This is it. The big day. The night of nights. The Great Guest Speaker you invited to campus arrived on time, delivered an interesting talk, engaged with students, stayed to answer questions and even made lovely remarks about your beautiful campus.
Now, if only you could tell more people about it and let them know that this is the sort of really cool stuff that happens in your program/department/school all the time.
You can. It’s called a speech story.
But the event is over and why should you bother writing it up? Speech stories are good content for your blog or online and print newsletters. Online visitors browsing around your site will catch a glimpse of your day-to-day academic life. Social media managers love the links. Guest speakers have interesting things to say and big ideas that add to the discourse that is part of the educational experience.
And these stories needn’t be big productions. There are several ways to write them, but here follows a basic news-style formula that goes together fast – an important consideration if you want to quickly push this out on your social media platforms.
Cut to the chase
Lead with the most interesting point made, the wow, a surprise or the emotion, rather than the fact that there was a speech.
Try: Americans will see more of their widgets manufactured by the International Union of Underwater Sea Monkeys in 2015 thanks to unprecedented labor deals with widget manufacturers, according to Guest Speaker, a leading industry analyst who spoke to Professor Hoohaw’s class Tuesday.
Avoid: Professor Hoohaw’s class enjoyed a visit from an industry analyst of widgets who shared many interesting insights in a talk sponsored by The Widget Making Club.
Add context … or not
If your speaker is so well-known that no introduction is necessary, go straight to the first quote. If not, transition to a quote with just a smidgen of context: “Guest Speaker is a leading scholar of … ” or “Guest speaker drew from her industry experience as … “
The first quote
Then insert a quote that expounds on the main point and underscores why it’s notable. To get these quotes, take notes and use a recording device. Always take notes. Every reporter has a horror story of a failed recording gizmo.
But don’t be a slave to transcription. I rarely transcribe entire speeches. Instead, I take notes and use a recording app (I like
) that lets me look at a screen during the recording so I can note the exact time of a particularly salient remark. When I write the story I can zip straight to that moment in the recording and quickly transcribe a full quote. That process looks like this in my notes:
Answer the why
Now, the housekeeping paragraph. Add a bit more background about the speaker and the occasion or reason for the event. If you want to emphasize that there was a huge turnout here’s the place to add “spoke to a standing-room only crowd of students.” Or, conversely, it’s also the place to mention if it was a seminar class where students were treated to an intimate conversation with a leading expert. This is where you mention which school or department hosted or sponsored the talk. If it’s a significant annual lecture, it’s appropriate to note the donor or endowment that supports it.
Return to the thread introduced in the lead and repeat the pattern. “Guest speaker attributed the industry trend to …” Then another quote. If there’s a secondary subject to note, you can also bring it in here and follow the pattern. “Guest speaker also stressed that …” Another quote.
If you have good material, you can go another round or two in this fashion. But if the highlights veer toward ho-hum sidelights, stop while you’re ahead or you’ll lose readers.
A how-to speaker?
Did your speaker offer practical advice and tips relevant to students in the program or discipline? Choose the best three and bullet-point them. It will break up your text and readers love tips.
- Three tips is a good number.
- Embrace brevity and summarize.
- Plain bullet points are easier on they eyes than lists of 1, 2, 3s.
Leave ’em thinking
Finally, save a solid quote for the closer, a reward for readers who read to the end. It should be something significant, emotional or that has a big picture feel to it. Speakers’ closing remarks sometimes naturally fill this spot well and it’s okay – we’re not chasing Pulitzers here – to even introduce that quote with a straightforward “Guest Speaker summed up with … ” or “left students with this final piece of advice …”
It’s formulaic, no-frills and simple, but it works. Even if you have a transcript or video you can link to in your post, readers appreciate getting the gist of something before they settle in to watch a full video or read the complete text of a speech. To prove it, here’s a nice example of how this formula was used when no less than a Supreme Court Justice popped by to give a talk at
So, plan for those speakers and plan to write about them, because the messaging doesn’t end when the microphone turns off.