Advice and Experience Report from an OrganizerAshish Sureka
Organizing an eminent or distinguished speaker seminar series in a company requires lot of time and energy from the primary coordinator for the event who takes support from other people within the organization. I have been organizing a distinguished speaker seminar series at ABB Bangalore called as WISDOM which has been successfully running for one year now. In this article, I share some of my experiences and practices which I believe and hope is useful for organizers like me who are interested or I must say passionate about hosting such talks. The purpose of the seminar series is to invite brilliant external (external to the hosting organization) speakers to share their knowledge and ideas, interact with the audiences and inspire them with their talks. Following are some of my thoughts:
Buy-In from the Management You (seminar series coordinator and the lead host) need to first write a proposal to the senior management of the organization or decision makers and convince them about the value and structure of the seminar series. Clearly mention the type of speakers and topics you want to focus. Our company is a technology company but our talk’s spans diversity of topics which audiences find very interesting. Some financial sponsorship and budget will be required to run the seminar series. Mention how many talks will be conducted in one year and what will be the duration of each talk. Propose a good name for the event and brand the seminar series within the organization.
Unbiased and Pro-Bono All our talks are on a pro-bono basis (without charge) expect a modest and equal honorarium to all the speakers and a standard memento. The talk should not have any promotional, marketing or commercial intent and should be completely unbiased. Also, avoid talks which are religious or politically sensitive in nature. Make sure that the purpose of the talk is not to raise money or funds for charity or sell or promote any particular organization (even non-profit), person or belief. None of our speakers are paid or people who charge a fees for speaking engagements. Make the purpose very clear: learning, sharing of knowledge and ideas, personal growth, good conversation and discussion, motivation, gathering and engagement of employees.
Auditorium with Enough Space Preferably use an auditorium (more like a theater-style look) with decent space to accommodate the expected number of audiences. If the venue space is less and not commensurate to the number of people attending, then naturally the overall experience of the audiences will go down. The overall quality of the auditorium in-terms of its seating capacity, stage, audio and video equipment, lighting arrangements, seating comfort and arrangement can make a lot of difference on the overall experience.
Inviting Brilliant Speakers The most critical aspect of the seminar series are the speakers. Inviting truly great and brilliant speakers is the key to success for the seminar series. You can talk to colleagues within your organization to connect you to a potential speaker. One can search for speakers on the internet and find their contact details. I have been able to invite speakers with whom I had some direct or indirect prior contact and few speakers whom I searched and contacted without having any past interaction. Invite speakers who are very accomplished in their respective fields and who are also good speakers passionate about sharing their experiences and knowledge.
Multi-Channel Talk Dissemination Once the speaker, date and time are decided, then the talk needs to be disseminated and promoted within the organization. Announce the talk to all employees (by sending an email meeting invite) within the campus at-least 2 weeks in advance so that they can block their calendars. There are several other ways in which through which we have been promoting our talks: display on notice boards, display on LCD screens within the organization and on office social networking website such as Yammer. Featuring the seminar series in various communication material within the organizations such as monthly newsletters also attracts interest and attention of the employees.
Pre and Post Event Preparation Organizing a talk is a big endeavor which does not only require the time and energy from the primary coordinator but also from several other volunteers and staff members. Take help from colleagues and create a check-list of pre and post event action items such as company cab booking for the speaker, making someone in-charge for videography and photography, someone in-charge for setting up audio and video equipment, making lunch arrangement for the event, collecting and handing over the memento, auditorium booking, creating flyers for the talk, taking feedback and suggestions from the audiences on how to further improve the talk.