The centerpiece of almost any special employee resource group event is the guest speaker. After all, many of the members of an employee resource group already know each other. They’ve met at work, or at previous events or meetings. They’ve heard each other’s stories, perhaps even worked directly with each other. So one of the best ways to draw in an audience is to put someone on the agenda who has a fresh perspective. Someone who shares your values or ideals or goals but whom you don’t see in the break room.
But where and how do you find that someone? And how do you avoid getting the same types of speakers as everyone else? After all, the importance of diversity has been and continues to be seen in all areas of business, and many conference and meeting organizers have been criticized for not including representatives of the people featured in their programming. Demonstrating diversity—not just paying it lip service—means being inclusive and embracing the diversity all around us.
Now that you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a general sense, how do you find good candidates? To begin with, collect information on previous events and on your company as a whole. Consider this when putting together your planning committee. Having diversity among your planning team will lead to a much larger pool and more diverse options and ideas for finding guest speakers, because that diversity will be reflected in their own networks. On that note, a good place to start searching for speakers is through your own networks, but this should only serve as a starting point. LinkedIn is a great place to find contacts who share your perspective or have a similar background—but be careful that they are not so similar that you exclude the more diverse array of people who will make your event engaging and interesting. This is another way that diversity in your committee will pay off: finding people who are too much like you will not introduce the new perspectives that will keep your audience rapt.
As you expand your search, consider professional organizations. The internet makes such a search pretty straightforward. There are many resources for finding people to speak at your event, once you’ve decided on a topic or perspective. There is a variety of services and organizations that put together lists of diverse speakers for just this purpose. Many sites are dedicated to featuring diverse speakers: Great Black Speakers, ColorComm, Keynote Women Speakers, and Great Women Speakers are strong examples. There are also sites that have categories set aside for the same purpose, such as the list found at Executive Speakers Bureau, BigSpeak, APB, and Speaking.com are only a few. Further, there are many organizations focusing on diversity that don’t necessarily specialize in public speaking but that can nevertheless provide recommendations for skilled and engaging speakers.
The caveat of many organizations is that there is usually a cost to have the speaker at your event. But while there are possibilities if you are looking for someone to speak for free, there are two important things to consider here. One is that paying a fee for your speaker is more likely to secure someone who is skilled, professional, and motivated. The other is the inescapable truth that women, people of color, and those from the LGBT communities don’t command as much compensation. The big money usually goes to speakers who are male and white. When booking a speaker from underrepresented groups, pay for what they bring to your event. The same skill and professionalism should merit the same compensation regardless of who presents them—a woman of color bringing the same value as a white male should receive the same scale.
The advantage to having all these resources is that you can draw from them again and again. The possibilities are varied, so these tips will help you not only find diverse speakers to begin with but also find a new perspective or expertise every time. You can essentially tailor your choice of speaker to the theme or focus of your event. And in the end, that’s the goal.