Planning a Speaker Event

Things to consider when planning your society speaker event

Many societies and groups invite external speakers to attend their events, whether it be for a debate, employability events or a lecture on a topic relating to the society. Whilst we encourage societies and groups to invite speakers in, there are some considerations required, particularly around contentious speakers and topics.  

Freedom of Speech  

The University of Exeter and the Student’s Guild is committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom. 

This is of course constrained by 

  • The law 

  • University rules; policies & procedures (which apply to any booking in university spaces) 

  • Guild rules; policies & procedures which apply to any Guild affiliated group undertaking an event anywhere. 

There are two key considerations 

So that the Activities Team can help you comply with the above requirements please, 

  • Provide at least fifteen working days’ notice of the event in advance to the Activities Team. This will allow the following to happen: 

  1. Inform the University about the event. 

  1. Review the background regarding the speaker(s). 

  1. Undertake any required liaison & event health and safety/risk management with the student group concerned. 

*if less than fifteen working days’ notice is given this imposes time pressures on the checking process; the event is subject to cancelation. 

Hate Speech Laws 

Hate speech laws in the United Kingdom are found in several statutes. Expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person's colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both. 

In England, Wales, and Scotland, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits, by its Part 3, expressions of racial hatred, which is defined as hatred against a group of persons by reason of the group's colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins. Section 18 of the Act says: 

A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if 

(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or 

(b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby. 

Offences under Part 3 carry a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment or a fine or both. 

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 inserted Section 4A into the Public Order Act 1986. That part prohibits anyone from causing alarm or distress. Section 4A states: 

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he— (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress. 

A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both. 

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 amended the Public Order Act 1986 by adding Part 3A. That Part says, "A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred." The Part protects freedom of expression by stating in Section 29J: 

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system. 

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 amended Part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986. The amended Part 3A adds, for England and Wales, the offence of inciting hatred on the ground of sexual orientation. All the offences in Part 3 attach to the following acts: the use of words or behaviour or display of written material, publishing or distributing written material, the public performance of a play, distributing, showing or playing a recording, broadcasting or including a programme in a programme service, and possession of inflammatory material. In the circumstances of hatred based on religious belief or on sexual orientation, the relevant act (namely, words, behaviour, written material, or recordings, or programme) must be threatening and not just abusive or insulting. 

Speakers, Acts and Guests 

Hidden costs for speakers can include the obvious like travel and accommodation, but even with this you need to set limits. 

Some things to consider when working with externals: 

  • Meet and greet – an external may not know the campus so you will have to arrange where to meet them 

  • Their needs– accommodation, refreshments, accessibility 

  • Audio visual support - Your event may need audio visual support - you can find details of the costs of Audio Visual technical support, and the relevant contacts here: Learning Spaces.


We have thousands of alumni who work in a huge range of businesses, charities and sports. Many are really keen to support Exeter’s students and have already offered to volunteer and or have donated their time. Moreover, alumni are an invaluable source of knowledge and experience that your society can benefit from. If you are thinking of inviting an alumni to volunteer for your society, we can help. However, please do not contact any alumni before discussing this with the Alumni Office First. 

This is because: 

  • They may have requested not to be contacted 

  • We may have existing relationships with them so can ask on your behalf 

  • Alumni do not want to be inundated with requests - The Alumni office can check if they have been asked before 

  • We like to have a record of which alumni have volunteered so that we can ensure they are thanked for their time. 

Be sure to follow up and thank the alumni once the event is over and offer to cover their expenses. Also, the Alumni Office have created an excellent toolkit for how to run events with Exeter Alumni, which is a great resource for running these types of events! 

University of Exeter Students' Guild is a Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered Charity Number: 1136468 Company Number: 07217324; registered in England and Wales Registered office: Devonshire House, Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4PZ