How to plan a speaker or workshop programme

So, you’ve got a blank sheet for next term and want to create a fantastic programme of events, or maybe you’re a new group just starting out. Here are a few tips to help you. If you need support planning a programme then don’t hesitate to contact the SCM office. Make sure you talk to other SCM groups too (and steal their ideas!) 

  • First things first. Ask members of your group what they are interested in. You could have a suggestions box or noticeboard where people can post ideas throughout the term, or arrange for a creative ideas-sharing session during one of your regular meetings so that everyone’s ideas can be heard.
  • Mix it up. You don't just have to just ask people to speak. You could ask someone to run a workshop, a Bible study, a trip, a retreat, a pilgrimage, prayer/worship, debate/discussion or art/craft/music session. 
  • Look around you. You don’t have to go far to find interesting people. You will find a wealth of resources, within your group, your university, chaplaincy and local networks. See the ‘Looking close to home’ list below for ideas. 
  • When in doubt. Ask one of your university chaplains for advice! They will have lots of contacts within the university and local area, both within their own denominations and in wider circles. 
  • Don't be afraid. It’s ok to tackle the more challenging topics e.g. sexuality, sex and relationships, death, depression, money, sin, politics, heaven and hell, Israel/Palestine. But…
  • Be prepared. If you’re discussing something that may prove controversial make sure you provide space for a range of views, consider asking a chaplain to be around for pastoral support, and find out where you can signpost people to if they want to talk about something further (university counselling service, chaplaincy team, student support). 
  • Theme it. A great way to structure your programme is to have a theme for the term and then explore it from different perspectives. SCM groups in the past have used topics like ‘Being a Christian in the Workplace’, ‘Prophecy, Prayer and Praise’, ‘Christianity and Science’ and ‘Christian Unity’ as well as SCM year themes like Prophets and Profits, Liberating Gender, Small World.
  • Balancing act. Once you’ve got the beginnings of a programme, take a look at the balance in terms of the gender, background or denomination of your speakers, plus topics and formats. Have you got student-led workshops as well as outside speakers? Socials as well as serious discussions? 
  • Have a back up plan. It’s very unlikely that things will wrong, but in case your speaker is ill or things don’t go to plan, make sure you’ve got something up your sleeve. ‘Discussion from a hat’ works well (see ‘Emergency workshops’). SCM staff can usually come up with resources pretty quickly if you give us a call or you could simply have an informal discussion or social.

Checklist for external speakers

A few things to remember, to help things run smoothly and to get the best from your speaker or resource person. Make sure you give people plenty of notice e.g. if inviting someone from a national organisation they may need at least 3 months notice. If you’re pushed for time, do still ask, you might get lucky! 

  • Have you confirmed date, venue, time, length of session and topic with them? 
  • Have they given you a title and blurb about their session? Have you advertised the event among your group and more widely? 
  • Have you told them a little about your group, what you are interested in and the usual format for your meetings, to help them prepare?
  • Have you found out whether they have any access needs or dietary requirements? 
  • Do they need the room set up in a particular way, or access to a data projector or flip chart and pens?
  • On the night, is there someone assigned to meet and welcome your speaker and offer them anything they need e.g. glass of water? 
  • Is there someone assigned to introduce the speaker, keep an eye on timings, and thank them afterwards? 
  • Are you able to offer travel expenses or a thank you gift? Speakers may not expect either of these, but all will appreciate a simple thank you card. 

Looking closer to home

If you are looking for a speaker or resource person for your group then you don’t need to look far. For a diverse programme, try a few of the suggestions below. 

