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I am in a program that has a seminar class where the students are strongly encouraged to get people to come and present. I was wondering if anyone else ever had to find speakers and if so had a sample form letter. I ask because I can offer nothing in terms of compensations so I am not sure how to go about doing this.

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I don't think using or even adapting a sample form letter would be very helpful, just as a canned letter wouldn't be very successful in a job application.

A couple of thoughts:

  • In cases like these, a good network definitely helps. If you know someone, even only slightly, that gives you a better starting position that just cold calling someone. Think through your network, and even if you don't know anyone you could meaningfully invite, maybe someone from your network knows someone she or he could introduce you to.

  • Can you at least offer reimbursement of travel costs? If not, look for people working close to you. Budgets are tight, and your speaker may have a hard time getting reimbursed for such a talk from his company.

  • Just as for a job application: when you do contact someone, be brief and to the point. Introduce yourself (if necessary), briefly describe your class and ask whether your candidate would in principle be interested. Offer to follow up with details - don't include them in the first email. People in industry are busy (just as everyone else).

  • However, you should definitely include a tidbit that (a) makes speaking interesting for your candidate and (b) helps him/her get permission/budget from the employer. Are your classmates close to graduation? Then the company can present itself as an interesting employer. Do you have any interesting projects? Are you working in a field that is related to your candidate's employer or even better to you candidate's own work? Are you perhaps potential customers? Any kind of motivation is good.

  • Above all, don't worry overmuch. Everyone's ego is tickled at being invited to speak, even if they don't accept the invitation. And established people, whether in industry or in academia, often are happy to accept such invitations and help students out. The worst that could happen is a polite refusal (or no answer at all). The best would be a nice talk and an interesting contact for later on.

I kind of wonder whether this question wouldn't be better at workplace.SE.com. You'll get more answers from industry there than at academia.SE.com. Perhaps you want to consider flagging it for migration.

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