Leveraging Referrals to Find Speakers

Referrals January 22, 2018 By: Cindy Simpson, CAE

Recommendations are often used by professional development leaders as part of the content and speaker selection process.

Findings from the 2016 ASAE Professional Development Section Council survey indicated that professional development leaders have a challenging time identifying and keeping up with trends and the learning needs of members.

To address this issue, the PD Section Council compiled emerging practices and industry trends related to content and speaker selection. One of the practices relates to how speaker referrals and recommendations are used in the content selection process.

One association that incorporates referrals and recommendations is the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The majority of ASAM’s educational offerings come from a planning committee, which meets frequently via conference call.

“Speakers are identified by committee members based upon previously acknowledged topics,” says Molly Mazuk, associate director of professional development. “Staff then take these recommendations and reach out to the speakers.”

If an association includes member volunteers on its planning committee, Mazuk says, it will most likely get the best speaker recommendations from those who are “active, engaged, and in line with the organization’s mission, as well as up to date with the current science and policies.” If you accept recommendations from your committee members, she says, “they need to be good committee members.”

On occasion, good speakers are found through surveys or in feedback on questionnaires from event attendees, who may recommend certain presenters or topics as ‘must-haves’ for future years. 

Rate to Find the Greats

Evaluating speakers after an event is a crucial step. They can be rated using a qualitative or quantitative survey completed by attendees either onsite after each session or after the conference. However, surveys require careful question construction to obtain useful information, says Mazuk. She notes the importance of tracking expert and attendee feedback to make survey data more quantifiable, so save the information in a speaker database, association management system, spreadsheet, or other format.

Other options for rating speakers include evaluating group discussion at the end of the session, observing the presenter’s interactions with participants, interviewing attendees, and reviewing video of the presentation.

Keep It Fresh

Bear in mind that speaker recommendations may perpetuate the “same old” style of presentation, which may also lead to bias. To guard against this, Mazuk suggests tracking and vetting recommendations and referrals and asking potential speakers to submit CVs or previous presentation recordings.

Finally, she offers a bit of advice that will resonate with many pd professionals: “organizations should have policies in place which would allow them to dismiss planning committee members who are not contributing to the content-development and speaker-selection process.”

By following established policies, the process of identifying speakers and content through referrals and recommendations will go much more smoothly for volunteers and staff alike.

Cindy Simpson, CAE

Cindy Simpson, CAE, is the chief business development officer at the Association for Women in Science in Washington, DC.