The move to remote teaching has affected the delivery of many subjects. In this piece, I consider how best to work online with guest speakers and industry partners. Below, I offer 10 practical steps that you can take to ensure you can maximise the value of your guest speaker – and to maximise your own sanity in being able to deliver an enjoyable experience for all.

1. Determine the ‘who, what, where and when’ for you and your subject

A lot of people end up with guest speakers that don’t quite work out. For example, it may be offered so late in the semester that it becomes material that students do not engage with because it is not part of their formal assessment (e.g., exams). For others, it could be the context – speakers from a Business-to-Business (B2B) world are important, but you must work harder to establish the relevance for students.

Look at your subject outline and associated learning goals and objectives – how would the speaker fit in addressing these?  Is there a topic that you would profit hosting a guest speaker because it is something you are not yourself an expert in?

2. Find your guest

There are a variety of sources to find your live client or guest speaker. My advice is to always be on the lookout – I even file a link to people recording a note about potential speakers in a separate email folder devoted to the forthcoming semester.

Consider these sources: external engagement managers, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, internal directories, Google, industry bodies, emails, colleagues running similar subjects at different stages, colleagues who ran the subject in the past, alumni from postgraduate subjects you have taught, or even graduates who have taken the subject before.

3. Pitch something of value

Hi. Do you want to come speak to more than 200 twenty-year old students on a Friday night at 8pm? 

Subject coordinators need to consider the guest speaker or industry partners’ point of view in their invitation. You have thought about it from the students’ perspective – but what might various speakers be looking for in accepting your offer to meet and share with students? Industry bodies for instance are looking for new recruits and new members, while internal speakers are looking for KPIs and a record of their visibility and impact within the university. Consultants are looking for that new network or future customer –  some are hoping to hear from your students in terms of their experiences as consumers, as well as offering their developing expertise on the topic.

4. Agree on the ‘who, what, where and when’

Now you have a general agreement with your guest speaker or industry partner, the next is to nut out the timing, medium, location and any follow-up activities (eg. a second session, awards, judging). Thankfully, an online environment provides a few additional options that work well for busy professionals giving up their time.

For instance, this semester I worked with the fabulous Marisa Laria, who is Brand Manager at Revlon Australia. Originally, Marisa was all set to arrive with her team to speak face-to-face to students in Week 2. However, Marisa ended up pre-recording a lecture onto PowerPoint as we moved the subject entirely online following the directive from UTS in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Marisa then followed up with students with two live Q&A sessions, held with students in the usual lecture time, and using Zoom. What a superstar!

5. Design engaging assessment for students

If you find your external speakers are met with poor attendance, perhaps you need to look at it from the student’s perspective. In other words, what is in it for them? 

Linking the guest speaker activity can be tied to assessment or linking it to learning outcomes formally or informally in several ways. For instance, a task could be designed about preparing and researching the background of the guest speaker and their organisation. Another could be a reflective task designed about summarising key learning outcomes.

6. Help prepare your guest to deliver

While the guest lecturer prepares, you could help by offering some past examples of lectures or materials that have been used, offering insights into the assessment structure and how they fit in, or sending the subject outline (they can also see the sequence in which they arrive in the subject). Sometimes a past student project gives them a better idea of the proficiency of students and the level at which they may be able to assist. You can be helpful by assisting the guest speaker in the mechanics of recording their lecture.

7. Promote the event to staff and students

Having secured a guest lecture for students, many subject coordinators may think that all students now simply need to do is turn up – this makes students very passive from the outset. Instead, I try several things: First, I set the date early on and advertise this to students to ensure that they know when these critical events occur. Second, I discuss the reason for why the guest plays a role in their subject assessment and/or relates to their professional or personal development. Third, I encourage students to reflect on the questions that they would like answered prior to the lecture.

Tutorial or supporting staff can also be very important to ensure the guest lecture experience is a fruitful one – they may have links to potential guest speakers or offer insights into how the speaker could best be used and areas they feel students could benefit. They could also assist by helping students to prepare relevant questions for the guest speaker during their tutorial class times.

8. Collate student questions beforehand

With students and staff now aware of the impending guest lecture, it is important to collate the questions that students have. To do so, I have often created a devoted online discussion board for students to post clear, edited and concise questions. It is important that students are encouraged to use this facility by directing staff to help students populate this and sending an email to advertise its availability.

I then collate these questions and forward these onto the guest speaker. In return, the guest speaker is better prepared and able to amend their talk to answer such questions on the night. It also avoids the embarrassing and awkward silence when the guest lecture finishes their talk and asks: “Has anyone got any questions? … Anyone?”

9. Capture and share the moment

Sharing the event with others to promote your subject and the collaboration of the participant and their organisation is always encouraged. The obvious way to do so is to use some form of social media. For me personally, I use twitter (you can follow me at @drpaulburke), but others do so via LinkedIn, the school website or newsletter, or your own personal or staff website. In some cases, it may be worthwhile talking to your media officer or head of external engagement within your group beforehand. Some staff may be even lucky enough to engage with their Dean or Associate Deans to attend the talk and help further promote the event and its collaborative value.

It is also pertinent to think about privacy and securing permission. Participants – including the speaker and students – should be reminded prior to start of the event that the audio will be recorded for internal viewing later or that photos of the event may be shared publicly on social media. When doing so, do not forget to tag and add the handles of your school, the participant and the organisation they represent.

10. Send follow-up and return invitation

Having completed the lecture, it is always nice to follow-up with the guest speaker and thank them for their generosity. Passing on some feedback capturing student and staff experiences is also useful. Of course, securing the speaker for another subject or a return to this subject should also be solicited.

Successfully working with external speakers and subject clients

An invitation

Would you know of a guest speaker or a client to be involved in one of my subjects? If so, drop me a line using emailtwitter or LinkedIn. Likewise, if you would like to speak to me about talking at your next event or collaborating in teaching or research, please feel free to connect. 

This post is an abridged version of a more detailed article by Paul on LinkedIn.

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