What To Do When You’re A Guest Speaker

The invitation to be a guest speaker is an incredible honor. Whether it’s a conference or another church, you’re filling a vital role. So here are five tips on how to be a good guest speaker.

1. Honor the host, but not at first.

You should absolutely take time during your message to thank the host and honor the church. Most people do this right at the beginning of their talk, but this is a mistake. Use your opening minutes to share a powerful statement, draw people in, and find common ground. Don’t waste those minutes on small talk.

Winston Churchill said praise at the beginning of a talk comes across like flattery while praise in the middle of a presentation sounds sincere. Thank the pastor and honor the church in the content of your talk, not at the beginning when it’s more important to engage the audience. During your message, talk about what God is doing in the church or your relationship and respect for the host pastor.

2. Watch the clock.

You may feel like you have more to say, but refusing to stick to the time you’ve been given is a sign of dishonor – like you’re message is more important then the church. If you’re given 30 minutes, do not talk for 31. Your job is to communicate a message in the time that you’ve been given. Your host has taken a risk in inviting you to speak, the least you can do is stay on schedule.

Actually, It’s best NOT to stick to the allotted time…use a little less. Nobody ever gets mad at the guest speaker for ending a few minutes early.

3. Ask clarifying questions in advance.

After you’ve agreed to speak somewhere, it’s time to ask great questions. Whether you schedule a phone call or exchange emails, get all the information you need. Here are some questions you should ask.

  • What time should I arrive?
  • Who should I meet when I arrive?
  • What should I wear?
  • What media should I bring?
  • How many people do you expect to attend?
  • What is the makeup of the audience?
  • Will there be a podium or a place for notes?
  • How should I end the talk?
  • What will happen just before I speak? What will happen after I speak?
  • What will happen after the last service?

If you’re inviting a guest speaker, you should prepare a document to answer all of their questions. Clarify everything in advance and you’ll be set up for a smooth event. There’s actually a sample document in this resource.

4. Circle back after the event.

Don’t let the final service be your final contact. When the event is over, you should follow up with your host. Instead of the rapid-fire email, send a personal note of appreciation and let your host know some specific things you enjoyed about the day.

It’s also appropriate to ask for honest feedback for how you might improve your presentation for the next time. A short feedback form on the web is usually a good idea. Wufoo is a free, online form builder that works great for this.

5. Don’t push the limits.

As a guest speaker, it’s not your job to clarity deep doctrinal positions or expose the congregation to new radical ideas. Unless you’re specifically asked to head into new waters, your message should live in the “safe zone” for that particular church or event. You shouldn’t make theological or philosophical jumps that someone will have to clarify later. If you’re not sure your topic or point is appropriate, just ask.

What would you add to this list? What do you think it’s important for guest speakers to get right?