CWRT Congress: Treating your Speakers in the Best Way

“The Surrender” painting by Keith Rocco shows Generals Lee and Grant shaking hands near the end of the meeting. (NPS)

By Carol VanOrnum, Vice President, Civil War Roundtable Congress

One of the takeaways that Leight Murray, President of the Civil War Round Table of the Mid-Ohio Valley, took from the 2017 CWRT Congress Conference was this: “It doesn’t matter how much you pay your speakers; the important thing is how you treat them.” It is the welcoming hospitality shown to your speakers, coupled with competent and comfortable accommodations, that keep them coming back.

The basics are essential. Providing proper AV equipment and technical support when needed is crucial. A table for authors to sell and sign books is a welcoming touch. A dinner before the event offers the speakers an opportunity to get to know their hosts. Pay travel expenses and stay in touch! Your speaker should be given at least two contacts from your Round Table in case one falls out of touch. They appreciate ample publicity before the event. Speakers rejoice in robust Q and A, especially from a large and enthusiastic audience. They enjoy meeting the members before and after their presentations. During the presentation have your members turn off their phones. Speakers can see the audience scanning their emails, texting to others, and searching the internet.

Traveling is not much fun these days. To make their trip worthwhile, and if they can come in a day early or linger an extra day, provide a tour of someplace they’ve never been. Recently, the Indianapolis CWRT hosted speaker Steve Phan, who works at Camp Nelson in Kentucky. According to Program Chair Nikki Stoddard Schofield, they pre-arranged a tour of Crown Hill Cemetery, the third-largest cemetery in the country. Notably buried at Crown Hill is Union General Jefferson Columbus Davis – the general who murdered “Bull” Nelson, for whom Camp Nelson is named. Steve was thrilled to see the monument, and texted, “Best day ever!” to President Steve Magnuson the following day.

Some speakers are amenable to an invitation to stay overnight at a member’s home. President Leight Murray of the Mid-Ohio CWRT offers not only private guest accommodations, but his hospitality includes “a home-made breakfast in the morning – maybe a quiche or veggie omelet to begin the day.” Their CWRT also keeps a list of museums and sites to visit.

Very recently, the Twin Cities CWRT gave speaker John Fazio a tour of the State Capitol, which is filled with Civil War artifacts and paintings. Fazio wrote, “What made the trip even greater for me was the truly splendid tour of the State Capitol that was given to me. Perhaps the high point of the tour, however, were the Civil War paintings. These are easily the most striking Civil War paintings I have ever seen, especially the one depicting the Battle of Nashville by Howard Pyle, which I found to be breathtaking.”

By building a reputation as a Round Table that knows how to treat a speaker, your speakers will want to come back again and again. But not only them—they also have author/historian friends. If they are well-treated, the reputation of your CWRT is enhanced in the historian community.

4 Responses to CWRT Congress: Treating your Speakers in the Best Way

  1. Honestly, the table for selling books is a thorny issue for some of us. Please ask ahead of time. I published with university presses and I don’t have boxes of books to sell. And if I did, I wouldn’t be able to bring a box on a plane. I’ve probably had to explain this a dozen times. I did appreciate Round Tables that purchase a few ahead of time for me to sign and sell, but even then, please make sure you don’t treat the speaker like the hired help. A president once placed me at a table for selling books that was located next to the cash bar, and told me that I was free to “make a little money.” I sold two books and five cocktails.

    Accommodations are important too. I’ve stayed in some very nice places over the years. I’ve also been put up in a place where I had to check out at midnight because the carpet was so wet and smelly that I preferred to sleep in my car. Another place was in such bad shape that my first room had a door that wouldn’t shut, much less lock. I won’t even mention what the continental breakfast looked like the next morning. Just because a place was nice a few years ago doesn’t mean that it still is.

    But honestly what I remember most, looking back, is the friendliness, or lack thereof. I’ve met some lovely people and had great evenings I cherish. I’ve also been treated rudely, been dumped off somewhere or another to fend for myself, and a couple of times subjected to angry tirades from audience members who didn’t like something I said. There are places where I would love to return, and there are others I will never attend again. And Carol VanOrnum is exactly right here, word gets around.

  2. Gotta say “Thumbs Up!” for the Old Baldy CWRT. I had to do a virtual meeting for them, which was fine, but the next week I got a box filled with Old Baldy bling!!I got a thank-you letter, a beer stein, and a whole bunch of other goodies that just really made me smile–laugh, even. I love me some bling, so this was perfect. Those folks are wonderful! Huzzah!!

  3. As president of the Ottawa (Canada) CWRT, I have done the rounds. I have a presentation on Canada And The Civil War that I have given at the round tables of Trenton NJ, Knoxville, Clarksville, Nashville, Vicksburg, Fort Donelson, and a few more places. I have been treated with open arms at each and every venue. No, I have not been paid, but help with of accommodations, meals, tours of the local battlefields… priceless. Gotta love the CWRT community.

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