I’ve always considered it important to offer a shirt to a speaker – part thank you, part making it easier for attendees to identify them as key volunteers. Does the kind of shirt matter? For some it does, they only want a polo or other ‘work class’ shirt. Or maybe they won’t wear those! Not all want them and that’s fine.
Shirts can be simple or complicated, cheap or expensive, it’s really up to the organizing team, the budget, and the amount of energy available. This year we wanted something Florida-ish and had a few ideas, none that seemed quite right. When we were finally way beyond our deadline we regrouped and talked about t-shirts. Definitely Florida, definitely not the average shirt we would offer, but how to make it interesting and “us”? The answer turned out to be easy. We had a local artist that was doing a custom print for the event (and the speakers each received a copy of the print), kind of abstract of the Orlando Eye and we were able to get permission from the artist to use it on the shirts.
We ordered 70 t-shirts, enough to cover the 50+ speakers and some volunteers with a few extras, the cost was just over $1000. That’s less than what we would pay for polos, so that’s interesting (and it’s really nice to have extras because sometimes the sizes aren’t perfect, speakers cancel and you go to alternates, etc). We went with a local shirt shop (we’re trying where we can to buy local) and that barely worked, last minute delivery and usable if not quite perfect full color print on the shirts. It felt good to deliver something we put effort into and while for many it was probably just another shirt, maybe for a few it was something fun and different.
I’m not saying there is a right answer here. Shirts aren’t mandatory (but I think expected, so if you are NOT doing shirts for speakers just communicate that well). You can spend more or less, as you think important or as the budget allows. You can go all out with custom art on the shirt or just buy a shirt. You can do the same thing every year, or mix it up.
Writing this, thinking about it again, part of me wishes for a “best shirt” of the year contest, just to showcase the ideas, because I think there is value in sharing ideas.