Advice from an expert on how not to burn out your retreat speaker.
NOTE: As I was preparing for a women’s retreat, I found a rumpled paper copy of the article below among my papers. I offer it on the blog as helpful advice. Unfortunately, my attempts to find the author proved unsuccessful. My crumpled paper copy contains only the following line of information: “This article is by Tara Barthel, a speaker who has served thousands of women at retreats and conferences over the years.” Apologies if I have misidentified the author in any way.
1. Don’t forget that she is a human being.
Your event speaker is undoubtedly there because she loves God and loves His people. She wants to serve! However, she is a human being—not an ATM machine. So if you schedule every single moment of her time and see that she is being bombarded with hour after hour of women wanting to speak with her and seek her counsel and care, please intervene and help her to “disconnect” so that she doesn’t fall over from pure exhaustion. (Subtopics under this one would include “don’t forget to offer your speaker occasional food & water” and “if it’s minus five degrees, be sure she has a blanket in her cabin.”)
2. Think carefully about who you assign to drive her to/from your event.
This may seem like a small thing, but trust me, it’s not. Most event speakers can hang in there with the best of them when it comes to wrong turns and delays due to simple driving mistakes. But when you assign your event speaker to a reckless driver who talks non-stop on her cell phone while gunning her sports car, or to a sweet but absent-minded and unsafe driver, it adds a level of stress to the event that could be easily avoided. Ditto on putting your speaker in a minivan with five troubled women and expecting her to counsel them for the entire two-hour drive to and from the event. (If you burn your speaker out, she won’t be able to serve well.)
3. Don’t elevate your speaker above her audience.
I can’t tell you how counterproductive it is when event hosts read my professional bio aloud to introduce me. Formal education, degrees, work, and ministry experience might be interesting to a person thinking about attending an event—but no one wants to hear that at an event. The people are already in the room! And the ground is absolutely level at the foot of the cross. The best introduction I receive at events is, “This is Tara. She is Fred’s wife, Sophia Grace’s mom, and a sinner saved by grace.”
4. Remember that even though this is your one big women’s event for the year, it is probably one of many for her.
Please don’t expect your retreat speaker to both teach at your event and participate in all of the fun and games. She may be an extrovert who receives a lot of energy off of spending time with people and so she may want to join in with all of the festivities. But more than likely, she’ll need some down time to rest, call her family, and prepare for the next session. Be sure her room is far away from the all-night “fun” and that her name is not on her door (to avoid any 2AM drop-by visits in jammies).
5. Be careful how you provide her with information on your event.
She may prefer long phone chats; but more than likely, she will organize event details in writing/via email. Please don’t bombard her with contacts from multiple people on your event team. Instead, assign one woman to be the “interact with the speaker” contact person and have your team work through her. Also, whenever your event contact interacts with the speaker, be sure she identifies your event (“Florida, June 2008”) in her emails. Although it could be perfectly clear to you which event you’re talking about, she may have hundreds of details to keep straight for multiple events. This will help her to serve you better.
6. Think carefully about your speaker’s thank-you gift.
Huge gift baskets are really nice, but completely impractical if your speaker is running to make three flights home to her family at the close of your event. Ditto on the hand-blown glass trinket. If she is married and has children, consider remembering them. (Gift certificates for date nights are always appreciated!) As a general rule of thumb, unless you plan on mailing it to her, avoid gifts that can’t be taken in a carry-on (and that includes lotions/liquids over 3 oz) or anything that requires bubble-wrap.
7. Make sure she has water (or whatever else she needs).
Not to sound too speaker-centric but if your speaker can’t get to water and she’s teaching for five or six hours, things are not going to go well. Consider assigning a happy and hospitable woman to keep an eye on the speaker and find ways to serve her. (Some of the off-the-chart generous things that have blessed my socks off have been having a woman do my ironing—especially when my flight was late and things were rushed, assigning someone to strip my linens and deal with my “self-cleaning” room requirements at more “rustic” retreat settings, and making sure someone was there to help with the baby when Sophie was a newborn.)