Attracting Exceptionally Famous Speakers to Your Events

I was so excited by our event with Peter Singer last year. My small team of core student organizers managed to book a sought-after public figure with almost no money or experience. Hundreds found our Facebook event with no advertising, and about 50 people rocked up to ask the renowned philosopher questions. How did we do it? 

I hope people will find this a useful blueprint for how to run cheap, easy events that attract brilliant speakers. And for those with an idea worth sharing, I hope it provides you with a way of getting through to broader audiences from the comfort of your own home (or a tropical island!).

The Basic Idea

The basic idea is to host a question and answer (Q&A) session via video chat. We also found it helpful to watch a 15-20 minute talk by the speaker before the Q&A.

In this case it was obvious from Peter’s talk “The How and Why of Effective Altruism” that his ideas related to Effective Altruism. In other cases, you might briefly explain how your speakers’ ideas are relevant before playing their talk.

Photos: James Duncan Davidson
Image Source: TED

You don’t need much…

  • A room with a large screen, microphone and camera
  • A way of telling people about the event (Facebook, Email, Meetup, yelling it in the streets)
  • An idea of who you’d like to hear from
  • Time to contact the speaker and coordinate the things above

Why it Works (The Speaker’s Perspective)

Many people want to get their ideas out there. Public intellectuals, authors, academics, bloggers, podcasters and anyone with a perspective. Travelling to faraway places for talks requires a lot of time and energy. Hours spent in a plane or driving. For small clubs, paying travel expenses isn’t an option either. But equally, giving a traditional talk over the internet sucks. Giving a Q&A is an easy and fun alternative to spread your ideas out to a wider audience.

Resources

Zoom allows you to send the speaker a link to automatically join the video call.

ContactOut is a paid service that hooks you up with the email addresses of many famous people.

You might find speakers on TED Talks, Google Talks, Effective Altruism Global, or your favourite podcast.

Thanks to…

Peter for generously giving us his time despite my organizational incompetence. Angus, David and the rest of the EA Adelaide team for making it happen. Neil for the suggestion of ContactOut. Jess for some helpful comments.

Fantastic Beasts and Where they Came From

Sitting in the botanic gardens, hungover, watching the ducks skim across the water, waiting for the revival we knew only coffee could bring. Attempting a normal conversation. “Have you heard the theory that octopuses are aliens that arrived on a comet?”, my friend asked. I hadn’t.

We examined this strange theory. It apparently relied on the absurdness of octopodes, fantastic creatures with distributed brains, unlikely intelligence, and the ability to squeeze and escape through a hole as small as their eye (see below). The theory was equally absurd, can this creature really be explained by accidental intergalactic space travel?


What else could give an explanation? Evolution? Yes. Perhaps tiny mutations, which help an organism survive, propagate through the species. Millions of tiny changes accumulate as one animal evolves into another. The fossil record supports these small intermediary steps on the evolutionary path to perfection, I thought, though I couldn’t quite remember.


This alternative helps clarify the space-octopus theory. We have a chain of intermediates before modern cephalopods. So, either the theory claims that the original ancestors of modern octopi arrived on a comet, and then evolved from there. Or, perhaps it claims all the intermediate species arrived by comet (at different times though, to stagger the fossil record appropriately).


Either way, the intergalactic theory is a dud. If all the intermediates traveled too, then we would need much more evidence (can they even survive in space?). If it was just the original ancestor, then evolution does the bulk of the explanatory work, and we are left wondering what motivates the other story. We at first thought this theory explained this strange and squishy beast, but now it only explains a much less absurd relative. Either way, this conspiracy has little explanatory purchase.

Cover image: Wikimedia