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Tips for Hosting Guest Speakers on Zoom in Your Class

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For quite a few years, I have been hosting guest speakers in my classes via Zoom. These guest speakers have generally been friends of mine from the profession, generally fellow English teachers at the high school or college levels. Arranging visits with friends is very easy and fun, and usually the people I invite are delighted to accept.

Here are some great reasons to host guest speakers:

  • Students love hearing from other professionals than their teacher. Just for something different.
  • The teacher and guest can have an in-depth conversation in front of the students, modeling such conversations and showing students how to drill down into the depth of intellectually engaging topics.
  • It gives the students an opportunity to practice speaking to professionals in front of a caring, supportive teacher and audience–if the teacher has already created such a classroom environment.

I’ve gotten better at hosting guest speakers in my classes over the years, and I’m happy to share some of what I’ve learned. 

Tips for a Great Guest Speaker Session

  1. Invite guest speakers who would be truly engaging for the students, and do your best to make sure they really have the time and are excited about attending.
  1. When you invite a guest speaker, be sure to include a note that if they can’t make it, you fully understand. That will make them feel less pressure and if they really can’t or don’t want to make it, they won’t feel bad about turning you down.
  1. Do not have the guest speaker make a presentation. Instead, ask them to have your students read or watch something in preparation for their visit, which you can then talk about.
    1. This makes the situation less difficult for the guest speaker and ensures a lively exchange between the guest and the students, rather than just another lecture for them to sit through.
  1. Give the speaker a list of 4-5 questions in advance that they can prepare answers for. This is both polite and generative. It will ensure a more interesting conversation right away.
  1. Have the students prepare some questions and remarks about whatever the guest speaker has asked them to read or watch. 
  1. Begin with a brief introduction of the speaker–do not ask them to introduce themselves, as they should be treated with more dignity as a guest. And then ask each student to introduce themselves.
    1. This gives the students practice introducing themselves in a professional manner. Also, it allows the students to hear their own voices taking themselves seriously. This is very important in helping students develop a mature sense of identity (or a sense of a mature identity).
  1. Start the discussion with the teacher asking the prearranged questions and asking impromptu follow-ups without interruptions from the students (just yet). 
    1. This allows for the modeled discussion previously referred to and it also gives the speaker some time with a supportive interlocutor to get used to the class.
  1. After a short time–about 30% of the total guest speaker time–ask the students to make comments or ask questions to the speaker.
  1. Facilitate the discussion well. That’s a real skill, and it takes time to develop:
    1. Thank the speaker for what they say and think out loud about why what the speaker said is interesting or smart. Say things like “You know, I never really thought about _____ that way. Can you say more about that?” “When you use the term _________, could you please say more about what you mean by that?” “That is a really smart insight. It makes me think of ____”
    2. Do the same things for the students, so they HEAR the teacher saying OUT LOUD that they are smart and that they have valuable insights. (And the teacher should do everything possible to make sure this is true.)
    3. If the speaker and the students are having valuable conversation, the teachers should try hard not to interrupt. In fact, the longer you go without speaking during a good conversation, the more effective the guest speaker will be and the more the students will learn about the topic and themselves.
  1. End the session exactly at the prearranged time and thank the speaker and the students. This is modeling professional behavior.

Other Considerations

Should you offer to pay a guest speaker? I have so far never offered payment to a guest speaker, but I will be changing that soon. When I have asked former students to come and they are just entering the workforce, I often send them a $25 gift card for a bookstore as a thank you for a 1-hour session. I am going to change this policy, though, for guest speakers of color. Professionals of color are often asked to do a tremendous amount of volunteer service work in order to combat racism. That is becoming even more popular now–which is a good thing–but the pressure on professionals of color is mounting. So I will be offering a modest payment (maybe $100 or so for an hour) to scholars of color that I invite, if they are friends or colleagues. If they are professional speakers, I will ask them what would be appropriate compensation and if I can’t pay that much, I will tell them and thank they anyway for their willingness. Since I won’t ask speakers to give a presentation, but to engage in an impromptu conversation that doesn’t require much preparation, I hope that will help with the expense. If the speaker requires preparation, that prep time should be compensated.

Whom should you invite? Get to know your students well enough to know what they’d be interested in? Offer them options. I’ve had guest speakers who were first-year teachers in my methods of teaching English classes. I’ve had professional writers in my composition courses. I’ve hosted English professors who write about environmental issues for my “English Studies for STEM Majors” class, and more. 

How often should you host guest speakers? I’ve hosted as many as 4-5 guest speakers in a semester, and I’ve also had as many as 3-4 guest speakers at once (with first-year teachers). I have yet to have anyone complain that I’ve invited too many guest speakers. Students seem to really love it. 

Guest Speakers Are Fun!

Learning should be fun. The more fun the learning is, the greater the depth with which learners will engage, and the more they will learn. That’s one of the best things about students. Fun works best for their learning. As a result, really good teachers make their classes fun for everyone. Isn’t that great?! 

Get out there and enjoy. Bring some new voices into your classroom and have fun with your students.

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