While guest speakers are often associated with private sector conferences and conventions, guest speakers are also of great value to universities, and the students and faculty they serve. Though universities maintain access to a host of “experts” in their respective fields (i.e., professors), a guest lecture series or a guest speaker event can offer an additional educational enrichment opportunity that can involve an entire campus community.
Why else is a guest speaker of value to today’s university? A credible guest speaker can contribute relevant insight about a current topic, while offering a unique perspective that can be perhaps more engaging and forthright than what might be encountered within a university classroom. A guest speaker with something bold or innovative to contribute can spark meaningful dialogue that otherwise may never have surfaced among students. Sometimes simply introducing a new voice into the mix of academic discussion can be the catalyst students need to become more engaged in their education.
University guest speakers also open up doors for cross-curricular participation and conversation. For example, as a result of a campus-wide speaking event about new efforts to fight malaria in Africa, the freshman biology major now has a chance to learn more about how his classwork has connections to real-world health initiatives, while the senior business student might discover a new interest in global health issues, sparking ideas about what an international non-profit business model might look like. In many ways, guest speakers offer accessibility and exposure to a more liberal arts-style of education. A guest speaker can also present universities with prime opportunities to facilitate small round table discussions or initiate auxiliary events after a speech to continue to build upon what a speaker advocates for.
What makes a great university guest speaker? Universities should look for guest speakers that are both informative and highly relevant; while faculty may be thrilled with the opportunity to hear a renowned literary analyst speak on the virtues of Shakespeare’s work, a more effective choice may lie with someone who has recently published a groundbreaking study on a social issue at the forefront of students’ minds. A strong university guest speaker also need not strictly focus on academics; a healthy campus community is also one that addresses a variety of important, non-academic issues that contribute to students’ development and overall well-being.
An effective university guest speaker is also someone that knows how to engage a young audience. While this may seem a trivial aspect of guest speaker selection compared to topic and credibility, presentation does matter. Guest speakers should have experience talking to a young audience and understand the level of enthusiasm and the overall speaking style needed to capture and sustain attention. A great guest speaker for today’s university is also likely one that incorporates technology, both within a presentation through various mediums and via social media. A guest speaker that makes his or her social media accounts accessible for students to leave comments or questions on before or after a speaking event isn’t a good choice for being perceived as “current”; rather, they’re a good choice because they can meaningfully engage with an audience and encourage greater participation.
In all, when a university finds a guest speaker that is engaging, accessible and knowledgeable, they’re presented with an exceptional opportunity to encourage cross-curricular participation, generate meaningful dialogue, and elevate the level of learning that occurs on campus.