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Arranging a Lecture/Workshop Programme

Guidance notes for event organisers

As well as regularly speaking at beekeeping and other events, I am Winter Meeting Secretary of my local Natural History Society, where I have a winter programme of 24 evenings to fill. As a result I have seen a variety of circumstances that have prompted me to write something I hope will be helpful to event organisers, many of whom may be inexperienced or fairly new to beekeeping.

An event organiser must be clear what they are trying to achieve. Is it to gain knowledge, satisfy one group, e.g. beginners, or is it simply social? Is it a winter programme of separate lectures/demonstrations or a convention with several? Is it a themed event e.g queen rearing, or just a collection of random subjects? Is it simply a bribe to get members to come to an AGM?

The titles should suit the time of year, e.g. swarm control is more suitable for a March event than an October one and vice versa for candle making. If you have more than one speaker, try to make sure they don't repeat or contradict each other. You know the old story about the number of opinions in beekeeping! If I am invited to speak at a convention I like to know who else is speaking and sometimes contact them so we don't cover the same ground. Unless a speaker has several titles it would make sense not to have them too often, with a break of a year or two.

Selecting the speaker.

In the past there were County Beekeeping Instructors/Advisors (CBI) who did much of the lecturing, but as their posts were cut much is now done by amateurs. There are a number of lists available, but some are way out of date. You don't want to be told the person died 3 years ago. Other events are a good source and these can often be found with a websearch.

The quality of speakers varies a lot, both in knowledge and presentational skills. One common complaint I hear is that some speakers don't speak from experience, but seem to read books, then teach it. Of the U.K. and Irish National BKAs only FIBKA have a standalone Lecturers Certificate, which I think is a pity, as I feel organisers would benefit from some guidance about speakers. I tried to get the BBKA Examination Board to consider some form of assessment, but they felt they were unable to do so, as it was a complex issue and it would be difficult to assess speakers. I think all that is needed is a judgement that the speaker has good material, delivers the presentation in a clear manner and answers questions adequately.

A good speaker will hold an audience for an hour or more, but a poor one will soon lose them. Some are dry and others can be very entertaining. Many speakers will have a descriptive list, and some will have slightly different versions of the same lecture as a means of variation. It has been known for a speaker to have a dozen titles for the same lecture!

It is probably better if you have previously heard the speaker, or they were heard by someone you can trust, as you will be remembered by the bad ones, not the good. It is worthwhile having some sensible people you can bounce ideas off to help you arrange a balanced programme.

You will probably get a bigger attendance if your programme sounds interesting and is what the attendees want. In my view beekeepers go to a beekeeping event to learn about bees, not goats or vintage fire engines.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking those with beekeeping qualifications are always better than those without. There are some well known speakers with "qualifications" who I think are awful and lesser known ones who are excellent. I have attended many events where internationally known speakers have told us next to nothing, yet local speakers have given a huge amount of good information. There is good and bad, whatever their qualifications.

Making arrangements.

Do this as far in advance as possible, as the good speakers are often booked up 12 months or more ahead. It is much easier to correspond by email than letter. Emails can be referred to where phone calls can be forgotten. Although you should get a reasonably quick reply, please remember that people are often busy. Make sure the speaker is still operable, as beekeepers get old and die in the same way as other people do.

Tell the speaker what topic you want, the ability of the expected audience and the length of the presentation. Don't expect a speaker to speak on something they do not specialise in, as you may get a disappointment.

Expect an outside speaker to have a reasonable fee and travelling expenses. It is embarrassing to make a booking, then have your Committee or Treasurer tell you to cancel due to the cost. If you expect this problem, then ask for a budget and be prepared to hand over to someone else if they complain. It may be that travelling costs are more than the lecture. You can get a rough guide by using an online route planner, double the mileage, then multiply by the normal mileage rate. In my experience even the best speakers have reasonable fees, and it is usually worth paying for the knowledge they are willing to give you. The speakers will contribute most to the success of your event, either by reputation or the attractiveness of the titles. They have put a lot of hard work into the presentation and may have invested in expensive equipment. A one hour lecture can easily take 20-30 hours to prepare, often very much more. This is rarely appreciated by those who don't give lectures. Although local speakers may charge a minimal or no fee you must expect to pay for someone coming some distance. If your BKA is short of money it is the fault of the members, not the speaker.

