Do a bit of detective work to uncover speakers

Recommendations from public, staff provide clues

Question: What’s the best method for choosing a speaker for community outreach presentations? What criteria do you use to select a speaker, and how do you ensure that he or she is knowledgeable on the topic as well as a dynamic speaker? Also, how do you get good speakers to participate?

Answer: Never assume that just because a person is a well-known author or researcher that he or she will be a good speaker, says Mary Szczepanik, BSN, clinical program coordinator at Grant-Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, OH. The best way to select a speaker is by referral.

"One of the guidelines we used in nursing education was that someone on staff needed to have heard the person speak," she says.

Many people who speak professionally have video tapes with a biography and clips of presentations. "In this way, you can actually see them speak and see what their presentation is like," explains Leslie Crawford, MSW, manager of community health education and the resource center at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, NE.

Once you have created a list of possible speakers on a topic through references or by viewing their promotional videos, ask them to prepare an outline of the program content and explain how they will present the material. Ask what teaching methods and educational tools they will use. This information will help to determine if they are addressing your audience and if their presentation is appropriate for the time frame in which they will speak, says Szczepanik.

Also, it’s a good idea to meet the speaker or talk to him or her on the telephone, says Martha Kiefer, RN, MS, community education coordinator at Provena Mercy Center in Aurora, IL. Before your conversation, write up a list of questions you might ask to determine if the person is right for the speaking engagement. For example, ask where they have presented before.

"If they rattle off 10 different places they have presented, chances are they enjoy speaking. Generally, that would indicate they are good presenters," she says.

Also, pose questions on the speaker’s topic when you talk to them on the phone, advises Szczepanik. Have them address an issue or problem such as cooking for a family member with heart disease when teen-agers live in the home.

To find the appropriate speaker, it’s wise to know exactly what you want to accomplish, says Szczepanik. The speaker needs to know the audience makeup, its size, the time frame of the presentation, and the purpose for the presentation. This will help the speaker know if he or she is appropriate for the job.

Also, if a patient education manager makes sure that potential speakers understand the purpose of the talk, the speaker is more likely to achieve the desired outcome.

"For corporate clients who want a class on a particular topic, we’ll come up with a catchy title and a description of the topic that will meet the clients’ needs. Therefore, the speaker knows exactly what we want them to talk about," says Sharon O’Brien, manager of health promotions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Kiefer adds, "Decide who your audience is, narrow the topic to target them, then find an expert in that field."

To find that expert, go to the department that specializes in the topic you are addressing, she advises. For example, if the topic is blood pressure and you have narrowed it to medications, go to the pharmacy department for a speaker. Approach the department chair or a manager because they will know which staff are good speakers.

Many hospitals have speakers’ bureaus where they have identified experts who are qualified to speak on a topic, says Szczepanik. For example, they may have six or seven experts on advance directives listed.

Another good source for speakers on a particular topic is a medical center with a model program. Often these programs are written up in literature. To find the appropriate speaker, call the institution and ask for the program director, says Szczepanik.

"If you get a speaker from a model program, you will have to spend a little more time finding out who they are and the focus of their talk," she says.

Don’t overlook the members of the community you create the programs for when looking for good speakers, says Crawford. They are often your best source.

"Patients ask to hear authors of a book or a physician that has a good reputation as an expert on a topic. A lot of times their requests spark leads," she says.

Crawford always follows up on the requests by investigating whether the suggested speaker meets her criteria. (For information on the criteria for a good speaker, see story, at left.)

With enough funds, it is not difficult to attract a good speaker. Physicians often will speak if you assure them that they will meet individuals that could be potential patients, says O’Brien.

"Our referral rate from classes is about 5%," she estimates.

Another good way to entice the participation of staff is to make sure managers buy into the concept of presentations and see the value for their staff. Talk to them and get their support, says Kiefer. Then begin building a database of people you can call when you need a speaker, she says.