Guest speakers at annual meetings are common, and possibly much too common. The right guest speaker can add a great deal to the meeting while the wrong guest speaker can take much away. The first and most obliviously question, is there a very strong reason to have a guest speaker. The guest speaker’s talk must add significantly to the meeting and benefit the entire association before this even be considered.
Potentially controversial speakers may even need to be cleared by the association’s attorney. An example of this would be the former homeowner association developer wishing to come to speak to the membership to discuss issues that could lead to litigation. Controversial speakers can set a tone for the entire meeting, good or bad, and usually bad.
Politicians are common guest speakers and usually the most controversial. Even if the politician is coming to speak about a specific project or matter relating directly to the HOA these talks are in most instances controversial. For some reason, no matter the chair’s request and the politician’s assurances, that the talk will be nonpartisan, it always is partisan to some degree. It maybe that politicians honestly believe what they say is nonpartisan or possibly they do not care if it comes across as partisan. The ramifications of controversial talks can linger long after the annual meeting and many years to come. In most instances controversial speakers should be avoided or possibly regulated to speaking to just the board of directors at a board meeting.
No matter the topic, the board of directors and the meeting chair should have a good understanding of what will be discussed by any speaker. Allowing someone to address the membership without having at least an overview of the talk can be a Pandora’s box of potential issues. By allowing someone to address the HOA membership, the board could be perceived as condoning or endorsing whatever is said.
The meeting chair should establish time limits for the speaker’s talk. The chair should determine if and when the speaker will answer questions. The chair could relegate questions to the speaker to after the meeting or if questions should be directed in an another medium such as by email.
The most important point when having a guest speaker, is to have this talk outside the official annual meeting. This can be accomplished by having them speak before or after the actual meeting. Because of procedural issues, it is advisable to keep a strict business like agenda that does not get bogged down with a guest speaker and the related questions.