The staff have congregated in the hall, bronzed from holidays on distant beaches and refreshed. The new academic year is days away and your aim for this morning is for your colleagues to be motivated, inspired and engaged, ready to meet the challenges ahead. You have recruited a top speaker to ensure that this happens.
He begins to speak and the staff are, initially, attentive. But then he starts losing the crowd. He starts losing you, too. You look at your watch and realise that he’s only been up there for five minutes. You hope it will get better. But you know, deep down, it won’t.
You’ve hired a dud.
Outside speakers are a key part of schools’ training days. The very best inspire and illuminate but if we get things wrong then the result is wasted time and money. So, to avoid disasters, here are some tips on how to make the most out of your speakers.
Have a clear idea of what you want from the speaker
Speakers come in many shapes and forms. You might want a motivational speaker who can energise your staff, somebody who brings charisma or even something off-the-wall to shake things up. You might need an expert who can deliver staff-specific training. Or somebody who can give impetus and context to a new whole-school initiative. You need to be clear about your objective, write down the specifications that meet that and then find people who best match what you need.
Do your research
Like plumbers and dentists, speakers are best chosen through the recommendations of others. Seek out these recommendations from nearby schools and colleagues. But beware: we all know, as teachers, that a lesson that has gone terrifically well with one class can fall flat on its face with another. Multiple viewpoints are essential.
Promote and prepare
Proponents of the flipped classroom know that we all learn better if we are prepared in some way. Your school and your audience will get more from your keynote speaker if you do groundwork for the talk. If you can get your speaker to put some thoughts down for your website, or to tape a short interview which can be posted, then you’ll have helped to generate a buzz.
Give the speaker every chance to succeed
Sometimes you will need to save the speaker from themselves. If they tell you, “I never use a microphone for my talks,” it may also mean, “The people at the back never hear me, but they’re at the back so they probably don’t want to, anyway.”
If the audience is likely to be big then give your speaker a “Madonna mic” in case they want to move around. And make sure that you have a roving microphone for questions.
Give the audience every chance to succeed
If the speaker is good enough, then the staff will be buzzing. They will want to discuss what has been said and what it means to them. Preselected break-out groups, given a theme to discuss and then offer feedback on, are always popular. Why not have the speaker act as the facilitator for the plenary session? And ask somebody to minute proceedings and write up the feedback to be circulated among staff the next day.
Get the biggest and best bang for your buck
Many speakers are more than happy to take on extra tasks above and beyond their talk. It doesn’t hurt to ask if the speaker would be willing to deliver some break-out sessions, or to speak to parents. They might em-cee the event or act as a facilitator. They might also be open to one-to-one email contact.
We all like to take away a little something from an event. Many speakers offer up their PowerPoint slides for circulation. What is clear is that, following a great keynote address, a school would do well to make sure they press home any ground won.
Kris Spencer is a senior leader and school governor