  • Member(s) of your group could talk about: My faith journey (who/what has inspired me), My faith tradition (introduction to a particular denomination), A transforming experience (e.g. gap year, volunteering, pilgrimage). A tip is: Everyone has something they are passionate about, a skill to teach, gift to share, the story of someone or something that has inspired them, favourite book or film.
  • A university chaplain or chaplaincy assistant could talk about: Introduction to Chaplaincy, Prayer, Reading the Bible, Coping with questions and doubts, What is University for? A tip is: Your chaplains are fascinating, inspiring people - find out what they are interested in!
  • A hospital chaplain or mental health chaplain could talk about: A day in the life of a hospital chaplain, Faith and wellbeing, Mental health and spirituality, healing and wholeness, death and dying, fullness of life. A tip is: Ask your university chaplain for contact details or get in touch with your local church diocese or circuit. 
  • A prison chaplain could talk about a day in the life of a prison chaplain, Christian perspectives on the justice system, working with offenders, rehabilitation. A tip is: Ask your University chaplain for contact details or get in touch with your local church diocese or circuit. 
  • A workplace or industrian chaplain could talk about a day in the life of a workplace chaplain, spirituality and work, urban ministry. A tip is: Ask your University chaplain for contact details or get in touch with your local church diocese or circuit.
  • A local church minister could talk about something related to the church year (Lent, Easter, Advent) or a theological topic (Resurrection, Atonement, Creation, Salvation, Discipleship) or a Bible study. A tip is you could also ask a church musician, worship leader, pastoral assistant, local preacher, community worker or youth leader. 
  • Someone from a local Quaker meeting or YFGM (Young Friends) could talk about an introduction to Quakerism, the Quaker testimonies (Peace, Integrity, Simplicity, Truth, Equality) . A tip is find your local Quaker meeting here: Find YFGM group on facebook: search YFGM 
  • A chaplain or faith advisor from another faith or other local faith leader could talk about prayer, social justice, worship, festivals, holy scriptures, religious practices [in Islam / Sikhism / Buddhism etc]. A tip is ask your chaplain for suggestions or contact your town/city's Faith Forum or Interfaith Network here:
  • With someone from a student campaigning group (People & Planet, Amnesty) or faith group (Islamic Society, J-Soc) you could organise a joint event e.g. campaign action, film night, comedy night, fundraising gig, discussion, dialogue or trip. A tip is for advice on organising inter faith activities on campus see the NUS guide:
  • An academic from your university or college could talk about an introduction to [Liberation theology / Feminist theology / Queer theology / Pentecostal theology] faith and [Feminism / Science / Literature / Films / Media / History / Economics / Maths]. A tip is If your university has a Theology department browse the staff research interests. Or contact a Staff Christian Fellowship to find someone from another discipline e.g. a Physicist or Biologist.
  • A staff member or student from local theological college could talk about vocation, faith journey, prayer, worship, justice, ecumenism. Some colleges include Queen’s College / Oscott College (Birmingham), St John’s (Nottingham), Margaret Beaufort Institute / Westcott House / Wesley House (Cambridge), Ripon College (Oxford).
  • A local charity worker, campaigner or activist could talk about faith and action, or a specific issue like homelessness, working with refugees, climate change. A tip is try a local church-based project or Christian Aid volunteer.
  • A member of a religious order could talk about an introduction to prayer, the religious life, spirituality, vocation, what happens on a retreat? Find out if there are any convents, monasteries, or other religious houses near campus.
  • Diocesan environmental officers could talk about stewardship, Christianity and climate change. Contact your local diocese or other church networks.
  • A social responsibility worker could talk about Christian responses to [asylum seekers, homelessness, community cohesion, the Big Society]. Contact your local diocese or other church networks.
  • An education officer could talk about Christian learning and education or discipleship. Contact your local diocese or other church networks.
  • An mission officer could talk about mission, evangelism, good news, building the kingdom. Contact your local diocese or other church networks.
  • An vocation adviser could talk about listening to God's call, discerning your vocation. Contact your local diocese or other church networks.
  • An international student or a member of a local church who has a connection overseas could talk about Christianity in [country X, Y or Z], crossing borders / cultures or different perspectives on reading the Bible (e.g. Liberation theology, Dalit theology).
  • A co-operative member relations officer could talk about an introduction to co-operative values or the co-operative movement or Fairtrade. They are sometimes able to provide free Fairtrade chocolate, biscuits, wine etc! You could also find out if there is anyone locally who lives in a housing co-op or runs a food co-op.
  • SCM staff members could talk about an introduction to SCM or the World Student Christian Federation, exploration of SCM’s values, year theme or anything else you’d like us to speak about! Contact or 0121 2003355 for more details.
  • Someone from a local intentional community could talk about "What is community?" or living counter-culturally. Try Diggers and Dreamers: www.diggersanddreamers.or or CMS:
  • Someone from a fresh expression of Church in your area could talk about communicating the Gospel, new monasticism, creating community or new forms of worship. Try Fresh Expressions website:
  • Returned mission partners or volunteers could talk about mission, the World Church or volunteering. Try USPG: for local speakers.
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