For those historical societies that hold regular meetings and special presentations, there’s always the challenge of finding speakers that are articulate, prepared, and handle subjects that appeal to most of your regular member attendees. Filling the schedule can be a really difficult and stressful task for the board member responsible for “booking talent.”
My own Upper Milford Historical Society learned recently that perhaps the most interesting and engaging meetings can occur simply by inviting members of the neighborhood and society to talk about what it was like growing up, going to school, working, buying, and restoring a house, and more in our own hometown. We did just that, and were quite entertained as several people told incredible stories that got the entire audience involved. Some of the stories told became richer when members of the audience joined in, filling in the blanks and giving a deeper understanding of how life was lived in decades past. The first such meeting of this kind was so popular that it ran close to 2.5 hours, much longer than had been typical. Everyone in the room was engaged and attentive, and the comments we’ve received over a month later have been glowing. Yes, we’re prepping to do it again at the next meeting.
In preparation for these types of meetings, I strongly suggest that you bring together the planned presenters for a rehearsal, going over the subjects to cover and the timing of how the event should go. Expect things to change when the presentations start, so let that spontaneity happen because that’s part of how to keep the excitement going. You may be surprised at what audience members have to contribute! Don’t try to cram too many presenters and subjects into a single night’s session. You don’t want to cut anyone off just because you’ve got too much to cover.
Let me know if your historical society found a winning formula for your membership meetings. I’d be happy to share your successes and failures in future blog posts.