guest speaker can provide something for a group on a training course – it may not match what students are expecting but it will be something more or less along the lines of the session title.  This is far from ideal of course but what can really cause problems is assuming that the guest speaker understands the training venue and how it operates as well as ‘a local’. 

Each training venue, company premises or conference centre has its own way of working and for even the most competent guest speaker it can be these ‘basics’ that cause the most problems.  Make sure you provide directions, instructions for how to get into buildings and rooms, a point of contact with phone number and how the training room or area is likely to be set out.  Also, ensure you ask what they need by way of facilities such as projectors audio/visual, break-out rooms, flip-charts, hand-outs and anything else they might want. 

Not everything may be available and some venues can be quite restrictive in what they allow but better to have that conversation well in advance rather than having to deal with a crisis with 10 minutes to go before things start.

Using a guest speaker on a course of any description is almost always a benefit as it adds a different perspective to that of the main trainer/presenter.  To get the most out of it though it’s important that the guest gets as much information about the course, the group of students and how the venue operates to give them the best possible chance of providing something that meets the students’ needs.

Picture courtesy of


4 thoughts on “Give Your Guest Speaker A Chance

  1. As a professinal speaker I am constantly amazed at the crap briefs that I am given.

    Typically, I have to ask for the Conference title and purpose and the purpose of my session. “Why have you got me and what are you expecting the delegates to get from my session?” I beg. “Can I speak to the MD? Can I have some background? What are the key issues for the delegates right now? What do the delegates love/hate from the last conference etc…?”

    I am amazed that so many conference organisers focus on the detail (getting the logo on all the slides, checking all my slides!!!) and forget about the big picture: that is, “What do we want the delegates to be thinking/feeling/saying when they walk out of the conference hall?”.


    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks for commenting on my post. The one thing that really frustrates me is when after having put together and delivering a session or speech the feedback is that ‘it wasn’t what we were expecting’ or ‘it didn’t fit with everything else’. Unfortunately it’s usually the visiting speaker who is seen as being at fault by delegates. Thanks again.


  2. Hi Paul, some great points here. Variety is the spice of life so a guest speaker is a good idea. AS you point out, it’s really important to properly brief a guest speaker to ensure they are clear about your aims as the trainer

  3. Good points raised here. I am grateful to you for that, however I also want to thank for something else. I suffer from color blindness (tritanopia to be precise). I mostly use Chrome browser (unsure if that makes a difference), and a good many websites are difficult to read thanks to an inconsiderate selection of colors used. Here, as the choice of colors is fine, the site is very tidy and pleasant to read. I am not certain if this was a premeditated and conscious deed, or just a lucky break, but you have my gratitude.

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