How to become a Cruise Ship Speaker

There still appears to be a shortage of good Speakers and a desperate shortage of Destination Speakers on cruise ships. 

Or is it just that the number of ships keeps increasing year on year? Many have tried to conquer the huge theatres on ships, and some have failed because the cruise audience is tough. They have so much choice of entertainment onboard, and it is all free, that is not to say that cakes or bingo will cause some to walk out midway through a performance.
So, what is a Guest Speaker? What is a Destination Speaker? How does it work?
Doris Visits has put back our menu of WORKING AT SEA where various department staff explain their jobs and help on our sites. Gemma, one of our chat site moderators will explain why the girls in the spa are referred to as Steiners. She worked in the spa for years and now travels as a guest with her four children.
I will start by looking at it from the perspective of an investor in the cruise company. Cruise ships are there to make money for the company and shareholders, pay their bank loans, and give guests the best holiday they can. It is like the Film Business, as Emma Thompson was once quoted in Screen International, the phrase has two words; one of them is business. Don’t skip the next section because you are not a destination speaker, it is first for a reason.

Destination Speaker

A destination speaker is there to work with the ship’s excursion team and sell tours and excursions; to ease off mentioning the ones that are nearly sold out and go stronger on the ones that have not yet sold so well. They are there to give the correct legal information, so guests do not ask for their money back because you said, ‘a few steps’ and there was a huge climb to the top on uneven ground. You need to be informative, accurate, and interesting, and know your subject as the audience may test you. Your work starts before the cruise, working your lecture with the excursion team either from notes or direct contact. These speakers work hard, some have detailed websites and are there for guests between their contracts. If you can cruise six or more times a year and get to know a ship’s way of working and the tours and excursion team, then you become invaluable. Travelling at short notice to take over from another work colleague can happen. Knowing the government advice sites, health sites, and the use of the new European Health Card are things you need to have at hand. Destination Speakers have a wealth of knowledge about how ships and excursions work.
I started with Destination Speakers because it is a straightforward way to explain how it is part of a business and it is easy to suggest how you fit into a regimented team that falls under the Captain and the Hotel Manager.

Entertainment Management

Speakers fall under the Entertainment Manager, who falls under Hotel Manager and under the Captain. They all fall under Head Office, and that is probably in Miami (via a local office maybe Southampton). You will be contracted to, and by, a corporate body. However, most speakers will be dealing with the Assistant Entertainment Manager if they need to (problems or product sales), but in the main, will report to the Production Manager. You will get a time sheet, and a rehearsal time, and may have a different engineer every day.

Port Agent

Your contact when you are flown to a port, sometimes the night before, will be the Port Agent. If there is no taxi to meet you, you will have their number. Your hotel will be basic at worst, lavish if you are a star or lucky. It is unlikely head office knows the hotel, but the Port Agent will. Your flight will be a staff ticket, you may change planes once or twice to join the ship, quite often mid-cruise.
I hope that explains it is not a holiday. It can be a type of holiday and there are many great teachers who offer to work during school holidays which is when there is an excess of performers. If you wish to take your family, additional rooms need to be booked through a normal booking agent, not the entertainment agent that booked you. Some of the best tribute acts are music teachers only seen at sea during half term and summer break. Those periods of an annual calendar have many people offering to work on ships. (Like Owen James, who is the amazing Sting tribute).
Destination speakers don’t normally get asked to talk on port days, but they might get what we call ‘paddle duties’. Holding up the umbrella and saying follow me. Except that will be the guide, the company representative must be at the rear of the group and follow making sure all are present. On most occasions, they have a progress report to fill in. These are standard. Did the coach leave on time? Were safety measures and first aid explained by the driver or guide? What time was the first stop? Were the toilets clean? Did anyone get sick or injured? At what time, and what happened?
If you are now saying wow, then understand that there are a few things to pick up, know, and be familiar with before you land on the company’s ‘approved supplier’ list. That is the list you are trying to get on, and you are aiming to have a supplier number and become a guest staff member.

Guest Speakers

A guest speaker can be asked to speak on a port day. SAGA has been asking lecturers to do that this recently (2023/4) as a number of their guests do not go ashore.
There are many types of guest speakers. There are those who have had or have amazing careers. They may be on TV; gardening shows, wildlife shows or celebrity chefs on television. Celebrity speakers can be actors (like Robart Daws from Holby), filmmakers (like Stuart St Paul), Olympians (Like Derek Redmond), politicians, professors, military heroes, writers, royal staff (like royal photographer Ken Lennox), or celebrities. Singers don’t often become guest speakers as it clashes with the entertainment programme, but some stars of the past may be like our good friend Marty Kristian who was the lead singer of The New Seekers and taught the world to sing in perfect harmony. 
There are a few unique acts like our own Jean Heard and a Charles Dickens act. They present half of their presentation as a history lecture, then in costume, perform the second half as an acted monologue. Jean talks about Royal Mistresses, and there are filmed clips, some clips are seen in the middle of 50 Amazing Ports Part 1 (London) when she talks about Lillie Langtry. She is a West End and Broadway actress who has won two Best Actress awards at We Love Soap in New York.
However, some of the most interesting people tell stories of their life in the police force or as a charity worker, and others talk of specialist subjects that they are experts in, like Steve Simone, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Motown. A very popular lecturer is David Withington. He talks about using modern domestic tech and his most popular lectures are on how to beat the scammers. Whatever your subject, you must be able to do a show for 45 mins and clear as the next act is coming on, or the choir are using the stage to rehearse.
The rule of thumb is to have 5 lectures with slides and material you either own the copyright to or can justify the permission to use.
If you are a speaker or member of the cruise enrichment team, join our enrichment chat site here – there are often tips and vacancies. 

