Making Your Guest Speaker Invitation a Success, Not a Mess —  April 21, 2014

Inviting someone to your church or event as a guest speaker is a common practice.  Most of the invitations go well.  But I have heard and experienced some horror stories that I believe could have been prevented if there was a clearer understanding beforehand.

When I was in seminary I was invited by a pastor to have a weekend retreat with his church.  I bought my plane ticket, got a car and paid all my expenses to get to the event.  I spoke several times that weekend and at the conclusion I got a “Thank you very much” and Goodbye”.  I ended up paying for all my expenses because the expectations were not clarified in the beginning.  Here are some practical suggestions for the ones who invite.

When you invite (Downloadable “Guest Speaker Information Form” available here)

1.       Be clear

  • Explain what the purpose of the event is and the audience they will be speaking to.
  • Specify how many times they are presenting and how much time they will have for each presentation.
  • Send them a copy of any promotional materials and schedule that you have for the event.
  • Estimate a realistic number of attendees.  This is important especially if the presenter is going to be giving any resources or handouts to their audience.
  • Explain your AV capabilities and ask for any AV needs.
  • Ask if the person is expecting to sell his materials and share with them what your policy is on that.

2.       Be reasonable

  • Don’t surprise the speaker with extra assignments.  For example, don’t schedule 6 messages in one day in two locations.  This takes a toll on the presenter’s voice and quality of presentation if they are overextended.  One time I was speaking for a weekend event and after the Friday night presentation the person in charge asked me to participate in a 6am activity.  I had flown several hours, was starting a cold and was scheduled to speak for six hours already the next day.  Be reasonable!  Trying to take advantage of your speaker will almost always guarantee that they’ll never come back to your location.

3.       Be transparent

  • This is one that happens to me often.  The person who invites builds up the event to be larger and better than what it actually turns out to be.  We all know that sometimes projections don’t pan out.  But don’t make up things just to land the speaker.
  • Be careful of bringing speakers in to fill your own personal agenda or vendetta.

4.       Be generous

  • Ask them if they prefer to make their own travel arrangements (ex. Flight, hotel, etc…) or if they prefer for you to make it.  If they choose to make their own arrangements, remind them to please keep all receipts and to give you a copy of them for reimbursement purposes.
  • Tell them what you will cover financially.  Including the specific amount of the honorarium, airfare, hotel, per diem and car rental you have budgeted for.
  • One of the things that I really appreciate is when a church sends a little card or a gift card for my wife or kids.  Being separated from your family while doing ministry is difficult.  When you come home with a gift from your travels it makes your family feel they’re important too.
  • Have the reimbursement/honorarium check waiting for the invitee.  If you are not going to have it ready because not all of their receipts have been turned in please let them know.
  • A question might be asked,  aren’t denominational workers paid to do what you are inviting them to do.  The answer is yes and no.  A person that travels out of his district to do evangelism or weekend events will have extra expenses.

5.       Be accommodating

  • Let me bold, underline, italicize and put this next phrase in a different font.   DO NOT buy the cheapest, 3 hour layover, nine hour flight you can find on Expedia.  Pay the extra $50 or $100.  You want you presenter to be at their best.  Traveling is not glamorous.  It takes a lot out of you.
  • Except for rare occasions don’t put the guest in a members home or your own home.
  • Ask if they have frequent flyer miles with a specific airline and purchase that ticket from that airline.
  • Same goes for the hotel.  We’re not talking about the Ritz Carlton.  A comfortable, nationally recognized chain is preferable.  A 3 star rating is a good starting point.
  • Once again ask they have points with a particular chain of hotels.
  • If you choose not to rent a car for the speaker please be sure to have reliable transportation for them.  Do not assign them a person who is overextended and not flexible to be their mode of transportation.  Speaking can take a toll on you and a little down town in between is really appreciated.
  • Be on time when picking up your guest at the airport.  Make sure you have exchanged contact information beforehand.  It’s also helpful to exchange pictures so both you and they know who you’re looking for.

My personal practice when I invited a guest to my church was to treat them well.  Not just financially.  We went all out to bless the man or woman of God so they knew their service for God was appreciated.  Next week…what to do when you’re the invitee.

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4 responses to Making Your Guest Speaker Invitation a Success, Not a Mess

  1. Haskell Williams July 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks for putting together a concise (yet encompassing) guide to inviting guest speakers.

  2. Roger,

    Aside from the occasional typo (LOL), this list is fantastic. As a full-time pastor as well as my wife and I being certified video presenters for Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, many of these resonate. Thanks for posting this.

    • July 2, 2013 at 4:05 am

      Thanks for your comment Karl. What would life be without the typos? 🙂