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ACS Speaker Service Changes

by Lee Latimer, Chair, ACS Committee On Local Section Activities
May 3, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 18

Lee Latimer

Since 1936, the American Chemical Society has maintained a speaker service that has helped local sections identify speakers for their events. The Committee on Local Section Activities (LSAC) and the Office of Local Section Activities (OLSA), which run the speaker service, are pleased to announce the launch of the Online Speaker Directory, which local section meeting planners can use to expedite and simplify the process of finding and scheduling speakers.

Previously, the ACS Speaker Service maintained a list of volunteer ACS members who were available to speak at local section meetings and events. These speakers were booked to tour a circuit of three or more neighboring local sections. Planning for a tour began 12–22 months in advance and required the speakers, local sections, and ACS staff to coordinate on logistics. A tour’s cost, which includes travel and accommodation for the speaker, was offset by a fixed charge to each section that participated. Speakers were not directly involved in making arrangements and needed only to be available when their tours were scheduled.

However, there were several disadvantages to this format for both sections and speakers. All arrangements needed to be made one or two years in advance—a very long lead time in which both sections’ and speakers’ schedules could change. Sections were often not able to schedule their preferred speaker and were not able to control the dates of their meetings. Also, many potential speakers were not able to participate because they couldn’t commit to visiting at least three sites in close succession. Finally, the fixed costs charged to local sections were not covering tour costs. In fact, in recent years, the total costs to support the speaker service tours far exceeded the contributions paid by the sections.

Therefore, three years ago, LSAC formed a working group to review procedures, solicit feedback, and recommend a new approach that would continue to deliver a high-value service in a timely manner. The Online Speaker Directory is an outgrowth of the working group’s recommendations.

The directory will contain detailed speaker profiles that include areas of expertise and a full biography. Speakers will also be able to list their geographical travel preferences, video samples of talks, and abstracts of their talks. Local section planners can use the directory to search speaker profiles using criteria such as available dates and speakers’ travel preferences. Each speaker profile will also include a comment box where local section planners can provide feedback after an event.

Sections will now be able to use the directory to contact speakers directly to arrange engagements and will be able to arrange for a single visit or may coordinate with neighboring sections to schedule tours. ACS staff will assist with planning, but all arrangements will be coordinated between the section and the individual speaker. There will be a webinar on May 6 to introduce the directory to section planners. The webinar will be posted to shortly afterward.

One of the biggest advantages of the Online Speaker Directory is its potential to dramatically increase the pool of available speakers. Interested speakers will no longer have to balance their professional and family responsibilities against the obligation of making a minimum of three tour stops. A speaker may have the time and inclination to speak at only one local section at a time, and this approach would permit such flexibility. In addition, because all details are arranged between the local section and the speaker, the lead time needed to plan a speaking engagement will be greatly reduced. Further, by using the search functions in the database, sections will be able to quickly identify speakers to cover unexpected openings.

To ensure a high-quality speaker pool, interested speakers are asked to complete detailed applications, which are reviewed prior to the speaker being listed in the directory. Members who wish to participate as speakers are encouraged to contact OLSA at to request an application.

Although many sections and speakers have expressed high interest in and anticipation of the directory, we recognize that some tour speakers and local sections may view these changes with a bit of anxiety. Sections accustomed to using the tour format will be learning to organize events by themselves and with adjacent sections. Local sections will now manage costs for speakers and may find that distant speakers are too costly for a single-event talk. This may require choosing a different speaker or coordinating with adjacent sections, universities, or businesses to keep costs to an acceptable level.

As a way to make this transition as smooth as possible, LSAC will provide grants in 2011 to support sections using the Online Speaker Directory. The grants will be $400, and sections can apply the amount to cover as many speakers as desired.

Change brings opportunity and challenge. LSAC believes that the Online Speaker Directory is a sustainable solution that will improve the service that we provide to local sections and speakers. We look forward to hearing of the experience sections and speakers have and stand ready to make improvements as needed. Give it a try and let us know about your experience.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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