Engaging a speaker
Early learning services and schools engage speakers for a variety of reasons.
Here we discuss why you might engage a speaker, how to choose a speaker, and what to consider.
Why engage a speaker?
You may want to engage a speaker to talk about their personal experience of a mental health issue with students and/or educators and/or families to:
- increase understanding
- encourage support seeking behaviour
- correct myths and stereotypes
- reduce fear, shame and stigma
- promote positive mental health.
While this is valuable, there are a few things to consider in deciding whether it would benefit your learning community. It’s strongly recommended that your leadership and wellbeing teams discuss the information available on this page and assess your community’s readiness.
Always consider: what you want to achieve by engaging a speaker, how the presentation fits in with other activity in the service or school (mental health-related and other) and whether the learning community is ready to be exposed to the content. Engaging a speaker for an isolated, one-off activity will have limited value and could cause harm.
Consider what lead-up and follow-up there will be to the presentation – not just support but also further learning. The presentation may prompt questions and there may be insufficient time to deal with these as part of the session, so ensure follow-up plans are in place.
Choosing a speaker
- Learn as much as you can about the presentation and think about the fit for your group. Consider watching the speaker in person or online before engaging them (if this is possible).
- Make sure that what the speaker is talking about is evidence-based and consistent with any other messages you’re promoting. Ensure their message is clear and encourages help-seeking.
- Ensure the presentation is inclusive and culturally sensitive.
- Ask the speaker what experience and training they’ve had. Are they part of a group where they receive ongoing training and support?
- Brief the speaker on your learning community, the group and any particular needs they have.
- Ask what cost is involved.
- Don’t engage a speaker who won’t disclose their content to you.
If engaging a speaker to talk about suicide, ensure their presentation: conveys the complexity of suicide (and carefully considers revelations of method, thoughts or number of attempts); normalises grief responses; and doesn’t discuss methods (this can increase risk in vulnerable students and staff), allocate blame nor contain content which glamorises suicide or harmful coping strategies.
- Consider the size of the group. Less than 10 people isn’t recommended, because the discussion could become a group counselling or facilitation session. A classroom-size group can be a protective factor for the community speaker and enables you to more closely monitor the group’s reactions.
- Ensure the content is appropriate for the developmental stages of those attending. In particular, consider the appropriateness a speaker for those in primary school and junior secondary school (Year 9 and below).
- Ensure there are adequate staff available, including wellbeing staff, to provide follow-up support after the event and to address anyone who may become distressed by the content.
Some students, staff or family members may not want to attend the presentation. Others may attend but wish to leave during the presentation.
- Allow people to decide whether they’ll attend (and ensure families give consent for students to attend). Consider how information about opting out will be presented to students, staff and families.
- Have an alternative activity in place for students not attending a presentation and support available to them.
- Identify any vulnerable individuals and discuss their attendance with them. If they wish to attend, arrange a seating position for them that allows them to quickly leave the room if required.
- Manage seating so that attendees can leave during the presentation if they’re distressed. Ensure everyone understands they can leave, how they can leave and what support’s available to them.
- Appoint a staff support person to check in with anyone who leaves the room. Consider how you’ll manage the situation if several people leave the room at once. Follow-up in the days following the presentation with anyone who left the room.
- Engage a speaker for a time when support will be available for attendees during and after the presentation (for example, when school wellbeing staff are at work)
- Don’t engage a speaker for the end of a day, on a Friday or just before school holidays. This may not allow you to adequately follow-up with any attendees you’re concerned about. Try and choose a date early in the term, so any distressed attendees can be followed up appropriately throughout the term.
- Don’t engage a speaker when the learning community may be distressed or vulnerable (for example, in the immediate aftermath of a critical incident, such as a death in the school community, or near the anniversary of a death).
Before the presentation
- Involve any wellbeing staff in all planning activities, and make sure the presentation is scheduled at a time that allows them to attend.
- Plan for an increase in demand on leadership and/or wellbeing staff following the presentation. Consider where you could source additional resources if required.
- Communicate with students, staff and their families about the presentation and its content, and allow them to opt out. Provide attendees with details of support services, both internal and external to your school.
- Obtain family consent for students to attend and know how you’ll respond when consent isn’t given.
- Communicate with staff about the presentation and its content, and what their role will be. Allow staff to opt out.
- Develop plans to manage any distressed student during, immediately after, and in the days following the presentation. Develop these in consultation with any school wellbeing staff. Proactively identify vulnerable attendees and plan how to support them, remembering that you may or may not be aware of stressors which may make them vulnerable.
- Let external service providers know about the presentation and the possible increase in referrals and requests for support.
- Ensure all staff are aware of the presentation and where to refer students for support.
Who provides speakers?
Some organisations that provide speakers
Being listed here isn’t an endorsement of their services – nor is this list comprehensive. The information above and the unique needs of your learning community should always be considered before engaging a speaker.