Chicago Area Groups Returning For Live Meetings After COVID
FreeSpeakers.org in Chicago receives hundreds of requests for speakers each year from groups and organizations throughout the Chicagoland area. With records starting in 2016, FreeSpeakers.org can demonstrate the trends influenced by COVID-19.
The highest number of requests through the speaker’s bureau in Chicago was 1,070 in 2017, dropping in half to 582 during the pandemic in 2020. However, requests are up to 700 in 2022.
“We expect to see this number increase to more than one thousand in the next year or two,” said Andy Richardson, director of FreeSpeakers.org. “One can see the effect of COVID-19 in 2020 as clubs and organizations eliminated their programs.”
Founded in 1996, FreeSpeakers.org is a community service project that is 100 percent free to groups that need speakers. There is no charge to any group, not from the speaker and not from the bureau. The bureau is for groups who need speakers for their programs but who have limited (or no) budgets. Groups include libraries, chambers of commerce, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, special interest clubs, church groups, retirement communities, women’s clubs, men’s clubs, and more.
“We’re in a unique position to collect data on various clubs and organizations,” Richardson said. “Each organization might have data about their specific chapters, but a wide and diverse number of groups use our bureau for free speakers. We have the pulse on groups meeting in person.”
The speaker’s bureau responded to the drop in requests by poling the speakers about presenting their topic via Zoom or another group messaging platform. Many speakers were enthusiastic and willing to do so, but the clubs and groups experienced an even more drastic declines in participation. Many of the organizations simply stopped their outreach at least temporarily.
“It’s important to remember how frightening COVID was, especially at the beginning of the pandemic before the vaccines were developed,” Richardson said. “Nothing and nobody moved.”
Once the vaccines were available, clubs and groups slowly – very slowly – came back to life, not that they are 100 percent back to pre-pandemic numbers. But FreeSpeakers.org’s numbers reflect improvement. In 2021, the number of requests rose by 100 up to over 600. Last year, that number rose again to 700.
In response to recovering, FreeSpeakers.org offered a new category of talks titled, “Climate” to address the climate crisis. To date, there are eleven speakers with expertise in this category.
Free Speakers is a pro bono organization that was founded as a community service project by Ginny Richardson Public Relations, a PR firm based in Hinsdale. All speakers give free talks to groups, clubs, organizations, or businesses. There is no charge – not from the speaker and not from the bureau – to use this service.
Request a Speaker
It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4: Browse for a speaker in Chicago, Click the speakers name or “More” to review the topics available, Click the orange request button, Fill out the contact form.
Become a Speaker
There are thousands of groups in the Chicagoland area looking for speakers for their meetings, conferences, assemblies and social events. How do we know? FreeSpeakers.org has been providing pro bono speakers for these groups. Every day, program chairpersons come to our website searching for interesting speakers. Visit the Become a Speaker page to learn more.