Public Relations Tactics

Fresh perspectives: How we pick presenters

August 2, 2013

People often ask me how we select those who present at PRSA events — as well as a related question, “Why do nonmembers present sometimes?” 

However, before answering this question, I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by thanking every one of our presenters, nearly all of whom are volunteers and support PRSA by donating their time and expertise.

Discovering new voices

We start with the audience perspective in mind when selecting our presenters. Who is the best person we can get?

While there are always exceptions to a process as subjective as finding talent, here’s how it generally works: 

We start by identifying topics, themes or tracks for any given situation, using our research. We’ve asked members what they want to learn about, and we then create “grids” for our webinar program, our Conference and our in-person events. We take into account the theme of events and audiences and how various program tracks fit together.

For example, at a Travel and Tourism Section Conference, we’ll make sure that presenters come from a relevant background with expertise tailored to the topics of interest to the Section, such as social media. For International Conference, we might offer one track for more senior practitioners and another for mid-career professionals.

Generally, we find presenters through open “Calls for Presentations,” or CFPs. The broadest of these is for International Conference, when we receive hundreds of proposals. A volunteer-led committee helps us score the proposals and then, starting with the submitted proposals, we begin to identify programming gaps.

One of the best examples of how we fill gaps is by tapping our Anvil programs, which is another path that may lead us to invite nonmembers to present. While we’d like all Anvil winners to be members, we don’t discriminate when it comes to excellence — the rigor of the judging process trumps all else. 

Another reason why we may reach outside our community is to find fresh and different perspectives. We’re committed to diversity and we look for presenters who can bring a unique, special or missing point of view to a topic.

Delivering the best

In every venue in which we deliver PD, we post-event evaluations. Presenters who are scored highly by their audience have an excellent chance of keeping their spot in our rotation. This year, we started sharing those evaluations with our presenters. (Previously, we had used them internally.)

With all of the factors that go into selecting speakers, know that we seldom pay our presenters. The consistent exceptions are keynote speakers at conferences and presenters at our in-person seminars.

Finally, we sometimes make room for speakers from our corporate partners and sponsors. They’re invited to speak on topics in which they have expertise and that will be of interest to our members. There are less than a handful of these every year — I’d guess 10 or so against 300-400 slots — and we have rules about “no selling or promoting” during professional development sessions. 

So if you are interested in presenting, there are a couple of paths that you can take to the podium. The best is by winning an Anvil — that will get our attention instantly! An additional route is to respond to one of our many CFPs.

Another way is by presenting at a Chapters or District event and being recommended afterward.

Finally, if you think your presentation is just the “bee’s knees” but you haven’t had the opportunity to attract our attention, then you can always contact Judy Voss, our director of professional development.

While all of these routes might lead you to the podium, we have a bigger goal in mind when we select each of our presenters: delivering the best advice we can find to help our members realize their full potential as professionals.


William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, is the chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
Email: william.murray at


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