How to Find Speakers and Programming for Chapter Events

One of the main reasons members join local chapters is to attend educational events where they can spend time with peers. Chapter staff and volunteer leaders do their best to plan high-quality events, but they often have trouble coming up with good program ideas and finding the best speakers.

Unfortunately, if chapters put on mediocre events with ho-hum speakers, members will spend their time and money elsewhere. Naturally, chapter leaders turn to you, their national association, for help with event programming and speakers. How should you help them? Should you create a speakers bureau? Would that help?

Before you start thinking about solutions, Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management, has some advice. “Start by asking yourself, what is the real need here? Identify the problem, then create the solution. If it’s a programming problem, you’re going to have a different solution than a speaker problem.”

Ask your chapters questions that reveal their real need:

  • Are they having trouble finding speakers?
  • Is the problem finding free or inexpensive speakers?
  • Do they need help expanding their list of potential speakers?
  • Do they want you to provide speakers?
  • Or, is it a programming problem: Do they need help coming up with good program ideas?

A list of speakers won’t make a difference—and won’t even be used—if it doesn’t address the real problem. In a Billhighway webinar, Tips on Building a Speakers Bureau for Chapters, Peggy explained how several associations have helped chapters with program and speaker sourcing.


Teach Chapters How to Find Event Speakers

Before staff and volunteer leaders started working or volunteering for their chapter, how many of them had experience finding speakers for educational events? I think it’s safe to say we’re talking single digits here. Peggy said. “Rather than giving them fish to eat, let’s teach these folks how to fish. Instead of giving them speakers, show them how to find speakers.”

That’s exactly what the Association for Talent Development (ATD) did.

ATD hosted a webinar for chapter leaders on how to find speakers. They took them on a live web tour of sites where they might find speakers from outside the profession, for example, local chambers of commerce and through the Society for Human Resource Management chapters.

They also encouraged volunteers to think about programming from a different perspective. For example, consider teaching an in-demand soft skill that isn’t necessarily part of their licensing or certification requirements.


Provide Speakers & Programming to Chapters

“If we leave programming to chapters, many of them will go back to the tried and true,” said Peggy. “The small group of chapter volunteers in charge of programming are going to focus on what’s important to them or what someone suggested to them.”

Chapter leaders are stretched thin. They don’t always have the time and resources to stay on top of emerging issues. Consequently, chapter events might not keep members up-to-speed and prepared for the future.


Programs For Chapters

On the other hand, your national organization’s mission is to know and share what’s going on in the industry and what’s coming around the corner. You have the know-how to provide your chapters with ready-made programs and speakers. If you wonder how your association can afford to develop these programs for chapters, follow the lead of other associations and subsidize expenses with sponsorships.

Peggy advises CRPs to not go it alone. “Chapter programming is part of the larger educational programming you do as an organization. Bring in your education department to help determine the type of programming chapters need.” She shared several examples of chapter programming developed by national associations.


“Best in Class” Speakers

Every year, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) offers one “best in class” speaker to each chapter at no cost. These speakers received the highest evaluations from PCMA conference attendees so they have already been vetted. Chapters choose the topics and speakers that best fit their educational goals.


Programming Based on Research

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) provides a speakers series based on GBTA research at no cost to chapters, thanks to sponsorship. This speaker series helps GBTA get their hot topics in front of chapters. Peggy said, “Many chapter members don’t attend your national meetings or read your publications on a regular basis, so bring the research to them.”


Instructor Certification

The National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) runs a two-day certification program for members who want to learn how to become instructors for national programs. These certified instructors work throughout the country, not only at their own chapter.

Chapters choose topics that interest them from a list of courses and certified instructors compiled by NATP. “With this approach, you give your chapters flexibility,” said Peggy. “You’re also investing in members who are interested in becoming certified speakers—a fantastic member benefit.”

The Appraisal Institute has a similar approach. They put together a list of vetted programs that are taught by certified instructors and meet the profession’s licensing requirements. Like NATP’s program, chapters pick their own content and instructor. Chapters split event revenue with the national organization.



Peggy discussed a concern she hears frequently from national associations: If you’re helping chapters find speakers, aren’t you creating competition for your national programs?

The short answer is “No.” Think about it: only a percentage of chapter members attend every single one of your national conferences. Plus, bear in mind your organization’s mission which most likely includes something about professional development for industry members.

Your contribution to chapter programming has an additional benefit: brand awareness. Peggy said, “Programs and speakers are a walking billboard for your organization—so don’t worry about it.” In fact, you’ll build trust as well as a better relationship with your chapters if you provide this type of support.

How to Help Chapters Find Speakers For Their Events

What is your association doing to help chapters find speakers for their events? We’ll share examples of what other organizations are doing to help chapters with speaker lists and speaker directory. Learn next steps to building your own speaker directory.

Confirm what chapters need. Will you:

  • Build them a directory?
  • Give them a curated list of speakers?
  • Provide tailored programming?
  • Or, teach them how to find speakers themselves?

Review and consolidate existing speaker resources. Start by curating a speaker list. If you’ve got a chapter advisory group, ask them to make phone calls and get speaker recommendations. Put the list where chapter leaders can easily access it.


Experiment with a pilot. Before investing in off-the-shelf or customized software, see if your chapters will use a simple Excel spreadsheet. Peggy said, “Tell your chapters: we’re going to build something for you, but before we build it, we need to find out whether you’re going to use it and what kind of information you really need.”


Decide upon and track metrics that show whether your solution is meeting a need.

By stepping in to solve a big problem for chapter leaders, you’ll build their trust along with a better relationship. You’ll also help them provide education that makes an impact on their members’ lives.


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About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.