Planning Guest Visitors: Tips & Tricks

Looking to plan a guest speaker but not sure how to? 

Want some ideas to help the day go by smoother? 

I recently presented with Stojana Popovska at the School Librarian Connection conference in Beijing about just this, organizing Guest Authors. Check out the tweets at #schlibcon and photos.

Photo taken at the School Librarian Connection Conference in Bejing April 2016 from Dianne McKenzie.

Photo taken at the School Librarian Connection Conference in Bejing April 2016 from Dianne McKenzie.

To see the presentation click here. This blog roughly follows the PPT.

Main Take Aways

To avoid chaos start off with a vision.

Ask yourself, what does your school need?

How could a guest speaker tie into the curriculum to enhance it? Is there an expert that you could have come in to do a workshop?

What extracurricular activities does your school have? Could a visitor add to the program?

In my experience the most successful visitors are those that also fit well with the programs, courses and events that your school already has in place.

Some examples of how I’ve done this, that could give you ideas to use at your own school:

I organized guest photographer Juliana Borinski to do a workshop with our IGCSE Art Department. This was a really fun way for everyone to learn some new skills while hearing about the history. She was energetic and really a pleasure to have as a guest. 

I really wanted our students to meet an author that had written a book that the students have already read. So, I contacted every living author that our English Department had class sets of books for. This may seem crazy. It included contacting some big names like John Green, and Neil Gaiman but after sending out 24 emails 100% of them got back to me. Most were unavailable but agents and publishers promised to contact me if these authors are ever considering visiting China. This could still continue to pay off in the future.

Margi Preus happened to be coming to Shanghai anyways and through my Shanghai Librarian Network as well as my emails, our students had the pleasure of meeting her. In Year 6 our students read Heart of a Samurai so all the students who watched this wonderful and hilarious presentation had read her book. This was truly incredible. The kids had excellent questions and they were very engaged and excited. Additionally, the students do a biography/memoir unit which fit very nicely with her talk.

We had a performing poet visit, which supported the Drama Department’s curriculum. He met up with the Head of Department ahead of time and tailored his workshop to fit the needs of their current unit, leading up to their performance of A Little Shop of Horrors.

If it seems like the author doesn’t fit well with the curriculum, think about the after school clubs, activities, and special events that your school runs. Lastly, speaking to presenters beforehand can help them to tailor the presentation or workshop towards what best fits your school’s needs. In my experience, presenters have been very open to suggestions. We had author Michael Levy present about his experiences with Chinese culture compared to American culture. Our humanities teachers spoke to him beforehand about various topics they had covered and he adjusted the presentation to fit each teacher’s classes. It was excellent and the kids loved it.

Persuasion Skills

If your school has never had a guest speaker before, like in my case, be prepared! Organize a proposal that is visually appealing, but detailed to show to your admin.


Use this:

Guest Speaker Checklist - English Version

Guest Speaker Checklist – Mandarin Chinese Version

This is how the checklists look on the Microsoft Word version unfortunately some of the formatting was lost on the editable Google Doc version that I've shared 

This is how the checklists look on the Microsoft Word version unfortunately some of the formatting was lost on the editable Google Doc version that I've shared 

This checklist is editable so you can modify it to better suit your school and your needs. Having a check list can really help when trying to come up with a budget for guest visitors.

Always add a bit more to make up for unforeseeable expenses, especially when doing this for the first time.

Be open and honest. When proposing this to your admin team tell them that this is what you estimate but that other expenses may arise.

Where Can I Find a Guest Author?

Twitter – Connect with author directly

Have fun with this! Let your students participate in this. They can tweet their favourite authors and initiate the conversation for you.

Besides social media networks, in Asia (especially China) you can use:

In China:

Most provinces in China have their own writer’s association. This is an excellent database of names of popular authors, their books and links to their websites, schedules of tours, etc.

Shanghai Writer's Association:

Public Libraries

In Chinese cities there is usually a main library branch. These main branches can be contacted and they often have a lot of information on authors that are available. They can recommend authors based on what you want. For example, Shanghai Library. We phone or email them for information.

Connecting to Authors on Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter)

You can find authors through a writing association or library and then contact them directly through the magic of social media. For example,

Here's Cao Wenxuan's page on weibo, where you can directly contact him.

Let Others Help

Network! Find librarian networks on social media websites and join them. Ask questions. Don’t worry about sounding silly. Everyone had to plan their first guest speaker at some point.

Blogs can be especially helpful for this. I follow a number of librarians in the Asia region as well as internationally to look for ideas and guidance.

Ask teachers at your school. Ask other librarians in the city, in the same country and in the region. Share authors with other schools to cut down on cost.

Contract is Signed, then what?

Purchase the author’s books right away. It’s great to get a few copies for the author to sign and keep in the library. Additional copies can be signed and given to students as prizes/gifts for achievement, etc.

In China it can be difficult to get books in, and sometimes orders are cancelled without warning. So make sure you order as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time to place the order twice.

I had this happen before our school’s first guest author Scott McCloud. It was a nightmare. I have no idea what happened with the supplier but the books just never arrived. I ended up last minute rush ordering some off of and We ended up receiving only a few in time, the rest arrived after he had already left.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Get students to help create displays and posters that can go around the campus. Write in the newsletter before, during the week of the event and afterwards. It helps to have a skeleton of the email written out beforehand so you can add last minute details to it and save time during the chaos of the event.

We need our emails to be bilingual, so I also share these partially completed emails with my Chinese staff so that they can get a head start on the translation. It really speeds up the whole process.

Use your school’s newsletter, Wechat, and any social media accounts to get everyone excited.

Avoid massive amounts of all-staff emails. Instead target the teachers that the event is relevant to. Too many emails is annoying and these often don’t get read. I try to email the relevant departments (i.e. English department teaching staff) and I always email the students directly. You can get creative if you prepare beforehand and add images and make visually appealing emails that gets the students excited for the event.

Be a Good Host, Don’t Lose Face

LOOK calm. Even if you are exploding inside with stress and anxiety look calm. You don’t actually have to be calm on the inside. Everyone is there to enjoy the event, if everything is going wrong behind the scenes just roll with it and act like everything is under control. No matter how much planning you do there will always be something unpredictable that happens.

Say Thank You

Prepare a gift for the guest. This could be an item bought from your school’s store (i.e. mug, notebook, bookmark, etc.). Or have students make a card ahead of time. Either way find a couple of students to present the thank you gift and/or card. It goes a long way and it makes for a great photo.

Additionally, I always write visitors an email that I sent out a week or two later. I thank them for their presentation, I collect comments from students and staff about what they liked and I include a couple of photos. You have to be careful with photos that have students in them, you’ll need permission to send these beforehand. I think these emails go a long way. Many authors have websites, blogs, social media accounts, etc. so this allows them to use the quotes from your school. It promotes your school and adds to the author’s credibility at the same time!

I know that this doesn’t cover all of the details involved in planning a guest visitor but I hope this has inspired some ideas and provided some helpful resources for your next guest speaker visit.

Any other ideas? Other resources? Please share in the comments below.


Kendra Perkins

Ambassador of China for the International Librarian's Network