Advice on Hosting and/or Accepting Speaking Engagements

by Jared C. Wilson April 10, 2017

I’m not a long-time veteran of traveling ministry or a guy who sells out conferences, so there are plenty more people more qualified than me to speak to these things, but I’ve noticed that very few do. I’m not sure why. But when I first started receiving invitations to speak at churches and events, I would’ve loved to have a post like this for some guidance. If you’re interested in hosting a conference or otherwise hosting a speaking engagement, or if your ministry platform is allowing you to begin pursuing God’s call into that option, I hope this advice (from the perspective of a frequent speaker, if not a big one) will serve you well in considering how to honor God and your neighbors.

FOR EVENT ORGANIZERS

1. Clarity is really important. Make sure you clearly and consistently communicate with your speaker or with his designated point person on itineraries and expectations. If you are new to event hosting, it makes sense that you may not have everything logistically figured out, but here are some key bits of info to get to your guest speaker as soon as you are able:

a. Is someone picking him or her up from the airport? What is their phone number? Is someone hosting them, driving them, escorting them? Ditto.

b. Where is your guest speaker staying? What is the address of this place? If hotel, confirmation number for reservation?

c. Do you expect your guest to be at meals or other meetings during the event? When, where, and what for?

d. Can your guest submit receipts for travel reimbursement? Who do they send them to?

2. Be sensitive to a speaker’s temperament/personality. Your guest may be an extrovert who loves spending all the margin at the event hanging out and talking. Or he may be an introvert who needs to recharge between teaching sessions. Likely, he or she is somewhere in between. This is another place where clarity is important. Ask your guest about their preference — when and how often would they like some privacy? Do they mind spending some time at meals or meeting people in the foyer, etc.? Don’t assume that every guest speaker is like your gregarious, glad-handing pastor or like last year’s painfully shy conference speaker.

3. Try not to throw any curve balls. Sometimes things come up that require rearrangements of schedule or content. That’s understandable. To the best you’re able, however, don’t improvise. Changing things on the fly may frustrate what your speaker has prepared for. Also: If you’ve communicated to your speaker that you’d like a set number of speaking sessions, don’t start adding new obligations at the last minute or — even worse — during the event. “Since we’ve got you here, do you mind…?”

4. Pay promptly. This is the awkward one, I know. Acknowledging that there are people who travel to speak who don’t need the money or who are overpaid or whatever, most folks traveling to speak have included their speaking engagement income in their family budget planning. It may seem like “extra” to you, but it is not often “extra” to them. If you cannot provide their speaking payment until weeks after the event, please let them know. (Again, clarity is important.)

Interestingly enough, this is the piece of the speaking engagement organization that most often falls through the cracks — “Oh, I thought so-and-so gave it to you…” — which puts your speaker in a very weird and awkward position, especially if he’s sensitive to the money issue. When I first began accepting speaking invitations, I lost money on a few engagements because I didn’t get paid — and in a couple of cases, was surprised to learn I needed to pay for my own accommodations and travel — and I was too afraid of looking like a money-grubber for asking about it. Looking back, I realize this isn’t money-grubbing. It’s just wanting to be paid for your work, just like you would want if payday at your job came and your employer “forgot” to give you your paycheck. So let’s avoid all the weirdness and just pay our guests what we’ve previously and clearly agreed to pay them.

FOR SPEAKERS

1. You are not a big deal. Don’t act like one. This is the most important piece of advice. In the last 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few places where the reputation of the previous year’s speaker still hung around like the b.o. in that “Seinfeld” valet parking episode. I’ve got some stories, let me tell you. Brothers and sisters, if you travel to speak, you may be long gone from each engagement, but your reputation will hang around. Some of you are setting the bar really low for those of us who follow you. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a diva.

2. Honor the event hosts/organizers or church pastor(s). Make note of them in your talks, thanking them for the invite, commending their ministry, or otherwise reflecting on some time you’ve spent with them. It’s a little gesture that can mean a lot.

3. Fraternize as much as possible. I’m one of those weird introverts who enjoys being with people. Also, one of my favorite parts of traveling to speak is meeting brothers and sisters all over the place, learning what God is doing in their lives and in their churches, and hearing about the different missional contexts they minister in. So I try to spend as much time out of the hotel rooms and green rooms as I can. But because I’m an introvert, I often need some recharging after meeting people, especially if meeting them involves a lot of personal storytelling and ministry. And because I’m not a very dispassionate speaker, I often need a little recovery time after I speak. (I’m much more personable before I speak, which I’m beginning to learn is somewhat uncommon.)

I say all that to say that I totally understand the speaker’s desire to retreat. It’s not sinful to do that; it’s often the best thing for someone who wants to give their teaching sessions their best. But if you are spending quite a bit of time at an event or church, spend a good amount of it hanging out, not hiding out. Ask questions. Get to know people. It won’t hurt you. And it will often communicate as well as any sermon you give. It will even make your sermons more listenable.

4. Look out for the little guys. Many speakers try to make their speaking ministry more “efficient” by minimizing the number of small events they participate in. I think this often misses the biggest blessings. No, smaller events cannot pay as much. No, smaller events cannot offer you the same level of accommodations or boost your profile or help you sell as many books or whatever. But there are faithful brothers and sisters laboring in obscure places who would be incredibly blessed by your ministry if you could spare them some time. And I think if you go into these smaller venues with heart open, you will see you are often blessed much more than they. Don’t get too big. (See, again, #1.) If you’re just starting out speaking, smaller venues will probably be your only option. But if your platform starts to grow, you will be tempted to leave your roots behind. Don’t do that.

I do hope this has been helpful, but of course, your mileage may vary.