How to Be A Great Guest Speaker in the Classroom

For several years, I was an adjunct instructor at a university. It was a great experience for me because the students asked tough questions, which meant I had to know my stuff. And I’d like to think it was good for them as I could share my real-world experiences with them.

(Photo by Bill Farrar)

(Photo by Bill Farrar)

Several times I invited outside speakers to talk about their jobs and experiences. Almost all were fantastic, but a few weren’t. Here’s what works and doesn’t –

Share about who you are and how you came to the position you currently hold. However, students are savvy and will have looked you up online so stick with the highlights. We don’t need your entire biography.

Be prepared. Don’t just show up to the classroom and ramble. I always shared in advance with guest speakers my expectations, including time limits. Most speakers would then come with some key messages and sometimes handouts. Anecdotal stories are great – if they have a point.

“The best classroom speakers are the ones who can help bring the concepts being studied to life,” says Bill Farrar, APR, and instructor and PR sequence instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications. “First-hand war stories, visual examples, dos and don’ts, tales of success and failure, and a healthy dose of reality open students’ eyes far more than any textbook every could.”

Allow for questions. Students are curious and while you may not think something is important, it could be the one thing students want to know about.

Be honest. Students want to hear the good and the bad. One guest speaker talked about crisis communications and being on call 24/7. Being in the know can be exciting but giving up weekends, family time and sleep is not so exciting. Students need to know what the challenges are so they can best assess what would be a good fit for them.

Provide contact details. If you are willing, provide students with how to reach you after you leave the classroom. Only one or two will follow up, and they are the ones who are committed to learning and furthering their careers. It will be worth your time to chat with them.

2 thoughts on “How to Be A Great Guest Speaker in the Classroom

  1. Roger J. Hudak says:

    I learned early on that you cannot bluff or lie to a classroom full of kids. They instinctively know when you do…they don’t know why or how, and they don’t have the answers. but they know. It is best always to be as honest with them as you can…especially the very bright one. Accepoting that they actually may be much brighter that you are. They deserve your best in an honest and interesting way.

  2. Great tips, Cynthia! I’ve also found coming prepared with questions to ask the class/students is helpful. If the class is quiet during the Q&A section, I usually throw a couple questions there way to get everyone talking.

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