Organizer Lesson: Managing Speakers

One of the fastest ways to kill a rally is to have speakers who drag on… and on… and on some more. A long-winded speaker can suck the life out of a crowd, and it’s important to keep the ball rolling. However, it’s also important to be grateful to the speakers for their time and willingness to come speak. Below are some tips on how to ┬ákeep things moving while at the same time showing respect to those who are taking the time to speak to us.

1. Be up-front about time constraints.

When you confirm the attendance of the speakers, be sure to let them know how much time they will have to speak. Don’t give a time range, and let them know that it’s a “hard” limit. The number of speakers you have, and the length of the rally, will determine how much time each speaker gets – but let them know in advance what their limit is.

2. Give each speaker an agenda at the rally.

The printed agenda should delineate how much time each person gets to speak, but it also helps earn everyone’s investment in keeping the rally on schedule. If someone sees they’re supposed to go on stage at 12:30, but they don’t get on stage until 12:35, then they will be more likely to stick to their original time frame rather than set the event back even more.

3. Assign a timekeeper

Pick someone who will be in charge of keeping time and signaling to the speakers when their time is up. They should stand in view of the speakers, and have a non-intrusive, pre-arranged signal that is easily recognizable to the speaker (but not distracting!). The signal should let the speaker know that they have about 30 seconds left of their allotted time, giving them a chance to wrap up their speech. A signal that has worked for us is for the timekeeper to hold up a brightly colored shirt. It’s quick, quiet, and effective.

4. Expect that speakers will go over

Build some “dead” time into your agenda to help account for the speakers who will undoubtedly go over. If you have a hard deadline for the rally (due to sound/stage equipment, a subsequent event in the same venue, etc.), then you should know in advance which speakers may have to be cut from the program. This only happens in the rarest of occasions, but it pays to be prepared.

Open and frank communication with all the speakers is the most important key to a smooth event. By getting everyone on the same page to begin with, you’re setting yourself up for success.

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