Be clear what equipment is required including screen, extension leads etc, and who will supply it. The vast majority of presentations are now on PowerPoint and this can cause problems. If you supply laptop and projector, make sure everything is working and it will talk to the speakers software version, they sometimes don't. Make sure everything is virus checked.

If the speaker has a lengthy journey, say an hour or so, it's reasonable to offer them a meal, and perhaps overnight accommodation which could be with a beekeeper. This can be enjoyable and on several occasions if I have travelled some distance, an informal evening event has been arranged where we have been able to talk about bees. I have often been able to waive the travelling costs in exchange for a few nights accommodation with a beekeeper in an area where I can take my dogs for lengthy walks. This reduces the cost to the BKA, adds a lot to my journey, and suits everyone. It is reasonable to expect a speaker to be accompanied and they should be given the same courtesies.

In order to share cost where a speaker is coming some distance, it might be worth arranging events several evenings/days running with adjoining BKAs, but with a different title at each one. This might take some organising, but often works well and there is a chance for beekeepers to hear several talks.

Choose a venue that has blackout (if needed), good acoustics and be aware of any rules you may have to comply with. This not only includes the maximum number of attendees allowed under the fire regulations, but a few venues now insist that all electrical equipment has a current test certificate (PAT).

Do your costings properly and know your break even point. Be prepared for your event to make a loss, but only cancel as a last resort. It is possible your speaker(s) may have turned down another engagement to fulfill yours.

Prior to the event

Have a backup speaker in case of last minute problems that always seem to be worse in winter, e.g. illness or weather.

Send a reminder a couple of weeks in advance with at least two mobile phone numbers in case there are late problems such as traffic holdups. Give clear directions to the venue and a postcode. Include any local problems and hazards.

Select a strong Chairman who can deal with timekeeping, and attendees who are disruptive or ask the speaker questions that are designed to embarrass someone. The speaker shouldn't become involved in beekeeping politics and a good Chairman will swiftly deal with any mischief.

On the Day

Unlock the venue and prepare well in advance including putting the heating on. On dark evenings take a torch in case of power cuts. Meet the speaker on arrival, leave adequate and convenient car parking space and offer to help them carry or set up equipment, but remember that many a speaker has left something behind because someone has "helped".

In my view the introduction should be brief and relevant. So often it is read straight from the programme with little feeling and after lengthy domestic notices. Welcoming, chairing and introduction varies considerably and I have a few stories to tell of things that happened to me. At one BKA I was booked three times in one winter because they were fed up with speakers who weren't speaking from experience. On the third occasion the group were still talking and hadn't fully taken their seats. The chairman in a very soft voice, without bringing the meeting to order, simply said "We have Roger Patterson again" and sat down! Many carried on chatting and I had to bring them to order myself. On another occasion I wasn't met by anyone, there was nobody I knew and the person who booked me wasn't there. I got myself ready and eventually they all sat down. One man in the front row looked around to see if anyone else was going to say something, then said to me "You can start now if you like"! I was told there was nobody from the committee there! Thankfully instances like these are quite rare.

Agree with the speaker if questions should be taken during or after the presentation. The taking of images of the screen is becoming an issue. Some speakers don't mind, but others object, as they see it as the theft of intellectual property. It is also bad manners and annoying to others. Some speakers object to their presentation being video'ed. Scientists and researchers are often opposed to this because their findings may be superseded or enhanced at a later date, yet they can be on YouTube for a long time.

Provide drinking water, and if refreshments are provided make sure someone deals with the speaker and their companion, as they will often be asked questions afterwards as well as packing up, so may not have time to get their own. Don't expect the speaker to buy raffle tickets!

If naked flames are used in a demonstration keep a fire extinguisher handy. In the winter be prepared for power cuts.

Pay the fee by whatever method has been agreed. I usually use a route planner and can give mileage beforehand. That allows me to make a detour if I need to and not bother about mental arithmetic to subtract the excess from the direct route.

You can usually judge the view of the audience by the number of questions and the applause, but it might be handy to seek the views of those you respect. You may well be asked about your speakers by other organisers. Please give a genuine appraisal as it will help others. Personally I think exit questionnaires are a waste of time.

Thank the speaker by letter, email or verbally immediately after the event. Speakers realise everyone is busy and are usually happy with thanks at the event.

The smooth running of an event is an indication of the state of the BKA, and all have a part to play, including the speaker.

Roger Patterson.