Web content consultant and book author David Meerman Scott just spent the past 12 months on the speaking circuit. After giving 29 speeches at both national and regional events, he's been through the wringer. Like any good marketer, he used the experience to test best practices in speaking gigs -- and learn what really works.
Here in MarketingSherpa's exclusive interview, the speech guru reveals his practical, hands-on tips for doing better with speaking gigs:4 Factors to Weigh When Deciding Where to Speak
The average industry has more than 400 in-person speaking opportunities you can pitch per year. That list includes national annual trade shows, vendor user conferences, monthly and annual regional association events, one-off hot topic seminars, major corporate in-house conferences, etc.
Before you start researching, you may be aware of a handful of these. That doesn't mean they will be the highest impact events for your business. Scott suggests running every potential speaking gig through a four-point evaluation before you pitch (or accept) a gig at it:
#1. Audience demographics
Ask the organizers about the goals of the event, the number of people expected to attend and their job titles. If possible, contact a few attendees from last year or those who will be attending this year to get a true feeling for who tends to be there. Are these juniors sent for training, sales reps sent to work the crowd, senior execs hoping for networking?
#2. Promotional opportunity
Aside from the actual speech, how could the event promote your name or brand? Are they mailing a full-color brochure with your picture and bio to 30,000 people? Will the organizers add your info to their Web site, email and blogs? What's the reach and frequency? "I look at all those things as almost as important as the speech itself," Scott says.
#3. Speech impact & audience captivity
Most newbies to the speaking world mistakenly assume landing a speech at the biggest show of the year is a home-run gig. Not so, notes Scott. Fact is, two or three days of speeches at big events can be overwhelming for attendees. As a result, your speech may get lost in the shuffle.
Plus, if you're one of many panel members during a show with multiple sessions, you could wind up with only a handful of attendees noticing you were at the big annual show at all.
That's why speeches at smaller events can have a bigger payoff. "If I'm speaking in the middle of summer at a lunch where there are 50 people, it's a captive audience. That might be a really important gig," says Scott.
#4. Ease of location
As with all expert speakers we know, Scott reviews speaking opportunities with airlines in mind. An event clear across the country may be easier to get a non-stop flight to than an event in the Wyoming or Nebraska. (Note: this can also work in your favor if you're a new speaker, events in hard-to-reach locations may have a harder time recruiting speakers and leap at the chance to sign you on.)2 Ways to Make Your Bio More Impressive
You'll need a great bio to land the gig and to run in promotional materials around the event. Key -- this is not the bio you'd expect a biographer to write about you. Neither the organizer nor the attendees care where you went to college or what your past jobs were. Nor are they interested in your personal life. Here's how to make your bio work for you:
First way: Load your bio with impressive, related factoids.
Consider your bio a selling platform for yourself as an expert on the particular topic of the speech itself. Why are you qualified to give this speech?
Seven items to mention:
o book and white paper authorship
o name-brand clients
o press mentions
o awards won
o other speaking gigs
o business results (raised response rates 45%)
o blogs, podcasts and/or columns
Second way: Copywrite several versions for various formats
Instead of submitting a standard canned bio for each event, first ask organizers how much space they'll allow for bios. Often they will have several spaces available -- shorter for the print brochure, extended for the Web site and attendee guidebook and lastly a varying format for your verbal introduction at the event itself.
Key -- if you just hand over your bio and expect the organizers to edit to fit the space they may bungle it and chop off bits you didn't want to see gone. That's why Scott has created three different length bios -- one that's 30 words, one that's 115 words and one that's for the moderator to read out loud. (Link to samples below.) 5 Ways to Improve Your Speech & PowerPoints
Avoid the biggest mistake of all -- the dreaded sales pitch at the start of the speech. Many speakers start by saying "first let me tell you a little about myself." However, if you've done a good job of handling the bio that's in the attendee materials and given to the moderator, this is unnecessary.
