Every marketer making the conference circuit rounds each year has probably watched industry experts deliver keynote speeches or serve on panels and thought, "How can I get executives from my company on this stage next year?"
That’s because in-person speaking engagements are one of the most effective ways to generate leads at industry events, according to data from MarketingSherpa’s new Business Technology Benchmark Guide.
With that in mind, we put together this Tutorial on how to develop a speaking engagement strategy, land a spot at your targeted events and give a speech that will make a lasting impression. Plus, we tell you what you need to do to make the most of your networking potential. Lining Up a Speaking Gig: 4 Goals and 6 Questions
Before you hit the speaking circuit, you need to understand what you hope to gain from each appearance and how they will fit into your overall marketing strategy.
Four common goals cited by marketers pursuing speaking opportunities are:
Goal #1. Establish your company as an industry leader or innovator tackling emerging issues.
Goal #2. Generate leads. Wowing a targeted audience with a good speech can make prospects take notice. The value of your networking before and after your speech will depend on your follow-up methods.
Goal. #3. Generate buzz in advance of a launch. If your company is rolling out a new product or has a breakthrough technology on its hands, industry events can be a great place to raise awareness. But beware: your speech can’t be self-promotional or product focused. Instead, use these appearances to discuss industry trends that tie in to your new product/service.
Goal #4. Recruit employees and partners. Top-notch industry events are filled with smart people in your field. Making a strong speech can raise your company’s profile as a place to work or a company to do business with. Also, networking with fellow panelists and attendees can establish connections with like-minded individuals who might be a good fit for open positions at your firm.
Deciding which events to go after can be overwhelming. Each industry has hundreds of speaking opportunities available each year, ranging from keynotes at huge annual conferences to lunchtime addresses in front of a small meeting.
Every marketer knows the three or four major conferences in their industry. And while pitching these events is important, don’t assume that the biggest show means the biggest ROI. For starters, those events attract hundreds or thousands of proposals for each speaking opportunity, and the competition is fierce. What’s more, some of the biggest shows require companies to be sponsors before even being considered for speaking roles (more on that later).
So, a good speaking strategy will target a range of events, including smaller regional meetings, user conferences, association events and the like. When evaluating the marketing potential of different speaking opportunities, here are six questions to consider:
#1. Who’s the audience? What companies and job titles will be attending? Are they potential customers, and do you have a topic that will appeal to them?
#2. How many people will attend the event? A large crowd is good, but smaller crowds can be just as valuable if you’re the only speaker addressing them.
#3. How much attention will your speech get? Is it a keynote, a case study or a panel discussion? Expert speakers, such as David Meerman Scott, a Web consultant and author, say that huge industry conferences can be overwhelming for attendees and that your appearance on a single panel may get lost in the shuffle.
#4. How much travel is involved? If it’s not a local event, will a speaking engagement be worth having a key executive out of the office for a day or two or more?
#5. What is the show’s reputation? Look into how old the conference is or the organization sponsoring it and try to get feedback from past attendees and speakers to learn if it’s a well-run event and whether the audience really matched the organizer’s description.
#6. What is the marketing potential beyond the show? Another tip from Scott is to look for promotional opportunities before the speech itself. Will your bio appear in a brochure or on a Web site or blog dedicated to the conference?
To help analyze your options, consider this technique that helped one marketer land eight speaking gigs for his company. Matt Pitchford, Communications Manager, TruStar Solutions (now First Advantage Recruiting Solutions) created a calendar of the year’s relevant industry events and sorted them into three categories:
o "A shows" – well-regarded, well-attended national or international shows
o "B shows" - national but less well attended
o "C shows" - regional or extremely specialized
Some events require you to be a sponsor before you can even be considered as a potential speaker. While these so-called pay-to-play events are in the minority, they also often are the biggest, most popular and successful events in an industry, says Terry Catchpole, CEO, Catchpole, a speaker program management firm. “It’s a factor in this industry, and it’s unavoidable.”
If you’re faced with an event that requires sponsorship in order to submit a speaker proposal, you need to determine if the return on investment is worth it. For companies with a limited sponsorship budget, it may not be an option. Major IT events, for example, might require a commitment of tens of thousand of dollars.
