We’ve all been moved at one time or another by a great speaker. Maybe it was that sincere first-person account, a truly informative presentation, a humorous speech, an emotional appeal.
Well, imagine having a bunch of speakers lined up to help with the myriad communications objectives you’re trying to achieve at your school. That’s right, a school speakers bureau to get the word out about all the great stuff going on at your school.
A popular communications vehicle for non-profits, businesses, government agencies and organizations, a speakers bureau is another tool you too can use to engage and educate your school community.
A good speaker is a great – and often overlooked – tool in the school communicator’s toolbox.
For community outreach, parent engagement, student and staff motivation and education, a speakers bureau can bolster your communications and become another strategic tool in your communications planning.
Here are steps to take and some tips for creating a speakers bureau at your school.
1. Why have a school speakers bureau now?
Experts and authorities can make topics come to life, bridging the break between theory and true understanding of the subjects they’ve experienced or know best. A speakers bureau can bring many aspects of your school and the issues surrounding students, staff and parents closer to those not on campus day in, day out. A speakers bureau can:
...help personalize your school
One of the unfortunate casualties in this age of digital and social media communications is the interpersonal, face-to-face touch. Speaking engagements are a great hedge against this trend and allow you to shape and present messages that build bridges with the community.
It’s important to realize that most any forum where people are gathered presents a golden opportunity to tell a school story and tell it in one of the most personal forms of communication.
Sure, a superintendent’s blog, social media, carefully crafted emails and a well-designed website are important, but all speaking opportunity puts a face behind your school communications.
Whether yours is a public school seeking to garner support for a tax levy, or a private school ramping up its admissions marketing, speakers can help you carry just the right messaging to your audiences. Not just key staff and board members, but faculty, students, former students and others can help you recruit prospective students, raise funds, attract media coverage and generally increase your school’s visibility. A speakers bureau is a personal and powerful way to take any campaign ‘to the streets’ and support any communications objective.
...help reinforce school leadership
One of the charges of any school or district is to instill faith and confidence in the public that your school is doing its job. Whether its administrative leadership, faculty excellence, student performance or other key areas in which your school excels, speakers are talking proof of the leadership in your school, and can go along way in developing the credibility and ultimately trust that strong leadership will yield.
2. Find your speakers
Your first step in assembling a speakers bureau for your school is to assemble a list of potential speakers with expertise in a certain area that pertains to your school. The operative word here is ‘potential’ because this will be your wish list. Not everyone will be available or even want to do it. But most people will make the time to talk about something they know a lot about and serve as ambassadors for your school mission.
Look for well-spoken individuals, of course, but they needn’t be practiced orators to be effective representatives of your school. Authentic is good, as long as they’ve something to say. Being knowledgeable and engaging about their subject matter are most important.
If you’re the communications lead in your district or at your school, start with yourself when pulling together your list of ‘potential’ speakers. Survey your faculty, staff, board members and those in the community who strongly support your school and see if they’ll make themselves available to speak on your school’s behalf.
Consider panels too when it comes to weightier subjects or when it’s appropriate. A cross-section of your school stakeholders – staff, student and parent – brings different perspectives to any school-related topic.
3. Welcome ‘inbound’ speakers too
Your entire school community can benefit from a school speakers bureau. It’s a two-way street. Not only can you take the resources connected to your school and use them as mouthpieces to spread important messaging about your school, but conversely, you can solicit school community members to speak to your school groups.
Pinellas County Schools in Florida has set up a great process for enlisting community members who might be interested in presenting to student, staff or faculty groups. Communications director Melanie Marquez Parra and her staff have set up a comprehensive speakers bureau web page that includes a volunteer registration form, guidelines and a speaker directory. Way cool.
The public is invited to share personal and career experiences that could be of value to the school. PCS has a committee that reviews applicants and their respective programs.
4. Find your audiences
There’s a wide range of speaking opportunities out there. Many organizations and business groups are always on the lookout for meeting content providers. Seek out groups that have regular meetings. Civic organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus are always on the lookout for luncheon speakers. Your local chamber of commerce can be helpful in both providing forums at their own meetings, or hooking your school up with members who could host a school speaker.
Networking and promoting that you in fact have a school speakers bureau to offer are keys to finding audiences. Provide your prospective audiences with a list that shows the range of topics and people who can present. Perhaps the most engaging way to connect with the external community, a school-sponsored speaker can share his or her expertise in small- or large-group settings.
5. Select content/topics
The topics you choose to offer up (or consider hosting if you’re soliciting outside speakers to present at your school) depend, of course, on the expertise of the presenter. Within your school’s internal audiences you’ll find people with various backgrounds and interests and sometimes it may take a little digging or prodding to uncover that next speaker and/or topic. Look for tie-ins to current and special events (e.g., national months like, Black history, mentoring, women’s history, mathematics awareness, etc.)
Some topics to consider:
6. Training and preparation
Don’t expect or allow even the most accomplished speaker to hit the streets without some training. Creating a Powerpoint or similar electronic slide presentation template for your speakers to use will ensure quality and branding consistency. This will help in branding both the school and the speakers bureau itself. Sit through a dry run of your staff and students’ presentation before letting them fly solo. For outside supporters who may be presenting on behalf of the school, share the slide template and ask if they need any other help in preparing their presentation.
Having a speakers bureau can work on many levels in your school: for getting the word out and for getting the word in. It can personalize your school for the community by bringing it to life – supporting your mission of preparing students for life.
To support education objectives, find the outside speakers who can present the subjects that can inform, motivate and even entertain your students and staff. For school communications objectives, look for the right people in and connected to your school to deliver timely and important topics, and the audiences will come.
Author's note: Besides Pinellas County Schools, there’s not a whole lot being done out there in the way of forming a school speakers bureau, but check out this private sector link on forming a speakers bureau, and offer up any suggestions below or contact me directly if you can add to the discussion.
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Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.