Welcome to Ask The Curator, where you get to ask the advice of a curator to find out the hidden behind the scenes world of event curation.

This week’s question comes from an event organiser in China who is unsure if they should hire a speaker that may be caught up in controversy.

I’m looking for some advice from you about whether or not to invite a speaker to talk when his company is in some trouble. The speakers company had some bad PR and has had many negative reports in the media.

Should I invite him, and if so, what should I be aware of?

L.Z. China

I don’t know all the details of your speaker, but it is perfectly OK to have talks from “controversial” people, or people in some kind of “bad” situations. But you do have to be careful.

Firstly, consider if having the speaker will damage the brand or reputation of your own event.

Secondly, make sure that their talk is scientifically correct, and the content is verifiable. If your speaker is in trouble for making false claims, make sure you get every fact verified beforehand.

Thirdly, make sure that your Master of Ceremonies introduces the speaker to the audience with sensitivity to the recent controversy. Allow the audience to view the talk with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Some of the more “controversial” speakers, or speakers involved in some kind of “bad public media” might give you some inspiration:

(Note: Links to external content may contain controversial topics and themes)

Just because someone has done something that may be perceived as “bad” does not mean that they will give a bad talk. Stories of failure, illegal behaviour, controversial lifestyles, or just plain difficult subjects can make for amazing talks.

However, you, as a curator, have to be the ultimate decision maker. If you do not feel confident in the talk, or the speaker, then please say “No”. It is perfectly fine to turn down speakers in order to protect your audience. Never feel like you have to say yes.

Your audience trust you to present them with amazing speakers, and you know your audience best. So do not betray that trust. One audience may react very openly to a controversial speaker, and another audience may react very negatively to the exact same talk.

Always make sure that your audience are aware of any controversial content when they purchase their ticket. Also remind them at the start of the event, and get your Emcee to inform them just before your controversial speaker goes on stage. Give your audience members the chance to step outside for the duration of the talk if they are concerned about the content affecting them.

But also remember a good event is a platform for challenging ideas, and raising conversation. So not everyone in the audience has to like the speaker, or even agree with the speaker. Try to ensure that your event is used as a platform for learning, so that your audience will not make the same mistakes as the controversial speaker, rather than using it as a platform for glorifying bad behaviour.

At the end of the day, you know your audience best, and stick to your values, and the values of your audience community.


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