Finding and organising speakers for your students

External speakers can add real value to what you do – informing students about apprenticeships, uni or career opportunities – and enrich the curriculum through sharing their experiences.

So what types of speakers could you incorporate into your programme? We look at how to plan and organise an event, and how you can make the most of speakers' input for the benefit of your students.

Who can I invite to speak to my students?

There are four main sources for speakers:

Universities: This can be a local university or one you have particular links with. Often the focus for Year 12s is on university applications and advising students about issues such as personal statements. Most universities also have excellent outreach educational programmes which you can tap into for speakers, so consider if there is a subject-focussed topic which an academic expert could come and speak about.

Past students from the school: Your alumni are a rich source of experience and expertise. Find out more about how past students can be used to enrich your HE programme. Former students on apprenticeship courses or working in interesting career sectors like architecture, fashion or engineering can be excellent and inspiring role models.

Parents: It’s really useful to develop a log of parents who are able to contribute. Ensure  their information about career entry routes is up-to-date and that they are comfortable speaking to large groups of young people and, like all speakers, fully briefed about the best ways to engage your students.

Professionals speaking about careers/topical issues: A great source from a wide spectrum of careers is Speakers for Schools, an educational charity providing speakers, free, to state schools. You need to enrol as a school or college member but hundreds of often well-known figures are on their roster.

Why not get your students involved?

Our Year 12 students interested in medicine set up a Medicine Society and invited doctors, medical research specialists and current medical students to come and speak at their fortnightly lunchtime meeting, which was open to any interested students in Years 10 —13.

Head of Year 12

Then there are professional bodies and charities, as well as your own (and colleagues') contacts. Governors and leading local figures in business, politics, sport and media are all possible sources.

Planning and organising a speaker

  • Inviting a speaker: Issue invitations well ahead of the date and have a back-up plan if a speaker cancels at the last moment. Brief the speaker on the school / college, the nature of its student population, how many will be present for the session and any issues which it might be best to avoid.
  • Venue: Make sure the venue is right for the type of speaker and that you have arranged well in advance the technical side of things and back up if a problem arises. 
  • Communication: Ensure everyone who needs to know is fully informed about the visitor so that an appropriate welcome is laid on and that the school or college website or newsletter covers the visit.
  • Refreshments: It can add to the experience for students if you invite a speaker to stay for some refreshments and have a small group to host this.

Making the visit successful

After all the effort of arranging a speaker, you will want to ensure that everyone benefits. Follow these tips to make sure nobody's time is wasted:

  • Get the right match between the student group and the speaker. Are the speaker and the topic suited to the group of students they are meeting?
  • What is your aim? Do your students need preparation and information beforehand? Plan how you can follow up via tutorial / PSHE groups.
  • Plan your programme well in advance. Check that, over a term or year, you have a range of subjects, careers or topics represented. Your A-level science students will not always be inspired by a succession of lawyers, politicians, economics journalists and local historians. The same goes for the gender balance of the speakers.
  • Get the right balance between how long a speaker talks for and audience questions - ensure the guest knows how long the session is. Get students to research the invited guest as this will improve the quality of questions.
  • Arrange for one or two students to introduce the guest and chair any questions.
  • Try to arrange for a speaker who has addressed a sixth form group also to do a short session for another, younger group as part of their preparation for higher education and career decisions.

In your thank you letter or email, add a few quoted snippets of positive student feedback. Also, I always evaluate how impactful speakers are by asking the students in their next tutorial. This helps me to shape next year’s enrichment programme. Often, students make reference to an inspiring speaker in personal statements.

Head of Year 12

Use any insights and experience you can glean about this year's programme to positively shape how you'll run it next year.