The Most Important Thing

In one of my lectures, I throw out the proposition that an actor only has one real job – to sell tickets. That is not a debate for here and now, but one I am more than used to defending. So, given you will be up against the sun, line dancing, bingo, the captain talking about the ship and a film … you need to sell tickets. You need to draw an audience even though your show is free. As the ship must sell, sell, sell to exist, the front page of the ‘What Is On Today’ maybe headlining gems sales, the spa, a handbag sale, the cabaret act in the evening in a bar that can sell drinks. How do you find an audience? There is so much entertainment on a ship, and most is free. Why should guests come in and see you? Why should you be given space in the programme? How do people get to see you? What is your USP – unique selling proposition? – What medals have you won? Are you an MBE? What awards do you have?  They will ask you for your headline and slug line and your advertising, and it will be used if it is good. You will supply your PR and your PICTURE.

Guest Cabaret Acts

The cabaret entertainers (guest acts) such as singers or comedians are on a paid contract and shipped in and out at the first port. Their contract does not include a guest, but they can purchase hotel access for a guest at the agreed rate. A speaker may not be paid as much but may have hotel privileges for their companion but may have to pay for the companion’s flights. That varies with the cruise line. Some fit in the middle of the deals, like daytime classical acts or duos, these may be below decks.


GE means Guest Entertainer. It should mean you are a guest and not a contracted long-term crew member. You will see GE on the luggage tags of those who are working on the ship. In book 4 of my cruise novel thrillers, Violet travels on her first cruise and sees the GE tag on a mans suitcase and is unhealthily inquisitive as to what it is. She is unaware of the term Guest Entertainer.
Being a guest member of staff should mean you have guest status (with restrictions) and are not allowed in crew areas. A guest entertainer does not have to wear a name badge like contracted long term staff. You must do guest safety drills. You should get a guest or officers cabin and will not be below decks. It should mean that you are not part of the lifeboat crew and restricted from drinking etc. It should mean that you do not have to do fire-door or water-tight door drills. However, by mentioning all of this, you can see that you will sit somewhere on the scale from a balcony cabin, down through a restricted view cabin, to an inside cabin, to below decks. Your duties can be varied.

Technical Know How

This is essential as you must carry your show, and it needs to connect to the ship’s system, whether in the main theatre on the huge LED wall or screen, in the cinema, or on a projector in a room. Your picture needs to output normally to an HDMI but on older ships a VGA. You cannot use an unscreened USB connected memory stick as it might infect the ship’s computer system. Check before you cruise if you do not have your own mobile computer system.
You will need to know how to use your machine’s settings to send the audio either to the HDMI cable or the headphone socket. Your show will normally be on a system like Keynote or PowerPoint and the sound levels need to be even. Guest Speakers who are on early morning may sometimes get an apprentice engineer who is learning from you, as well as helping you.
Many cruise lines have a template and your slides must be put on their template and look like their format.
Most will prepare their presentation on PowerPoint or similar. The slides are advanced either by the keyboard or a clicker. Most performers will use a clicker, which frees them from the lectern. Reading is not encourage, the performance should be free flowing. Some performers use clickers that have additional facilities like a laser pointer. If the ship is recording your performance for TV syndication, there are two ways they can do this. Film the stage, you, and the laser pointer. Or, lazily, just take the Keynote or PowerPoint output and miss what you are doing. This depends on the experience, know-how, and willingness of your technician. These are some laser pointers and a few connectors you might need when being moved to a less equipped venue or working on older equipment. You should know how to move your sound output between headphones and HDMI using settings.
Some ships expect you to stay in a small square next to the lectern as that is what the camera captures, and you will appear at the side of the screen where your slides are when the show is transmitted to the cabin.

Getting Caught Out

You may plug into the power extension offered but is the power on? Have they switched it through?
The picture is leaving you, but not getting to the screen. Having restarted Keynote or PowerPoint, and replugged in, it sounds like it could be the digital routing to the screen. Some technicians would need to ring a higher power. 
Sometimes, when plugging from the headphone socket on your machine into the lectern, and there is no sound; check the plug has been pushed fully into the lectern, some love to leave it just out to test you.
Don’t expect it to be easy.

