3 ways to get the most out of nonprofit speaking engagements

Speaking for your nonprofit at an industry event or trade show? You can maximize the return on investment from your speaking engagement with the right preparation and mindset.

1. Plan your speaking appearance well in advance.

Most events are booked a solid three months before the actual event date. Make the most out of this time to prepare.

Who should speak?

The speaker doesn’t have to be the executive director. In fact, your organization’s leader may not always be the best choice to speak. If you’re handling the keynote speech for a trade show focused on marketing and fundraising, your organization’s donor relations manager or marketing executive may be better suited to speak.

How should you prepare? 

Start by taking a look at the event’s themes, as well as the other speakers who will be presenting. This will give you a good idea of the topics you should be presenting, along with a basic idea of what other people will be saying. Most events have a press or speaker contact, who can help you strategize if you’re stuck. When considering your time limit, make sure that you’re factoring in time for audience questions.

If you’ve got an hour scheduled to speak, set yourself 45-50 minutes for your presentation and 10-15 for Q&A.

What should you bring?

Most event spaces allow for some kind of basic presentation, like a slideshow or video presentation. If it’s a smaller audience, consider some kind of handout or pamphlet for your organization as well. And don’t forget your business cards—you can never have too many!

2. Change your strategy if you’re taking part in a panel.

Most panel topics and panelists have to be submitted in advance, which means you’ll need to have your basic idea and attendee list finalized before you know if you’ll actually be appearing.

If you submitted your basic theme in advance, that’s a great starting point. Come up with four or five questions to run through as part of your conversation, as well as an additional 4-5 questions in case you run through your main questions too fast.

Make sure to take some time to meet with your fellow panelists and discuss the questions in advance. You don’t need to plan out your answers, but you should give panelists an opportunity to call “dibs” on one question or another if they’re the best suited to answer in depth.

3. For seminars and workshops, plan for audience engagement and participation.

What should you teach or demonstrate?

The best way to decide on what to demonstrate is to look at your organization’s biggest successes. In your last fist-pumping victory, what did you do right? What could you do better next time? Scale down your observations into a case study, and present your key findings with plenty of opportunities for audience members to ask questions and adjust your procedures for their own organizations.

How can you boost audience engagement?

While they still involve a component of presentation and public speaking, workshops and seminars often rely on a group activity or project to drive the main point home. As you’re studying your organization’s big wins and losses, find ways that you can work audience engagement into your key takeaways. For example, if your last major fundraising campaign found a huge success in top-quality press releases, it might be a good call to teach attendees the ins and outs of writing a kick-butt release.

To maximize ROI, try to get the most out of every appearance.

If you’re appearing at a trade show or as part of a larger event, make sure to maximize your time spent on-site. Attend other speakers’ presentations, mingle at networking events, and stick around after your appearances to answer audience questions. The more time you spend interacting with attendees, the more your audience will remember your organization’s name and mission.

You’ll also have the added benefit of associating your face with your organization: If you make a good impression on your attendees, they’ll be able to help you make connections and start conversations later on in the trade show circuit.

Like most trade shows and events, speaking engagements go the smoothest with the proper advance planning. You’ve got this!

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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