Guest speakers can offer an important extension of learning and understanding both in and outside the classroom. “Inviting guest speakers into your classroom is a classic teaching strategy. Welcoming other voices into the classroom provides students with access to other perspectives, adds variety to the classroom routine, and demonstrates that learning is a collaborative enterprise” (Laist, 2015, p.1).
Planning is the key to a successful guest speaker experience and starts with the answers to these questions.
- Is the speaker prepared and understands their role?
- Are the students prepared and understand their role?
- Are you prepared and understand your role?
“Be very clear with guest faculty about the content you want covered, the time and technology available, and the class size and composition. Determine who has which responsibilities, such as posting or printing handouts or other learning materials” (Hughes, 2014, p.1).
Guest Speaker (understanding their role)
- What is it that you want the speaker to do? Is it to introduce, reinforce, or elevate a concept, process, or theory discussed in the course or part of the course objectives?
- Do you want them to demonstrate, inform, or evaluate?
- Why are you inviting them, do they have a particular expertise?
- Can the students relate to the speaker?
Once you know why the guest speaker will enhance or complement student learning and understanding, the selection of the speaker and their role becomes clear and you can communicate that to them. Most guest speakers are expecting some sort of guidance. Providing the basics is just the start: Who is the audience? How long do they have to speak? Is it face-to-face or virtual?
Only providing the basics is a mistake. An email, or better yet, a phone call providing an outline of what you want to accomplish together sets a clear expectation and often puts the guest speaker at ease. Providing suggestions like using pictures, videos, exhibits, charts, or any visual enhancements helps both the speaker and the students focus more intently.
Sample outline for guest speaker
Introduction: Who they are, where they work, job title, where they went to school (especially alumnus), the topic for the session
Tour: Whether speaking virtually or face-to-face, a tour of the working facility is important, especially if the students are looking at this as a career possibility. Guest speakers often feel more comfortable speaking from the facility than in the classroom. This vantage point offers an additional point of interest for the student.
Key concept or topic: Decide who will initially speak about the topic. You might briefly discuss what the students have been learning and then hand it over to the speaker.
Questions: Have students prepare questions prior to the presentation. You should also have a few prepared that you can also send to the speaker. These make excellent assessment topics for assignments and test questions.
Follow–up: Provide the guest speaker’s contact information (with approval), LinkedIn profile, and any other materials prior to the event and post them in your classroom platform. Strongly encourage your students to follow up with a thank note and any questions. Creating a network of credible industry experts should be a goal for your students.
Assessments: An assessment tool is critical for students to apply knowledge, demonstrate level of understanding, and add value to the guest speaker experience. Suggestions include a short topic paper, a reflection paper, or quiz.
Students (understanding their role)
Preparing the students for the guest speaker experience is an often overlooked or underestimated step. You must do more than just let them know about the speaker. Setting the expectations for this type of learning is no different than that of a research paper, discussion board, presentation, or in-class exercise. You must provide them with a working framework for successful participation. This is especially important if you are planning a semester long guest speaker series experience.
- What do students need to read or complete before the guest speaker presents? Have a way to confirm students completed this work.
- Explain their role and responsibility prior, during, and after the guest speaker experience.
- Review any required assessments associated with the experience before the event.
- Is there or should there be a dress code requirement?
Faculty (understanding your role)
Your role as a faculty host is critical in preparing and executing a successful event, developing a network of reliable topic experts, and providing an additional method of learning, and also thinking about how you might leverage its value to others.
- Can you open up the event to other classes, especially across disciplines?
- Is the topic broad enough for a panel of experts to participate?
- Can you record the session for future reference?
- Can you marketing the event?
- Make sure to thank the participants.
Guest speakers value these opportunities to interact with your students and may tell others and document their experience. It is important for you to formally thank your guest speakers. An email or handwritten note is fine, but you may want to send a letter on university letterhead specifically noting what they spoke about and inviting them back to participate again.
Face-to-face or virtual?
The short answer is both and whichever is better for the speaker. If you are planning a series of experiences, a mix of both is effective for all involved. “One advantage of online classes is the wider, richer network of guest speakers who can be invited to speak to students. Speakers no longer need to travel to campus, taking several hours out of their busy work schedules, and can instead sign into a Zoom call for however long they have available” (Bringing in guest speakers, 2021).
Inviting a speaker to campus is a big commitment for all participants. If you can create a large audience of interest, it can be worth your entire university’s time.
Matthew J. Samel holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in human resources. His focus of study is in organizational culture and person-organization fit (P-O fit). Samel teaches in the College of Hospitality Management’s Center for Food & Beverage Management. Samel is an associate member of the Club Management Association of America (CMAA), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and is a Certified Food Manager Professional (FMP – NRA), Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE- AHLEI), and a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®). In addition to teaching, he is the faculty advisor to the student CMAA chapter, where he assists students in obtaining scholarships, securing employment and internships, and attending the CMAA Student Education and World Conference on Club Management. He has lectured internationally at the Escola Superior de Hotelaria e Tourismo in Estoril, Portugal.
Bringing in guest speakers to deepen student learning (2021) IT Teaching Resources. Available at: https://teachingresources.stanford.edu/resources/bringing-in-guest-speakers-to-deepen-student-learning.
Hughes-Miller, K. (2014) The blessings and benefits of using guest lecturers, Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning. Available at: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/blessings-benefits-using-guest-lecturers.
Laist, R. (2015) Getting the most out of guest experts who speak to your class, Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning. Available at: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/getting-the-most-out-of-guest-experts-who-speak-to-your-class.