Travel Arrangements

You will be issued a contract and just before you go a Joining Letter or Document. At embarkation, you can normally take either the VIP or crew lane and check in at any time. If flying, because it is rare to be on the whole cruise, you may meet others like a singer, comedian, or crew member who are on the same change-over, but you are maybe alone. A taxi will meet you in the morning and take you to the ship and you wait at the gangway until someone from Reception comes down with your cruise card.
If you are boarding a part cruise and coming back to Southampton, you must go through UK immigration for a face-to-face meeting on the ship after the immigration officer arrives. Joining a ship mid-cruise might mean multiple visas, for example, joining in Hawaii may mean flying via Canada, and even though you are not getting out at Canada or stepping on their soil, it is almost certain you will need a Canadian Visa. If you claim these costs back, you will need that in your contract and these extra costs may need a separate invoice to any fee on your purchase order.

Who books you and how are you booked?

The Hotel Management at headquarters will book names into cruise slots between change-over airports. They only talk with Fixers who talk with Agents. Fixers like Live Business and tED do not normally talk with speakers direct, they talk with the Agents. The Agents are varied and range from Champions, The Speakers Agency, the Cruise Enrichment Group, to Peel Entertainment and many others. An internet search will bring up many who will charge you for joining and charge you for booking the gig. That is as opposed to having a celebrity manager who earns their wage from taking ten to fifteen percent of what you earn. In short, none of these agents work for nothing, so as the ship rarely pays for guest workers from Bridge Teachers to Dance Teachers, then you have to pay. This situation could be described as complex, or fluid, but assume that if you are not in the system the ship will need to want you more than all the other speakers to even have a conversation about your terms of engagement. For information, Peel Entertainment in Shipton has a great website. They are huge and train dancers and choreograph shows that are then sent on to some ships. They have many people who all have different ‘asks’ (meaning ask price and terms).

Of the above, Derek Redmond and Stuart St Paul are with Champions, our own Jean Heard is with The Speakers Agency and Ken Lennox and Marty Kristian are with Peel. Some are with more than one agent; it can mean agents have to share fees.

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If you are speaking at Women’s Guild meetings, luncheons, opening supermarkets, or doing book signings, your agent will have a fee for you. Cruise lines will start by telling anyone they don’t pay that. That is why agents are tough and can judge value. If you are paid the agent will normally invoice, if not and you manage a fee you will have that in your contract, it will be followed by a purchase Order, and there will be a corporate system to invoicing shown in an explanatory document or within their online system. Some cruise lines have a self billing system of autopayment like TV companies.

Many acts sell CD’s, some speakers sell books. These must be agreed as fit for sale, and there will be paperwork the ship needs to see. The ents team will want to see it, they will sell the goods after your show, the ship will take fifteen to twenty percent sales commission. Same as an agent, less than a shop. The shop on a ship is a separate entity. If you are a Ukulele Instructor and want to sell Ukes, this gets more complicated because you will need to agree with the ship to hold stock, and you will need to arrange the stock to meet the ship at Southampton and be stored on board until you are on.

If you think it is getting complex, then there are other ifs and buts. Local laws. A ship home porting at Malta for example cannot allow you to sell goods unless you have a business in Malta and a Malta VAT number. And, each cruise (code) is a new set of accounts. If your cruise contract spans three cruise codes, you may have to do your book or CD sales paperwork at the end of each code.

You will find speakers have more than their talk, they will have books, and pictures they can sign, and they will advertise their appearances at home at luncheons or have websites… like Doris Visits. For us, the goal is a TV deal on the CSCI books. It is a complex business and nothing like a cruise holiday.

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Your Competition

Take a moment to really study your competition. Watch them, see how they enthuse and engage. Look at the profiles, credentials, and awards of those on the sites. Sure, they list names from Richard Branson down to you. But, there are over 450 ships on our list here on Doris Visits, from river to ocean and they are nowhere near all of them. Think of all the lunches and guild meetings, events, and fairs. Few can afford top stars, so your job is to fit in somewhere and advertise yourself.

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Tips For New Speakers

  • Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth!
  • Smile, They Think They Can See You!
  • Essentially, you must engage an audience from the outset. Think of a line like, I just found a dead body in the corridor, stabbed, ten times. That gets attention, so, as you can’t use that, you need one that is better.
  • Speak directly to each one of them and look into their eyes even though you can’t see them. They want to think you are talking to them. The easiest way to do that, is talk to them.
  • Do not read!
  • Work on having a mellifluous voice.
  • Entertain, don’t educate.
  • Turn up on time.
  • Leave on time.
  • Don’t pester the ents office.
  • Always do a technical rehearsal at LEAST 15 mins before.
  • Don’t do a Q&A or signing in the venue after your act; there is someone else on next.
  • Know all the technical, because you may be on in the morning with a trainee technician, and he needs to learn from you.
  • On modern desks, when the technician can’t get the pictures to the digital wall or projector, it’s probably the routing.
  • If the sound lead looks plugged into the lectern, check. 
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Every performer should have a well homed act that has done the local circuit, charities, schools and local Women’s Guild lunches. Tew of these can ever be the same as a one thousand seat theatre on a large ship. Somewhere you can practice, at a cost to you, is at a performance lab where you perform on a stage to a digital audience of hundreds of AI characters who each have their own personality and can be operated to act differently, walk out, cough, or have their phone ring. This is how musicians are trained the Royal College of Music. Click here if you are interested in hiring.