Speakers and Societies: Singing the Duet

It was in September 2003 and I was in Orlando at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference when I had one of those moments when I wished I was twins. I was scheduled to be in one place, and wanted to be in a lecture by Rhonda McLure entitled, “Speakers and Societies: Bridging the Communication Gap”. My twin never materialized but someone who was there took time to tell me about it.

She spoke about the initial and followup communication and that sometimes when one or the other party needs quick answers, a phone call is needed, and always in the negotiation stages emails need to be answered promptly. Even if all that is reported is that a full response is being delayed until all board members are consulted.

Rhonda talked about contracts. Today we can attach contracts to emails during the discussion stage, so when it comes down to the final signing and mailing, all the questions have been resolved. The contract is important. If you want someone to take a day off their regular work to travel across the state — or two states to appear before your group, you both need a contract to protect you when things go wrong, to spell out just what was agreed on, and to handle emergencies. I recall being caught in a crisis myself and having to cancel the engagement. It felt awful, but could not be helped. Worse, the contract did not include a proviso on what to do. Fortunately the compromise I suggested worked out but it cost me half the air fare.

Rhonda, according to my informant, spoke on equipment needs. In my contracts today I stipulate equipment needs. Even the size and nature of the screen used is defined. I once found myself in a small town genealogy society event, with me as the main speaker and the hosts had a 4 foot wide silver screen for my overheads to project on. It did not work. In another place the society borrowed an overhead projector that was ancient. The mirrors were badly tarnished and nothing actually projected! But the screen was just fine! I like the ten foot screens.

Handouts. When I send the society the handout masters . I expect them to be made available to each participant for the cost of registration. I have twice run into situations where the local society decided to sell the handouts seperately. I remained calm but expressed my displeasure to the appropriate persons. You see, the handout is the intellectual property of the speaker. If the Society sells the handout, the funds should go to the speaker on top of the fee. So many speakers put in the contract a note that the handouts are to be distributed free, but only to those registered for the event.

As always, your comments are most welcome!

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2 responses to “Speakers and Societies: Singing the Duet

  1. Ken,

    I’m usually on the society side of these negotiations. As you say, plenty can go wrong. I try to use a checklist to cover all of the potential problems – date, topic, handout, speaker bio and presentation summary, directions to the venue, speaker’s fee, contract, equipment, program timing, lunch afterward, emergency phone number, advertising, etc.

    Our society has a very limited budget for speakers fees, and we don’t charge attendees for our monthly meetings. We typically have two to three local professional speakers each year to whom we pay a negotiated fee. The Board has allowed me to offer up to a certain fee without further approval in order to move things along, but I can’t overrun my budget amount. We do provide the speakers handouts to the attendees without a charge.

    The other speakers during the year are from our society or the 5 other local societies that produce regular programs (we are fortunate to have this many societies, and there is only a small overlap in membership, it seems), and we/they speak without requesting a fee (is this unprofessional? Probably, but then many are not “professional genealogists,” just interested and involved genealogists, like me).

    My biggest problem as a program arranger is to get a response from potential speakers. I’ve been waiting for a response for three weeks now, and am about to give up on him, since I have a late April date I have to fill soon. And that is holding me up on asking one of my other speaker candidates, since I don’t want to offer a date without knowing which date the first candidate might choose. I tried it the other way – contacting three speakers at once with a choice of dates. It worked out, but it was a headache for me to slot everybody.

    Cheers — Randy

  2. Unlike many of my peers in the genealogy lecture business, I do not wait for business. I actively pursue it. I am still working on my British Columbia tour I began in March and though many dates are full, I am still waiting for at least one society and one library to respond to proposals. Weeks drag on. No response. If speakers and host organizations responded promptly to communications, the stress would be relieved.
    Ken

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