VMUG Playbook: Make it Memorable for the Guest Speaker

This is the second post in my series of developing your user group. In my previous post, I shared how starting a user group is hard but building relationships with your members and going beyond “faces in seat’s” with fuel your growth.

My seven part series on developing your user group:

At some point while running your user group, you may decide to invite a guest speaker. This is typically done when the guest speaker has a unique message to share that you can’t really get anywhere else. Most often these folks are from out of the country or from a different part of the country.

We know travel can be a challenge at times, and for these half day or full day user group meetings the effort is usually two to three days away from the family and that time can never be replaced. It’s important do what you can to make the guest speaker feel like the trip was more than worth it.

Here are a few common sense suggestions to make your guest speaker enjoy their time with your group and community.

Make gifts practical and fun

Find out if they have ever visited your city and put together a package of items for them to remember the city by. Make some of the items practical and others fun. In our case we pulled together some items from the local sports teams – that included slippers, shirts, winter clothing, etc. One guest speaker even got a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with their name on the back.

It’s important to share these items at the end on their session and in front of the user group so everyone can celebrate and thank them for coming out to your meeting. It’s a real special feeling when everyone is showing their thanks and you get to watch the expressions of happiness on the guest speakers face.

If they arrive the night before the meeting, do what you can to meet them at the airport and drive them to their hotel. From the time they touch the ground don’t let them worry about anything – become their personal concierge. I also like to take my guest out to dinner the night before, always best to introduce them to local foods if you can, otherwise go to a really nice restaurant and spend the time getting to know them more. We took one of our speakers to the 360 Restaurant on top of the CN Tower. We then went and had fun in the tower walking across the glass floor. That was scary and exciting!

Oh and if you can, consider driving your speaker back to the airport, that’s also a nice way to see them off.

Don’t let the guest introduce themselves. Take the time to research everything you can about what the guest speaker has done and currently doing and spend the time to share with the group. I took this lesson from one of the greatest interviewers in Canadian television – Brian Linehan. One of his trademarks was how much he knew about his guests. I would get a lot of joy from watching the expression on his guests faces as he would share their life story.

Yes making a lasting impression takes time, commitment and a lot of work but the big payoff off is when a potential guest speaker asks someone who has already spoken at your event “Hey, the folks from Toronto asked me if I can speak at their user group, I know you were there last year, what do you think, should I do it?” and their reply “Yes, without question”.

Guest speakers are not hired hands

Guest speakers are not hired hands to get people in the seats. Treat them like an extension of our group and immerse them in the entire experience. If you have done your part right then you will have a remote team of guest speakers evangelizing with their peers about how cool it was to speak and visit your user group.

These suggestions are here to spark your thinking on what you can do to make attending your event memorable for the guest speaker. I know these sometimes can seem like little things, but it’s those details that make the difference.

Let me know what you have done to make your event memorable for your guest speakers? Do these ideas help? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter.