The administrative team at Longwood University have a lot of exciting work ahead. We’re preparing an environment on campus to host the 2016 Vice-Presidential Debate. Most of the logistical decisions for the October 4 event will be made by the Commission for Presidential Debates and the U.S. Secret Service. The debate itself will follow a scripted process that has been fine-tuned from years of organizational experience and will culminate in something that is truly special; a handshake between political rivals and healthy discussion about the challenges facing our nation.

What Longwood has the opportunity to do, and where there isn’t necessarily a script to follow, is find ways to maximize the educational experience and provide exciting engagement opportunities for the community at large. The university wants this debate experience to leave a lasting and positive impression on everyone involved. Right now my colleagues and I are writing our own script to to follow for the next eight months.

Searching for speakers

The university plans to celebrate this great opportunity by making an investment in debate-related programming. Selecting and booking nationally recognized speakers is a possibility I’m especially excited about. But as we’ve gotten planning started, a few questions have popped-up that require careful consideration.

What’s the advantage of bringing a nationally recognized speaker to campus?

If we want a celebrity spokesperson, what would the process look like?

Who knows Willie Geist?

Willie Geist is on NBC’s Today show and Morning Joe on MSNBC. Why Willie Geist, you ask? His celebrity status as a well known media personality compliments his knowledge of politics and campaigns in a way that would hopefully excite the community at Longwood and draw crowds. We are looking for a speaker who will entice students to participate without an imposing academic requirement from the faculty to attend.

What will be the cost?

Speaking fees are definitely intimidating for modest non-profit budgets. There are many considerations when it comes to deciding the scope of this investment. Sure, this is a once in a lifetime event for the university, but what’s the right dollar amount for speakers? We have to decide soon.

Will the speaker agree to represent a neutral political viewpoint?

In addition to fees, assessing the impact of a speaker’s political ideology absolutely factors into a decision. More than being deterred by criticism from stakeholders, we are a state university and need to think about providing representative political viewpoints and diverse ideologies. Journalist are especially attractive due to their vast experience in these situations, serving the public with thoroughness and honesty. Integrity is the test for a journalist’s credibility.

How flexible are we with our calendar?

The academic and social calendars at Longwood are already full to the brim especially in September and October. It’s an election year and there’s high demand for political press and media celebrities. Our challenge is to obtain consensus at the university for first, second and third speaker choices, establish the right price point, and then make all the calendars and stars align.

So, raise your hand if you know Willie!
#WillieAtLongwood @WillieGeist


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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