Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Guidelines for Incorporating Guest Speakers into Your University Classes

As I noted in a prior blog post, students in my classes rate highly the opportunity to hear speakers from different organizations in the area.  I consider guest speakers an important part of my class plan.  I invite colleagues and others I know whose experience complements mine. I also believe they will communicate well with my students regardless of their age. I haven’t always succeeded in achieving the latter, but my track record is pretty good.  I also invite individuals who some students might envision as career role models.  

Here are guidelines I’ve developed to incorporate guest speakers into my classes:

  • Extend invitations early.  Schedules fill quickly.  As soon as I’ve finalized the syllabus for a course I invite prospective guest speakers.
  • Match speakers with topics covered in the syllabus, as much as possible.  It's optimal to meld readings, classroom discussion, and outside speaker presentations on one topic. 
  • Confirm speakers in writing, and provide necessary details.  Specify the date, time, and location of your class. Describe the topic the speaker will address. Specify how much time will be allotted for the presentation and questions. Share a profile of your students. Include their areas of study, interests, and relevant experience.  Attach a copy of the syllabus and any other material on the class that you feel will be helpful for their preparation.  
  • Secure a biography or resume from your guest speakers. Disseminate it to students in advance of the presentation. 
  • Address logistical concerns in your confirmation letter.  Inform your speaker about the availability of parking, especially if that’s an issue where your university is located. Let him/her know you can secure necessary equipment and/or make copies. Set a deadline by which you must be notified to complete these tasks.
  • Follow up with the guest speaker a week before his/her appearance. Check to see if your guest has questions.  Update him/her on anything that’s happened in class that might be relevant for the presentation. Identify possible questions related to the topic and share them with the speaker.   
  • Check to see if the speaker can stay after the presentation to interact with students. Remind the speaker to mention if his/her company hires student interns during the presentation. 
  • Greet the speaker and introduce him/her to the class.  Be sure to mention the personal and/or professional connection between the two of you. If the speaker makes available to students a copy of the presentation, mention that in your introduction. 
  • When the speaker finishes, announce a break. The time allows students to interact with the speaker. You also can escort him/her out of the classroom. 
  • Ask the students for feedback on the presentation immediately afterwards. Focus student concerns on what they found most helpful in what the guest shared.
  • Write and send a thank-you note to your guest speaker. Incorporate specific points mentioned by students.

Guest speakers are not a substitute for a well thought out lesson plan. Yet they can add enormous value to your class. I’d urge you to incorporate this professional expertise whenever and however you can.

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