College shows and lectures are super exciting! Having an artist, speaker, or comedian come to your campus can bring a new and oftentimes underrepresented perspective. Invited guests can bring new and vibrant ideas and help faculty and students alike to extend and apply ideas discussed in the classroom. There are some important things to consider when setting up a speaker or entertainer for your college. Whether you are a student, faculty or administrator there are always issues that will occur (systemic, political, etc….) and hopefully this blog post will help you avoid some of the speed bumps your might encounter.
As a comedian, keynote speaker on Disability and trainer I have presented to students, faculty and staff. I also have years of experiencing working in a college environment planning events and bringing in speakers. Needless to say I know challenges from the perspective of the speaker as well as the college representative. You will always have last minute problems come up, but it is best to have as many of these as possible taken care of as early as possible. Hopefully these tips will assist you in this process and help you to think through possible speed bumps to a successful presentation.
1. Plan ahead! I recommend that you plan your event at least 3 months in advance. You should consider the following in the initial stages:
-It sometimes seems that colleges are caught off guard by awareness months and celebrations. October may be approaching and someone asks, “why isn’t anything being planned for Disability Awareness month?” and you feel on the spot and may scurry to throw together an event. Take a look at your master calendar and plan out what events might be good to do and when. Personally I feel that every month should be Disability awareness month, as every month should be African American and women’s history month. Why should celebrating these communities be relegated to one week or month? Nonetheless, awareness months are great opportunities to introduce topics and celebrate communities that are not regularly reflected in the traditional academic curriculum.
-What is the objective of your event and what speaker will fit your needs?
-What speakers are a good match and what are their rates? Where do they live and what will travel costs be? You might want to see if there are events in your area that are bringing in a particular speaker. If you are on a limited budget, you might be able to pull a speaker or artist from a nearby event. You may have to compromise on the day that the speaker comes to your school but you might save on airfare.
-Make sure you have a contract once the speaker is confirmed. Check with your institution to see if they need a seperate contract or if the speaker’s/entertainer contract is sufficient.
-Remember to include lodging, in addition to transportation, into your budget. You should plan for the person to stay for two nights.
-Where will you have the event? Will it be in the theater arts building? Maybe in your largest lecture hall? Or your student union hall? Consider how many people are coming, because you don’t want the venue to be too big. If you get 50 people at your event, that is awesome, but it will look unsuccessful if there are 300 seats and everyone is spread out. So plan your space carefully!
-All students have a right to attend all functions. When school sponsored events are not accessible to all students, it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities. Make sure that your event planning addresses physical and communication access (interpreters for the Deaf). You should contact your office of accessibility for more information. Also plan on inclusive seating where the wheelchair accessible spaces are scattered throughout the audience.
2. Collaboration is the to getting different departments and people invested in the event.. The more groups you involve, then the more people will take notice that your event is happening. One warning! Too many cooks really can spoil the broth. You might want to pretty much have everything planned out and then ask people if they want to be involved. This can limit input. Also be clear about what partnering means for the other entities. Will they pay for the lodging of the speaker? Is it simply in name to get butts in the seats? Have an idea as venturing into the discussion. You might also want to invite the big shots to your event and even have them introduce your speaker. Sometimes people, for political reasons, want to be “seen” so why not be seen at your event!
3. Funding is always an issue but there are some creative ways to think about how to pay for the speaker/entertainer, lodging, airfare and food. I previously addressed this on my bog in the post titled: Funding Disability Awareness Events on your College Campus. The blog entry also applies to programs that are not Disability centered.
4. Working with the speaker or their agent can offer some challenges. Communication is key to a productive relationship. Be clear on what your expectations are including what kind of presentation you are looking for, whether or not the presenter can sell their swag (books, t-shirts, etc…) after the show, if a student volunteer is available to help with the sales as well as any outreach you would like the presenter to assist with. If your event is open to the general public, will the entertainer be expected to do an appearance on a local talk show. If this kind of outreach and marketing is expected, that should be included in the contract.
If you are working with a comedian, have a frank discussion on what your expectations are for language and content. I have jokes that I will do at a nightclub and an entire one person show I do for colleges and benefits with minimal adult language that has an Disability awareness component. Be sure that you consider what you want the entertainer to convey and what not to say and be clear about these expectations. Some comedians may not want to be confined by topics and language, so finding this out early is helpful to not waster your or their time.
5. Marketing and outreach is important to your event. I will be doing a separate blog post addressing marketing efforts (which I will eventually link here). You should consider all aspects of marketing including social media, press releases, flyers (signs and postcards) as well as advertising outside of the college community. Also, knowing what your objective for the event is, helps to focus these efforts. For example, if you want to outreach to diverse communities as a college, then advertising outside of the school is crucial.
6. Figure out the money part early! If you are paying the presenter through the student government association, the process is different compared to your office of multicultural affairs. Early on in the process figure out how everything from the presenter, to travel and to food will be paid for. How will the airplane or train be paid for? Will the presenter need to cover that themselves and then get reimbursed? Will the entertainment need a deposit to cover initial expenses? Who’s credit card will be used to pay for the hotel room? What is the process for ordering up a check to pay the presenter? Is an invoice needed to process the check? Most presenters write in their contract that the check will be given the day they have completed their work. Will this even be possible according to the system you are working with? Keep in mind also that different college departments might pay at different times. Student government maybe able to cut the check immediately, but the check from student life may need to be approved by the assistant to the dean and the dean. Make sure you know what this process is and realistically communicate it to your presenter.
You might want to ask local businesses for donations and sponsorships. Why not hit up Safeway for snacks or the local hotel for lodging? Make sure you know if there are any processes for accepting donations for events. Higher education has a way of complicating these processes, so make sure you know what you are getting into and how and if it needs to be processed officially.
Pulling off an event is exciting, anxiety provoking and rewarding. With the right planning you will do an awesome job! If you have other recommendations, please feel free to leave them here!!