Holding public talks

Holding talks and open forums designed to engage broad audiences is a powerful way to connect your unit’s expertise, outreach programs and mission to various communities. However, successfully marketing and delivering events to external audiences takes a surprising amount of work and planning, and a unique set of expertise.

Golden Rule

Consider the audience, topic, venue, timing and speaker in concert.


Think quality over quantity. Calendars and communications channels are overwhelmed. Consider planning one or two high-profile public talks a year to cut through the mix and maximize return on your effort.

Who do you want to draw to your event? A broad segment (students or staff or researchers) of the campus community that extends beyond your unit? Your alumni? An industry segment related to your unit? Families with young children? Issue-based stakeholder groups?

Be wary of attempting to attract the general public to your event unless your topic and speaker are of demonstrated interest to broader audiences.

Partnering with like-minded units (including central units) can be a powerful way to find synergies on logistical support, marketing bandwidth, and potential audiences.


Match your speaker’s profile carefully to the audience, and align your planning and expectations to match. Many speakers that are well known in a field or niche topic can bring together a small but very dedicated audience. Higher profile speakers can often attract larger, but more diffuse and opportunistic, audiences.

Delve into potential speakers' engagement history -- their track record is a valuable guide that can inform your planning.

Media relations in support of an event is possible when the topic impacts a local issue of interest to community programming, or when the speaker is high profile. Note that typically, UBC can only market events involving UBC speakers.

Leverage introductions to highlight your unit’s role in bringing the event together, and to deliver any key messages that might resonate with the audience.

Timing and Venue

Use common sense to lower barriers to entry. Consider when your preferred audience is most likely to be able to attend. It’s difficult to attract young families to evening events during the week. Professionals will be less likely to take time off from work for a non-professional-development related talk. As a commuter campus, bringing students together outside of class requires special planning.

Investing in a venue or space close to certain audiences is often worth the cost. Venues near professional hubs (the mining industry downtown, Vancouver’s healthcare corridor) can be leveraged to boost turnout.

Certain units can also work with like-minded external venues to take advantage of the audiences and communities dedicated to the venue (Science World, MacMillan Space Centre).

Note that media are unlikely to attend an event if it’s held too close to deadline (early to late afternoon) or during live broadcast times (early evening). However, if media attendance and coverage is not a top priority, their availability can be disregarded.


Plan well ahead of time, and if possible check in with a communications professional early in your planning process. They can advise you on the vehicles, language and timing best suited to attracting your target audience.

UBC communication vehicles, vehicles run by partner organizations or organizations dedicated to a topic or issue, community calendars, and social media, are powerful ways to get your message out. However, leveraging them takes advanced planning (they will have varying schedules and frequencies) and often, relationship building.

Less is more. Simple is best. Avoid academic language (jargon) and formats (the two sentence title and 500-word abstract) when communicating with external audiences.

Posters are a favorite marketing tool of event planners, but are best suited to attracting localized audiences, or broad audiences that organizers can’t reach any other way. Consider utilizing social media to get the word out to your community and their stakeholders. UBC Science maintains a Twitter and Facebook account, and can share information on upcoming talks via these channels. Some departments maintain their own social media channels.

While many mainstream papers and sites offer free community calendars, their impact can be diffuse. More high-profile coverage in mainstream outlets typically involves an investment -- either buying an ad, or attempting to generate earned media coverage.

Media relations in support of an event is possible when the topic relates directly to a local issue of interest to community programming, or when the speaker and topic is high profile. Note that typically, UBC can only market events involving UBC speakers.