Instead, focus your speech on providing value -- tips and advice you can provide the audience. "Prove how great you are with your speech," Scott says. "Then, at the end, nail them with the pitch." Here are more specifics:
#1. Try not to sound canned. If you're speaking a lot, always customize your standard speech to the event or region. Giving the same speech at every meeting is sure to tick off conference organizers and attendees.
#2. Open the speech with a dramatic or controversial statement. Scott notes in days past speakers would try to open with a joke. However, in business settings, especially when you're not from the region itself, you're safer waking the audience up with a strong point of view that naturally the rest of the speech backs up with facts and figures.
#3. No more than one PowerPoint slide for every two minutes of speech
Scott admits he thinks the strongest speakers often have even fewer PowerPoints than this. Why? If you show audiences a constant stream of changing images they begin to watch the screen like a TV set instead of paying attention to you and your presence. You're the speaker after all -- you should be in the spotlight, not your slides.
#4. Images vs text in slides
Scott warns strongly against using text in PowerPoint as a "crutch". Your slides should not be a textual outline of what you're saying -- let alone a word-for-word iteration. "There is nothing more painful than a set of slides that only [duplicates] the words."
Plus, why should anyone listen to you when they can read the slides instead? That's why his slides are heavy on images rather than words.
#5. Extra "hidden" slide tangents
This is a great way to keep a speech fresh and tailored for each audience.
Create a much longer speech than you actually need, with additional slides for various sub-topics that you suspect some audiences will be deeply interested in. Then as you're speaking (or answering questions at the end), judge by audience interest whether you should keep going the main way or divert into a juicy tangent they're particularly interested in.
Scott sets up a possible tangent every 10 slides or so, but only uses them when it seems appropriate. 3 Practical Considerations for the Speech Itself: Your Kit
Practice your speech until you know it backward and forward. Scott says he reviews his speech so many times that while he's on one slide, he's often thinking about the next one. "If you know your material so well ... it flows so well."
He learned that point the hard way. When speaking at a conference in Brussels that was being translated simultaneously, he knocked a glass of water onto the computer. "There was a puff of smoke and the computer died. There are no slides and no way out of this."
He's also learned to pack a "speaking kit" for every event, full of just-in-case supplies, including:
- a wireless device to move the slides forward and backward on the computer
- an extra pointer
- a stack of business cards
- several pens
- an extra badge holder
- a printout of the speech
- a memory stick with the slides
Plus, don't just hand out business cards to people who approach you after your speech. Use the opportunity to re-engage them.
Invent a unique promotion -- a small giveaway such as an engaging white paper -- and print up a stack of playing card-sized cards featuring the offer. Example, Scott's offer a free ebook, 'The New Rules of PR,' plus the URL for a free download (see link to creative sample below). "It's very different than a business card and it's not going to get lost. It's going into their pockets or briefcases." 2 Follow-up Tips: Don't Forget to Blog the Speech Afterward
Scott notes that one way he's landed tough speaking gigs is to let the organizers know he's prepared to give them a juicy mention in his blog before and after the speech. Web-savvy organizers appreciate that sort of thing, both for traffic and for link rankings.
Plus, as soon as he can after the gig -- within minutes or hours -- Scott goes online to blog about the event itself, including how his speech went. He's careful to include a hotlink to the event Web site and to email the organizers "Go look at the review I posted on my blog about your event."
Many organizers put together a list of media hits on the event to show to their members. Example: After Scott spoke at a Software Information Industry Association conference, he blogged about the meeting. The post made it into the SIIA's emailed roundup of media hits on the show, which in turn lead to more traffic for Scott's blog.
Last but not least, don't forget at ask the organizers for feedback on your presentation. They'll generally have this available two-three weeks after the show. If the feedback is positive, now is the time to ask for a testimonial to add to your own site.Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples from the Tips above:
Eymer.LLC -- the Web designer who created Scott's site http://www.eymer.com
TypePad -- the blog software Scott uses
Scott's Web site