But even IT companies can find smaller, more targeted events that are pay to play, but deliver better ROI. For example, rather than trying to get a senior executive to speak at a major IT conference, you might find an event focused on a particular technology where a sponsorship and having one of your engineers speak to a technical audience makes more sense, says Catchpole.5 Factors in Putting Together a Terrific Speaking Proposal
Large events are inundated with speaking requests, so you need a proposal that will stand out. Here are five factors to consider:
Factor #1. Most important, offer a presentation that’s relevant to the audience and offers something unique -- for example, an innovative solution to a common business problem or insight into trends or new developments in the industry.
Factor #2. Don’t simply offer to give the same speech you presented at other conferences. “We’re not looking for a canned presentation that’s been given at half a dozen other conferences prior to ours. Keep it as fresh and new and relevant as possible,” says Tara Dunion, Director Communications, CEA and the International CES.
Factor #3. For major events, check the organizer’s Web site for request-for-proposal submission guidelines and make sure you follow them exactly. When writing your proposal, also consider these tips from Philippa Gamse, a professional speaker and President, Total 'Net Value Inc.:
o Use a catchy title that tells what attendees can expect to hear
o Keep it short -- a couple of paragraphs at most
o Begin one paragraph with: "In my program, participants will learn …" followed by bullet points that detail benefits of your talk and what people will learn
o Include further selling points: handouts, testimonials, successful programs you've done for other audiences
o Include a bio, credentials and previous experience and a brief sentence about why you're qualified to give this talk
Factor #4. Besides proactively seeking speaking engagements, you can also let event organizers find you. Consider adding a Speakers’ Bureau section to your site, which notes which of your executives are available to present at industry events.
Software company Kintera, for example, uses this to attract organizers of smaller events they might not have on their radar screen. Besides listing a contact name, the Speakers’ Bureau section should include sample topics of expertise to help start a conversation with event organizers. “A lot of times we’re not aware of a conference, and it makes more sense for people to notify us when they’re looking for speakers,” says Erin Leventhal, Director Public Relations.
Leventhal says they field requests for speakers on a weekly basis thanks to their speakers’ bureau information.
Also consider adding a section to your Web site highlighting where your employees have presented or will be presenting in the near future. Such lists not only tell prospects and customers where they can meet someone from your company face to face, they also can reiterate your status as an industry expert.
Factor #5. If your speaking proposal is rejected, don’t miss the opportunity to make another impression on the event organizer. Send an email offering to be a last-minute substitute in case another panelist backs out, or ask if there are any opportunities to resubmit a proposal for other topics. You may end up landing a replacement speaking gig, but at minimum you’ve put your name back in front of the organizer and may be remembered in the future if you submit other speaking proposals.5 Tips When Presenting Your Speech
Once you’ve landed a speaking gig, concentrate on giving a speech that will make an impression. Here are five tips for making a memorable presentation:
Tip #1. Don’t be self-promotional. A speech should not be a sales pitch. Concentrate on providing real value for attendees and offer tips, examples or case studies they can take back to work and apply to their own jobs immediately.
Tip #2. Provide handouts. Gamse recommends giving attendees something to take home, whether it’s a list of resources, a bio or relevant articles or reprints. Attendees can file these handouts for future reference, which can lead to contacts long after your speech is over.
Tip #3. Offer a unique point of view. Present something your audience hasn’t heard before, whether that’s highlighting a unique solution to a common industry problem, offering insights into new trends or emerging issues or even taking a controversial stance.
Patrick Moorehead, National Manager Research and Development, Avenue A/Razorfish, recently got attention when he spoke on a panel about the hot topic of pre-roll advertising for online video. While his fellow speakers outlined how they used the technique, Moorehead began his presentation with the blunt assessment that “pre-roll sucks,” then went into why he thought the technique didn’t make the most of online video’s interactive potential. “A lot of the other comments didn’t seem relevant and honest. I became the honest person.”
Tip #4. When putting your speech together, don’t overuse PowerPoint. Just because everyone uses PowerPoint slides to accompany a presentation doesn’t mean they use them correctly.
Here are three suggestions from David Meerman Scott on ways to be PowerPoint savvy:
- No more than one PowerPoint slide for every two minutes of speech. The strongest speakers often have even fewer slides than this. That’s because a constant stream of changing images makes people watch the screen instead of pay attention to you.
- Use images, not text. Text in PowerPoint is a “crutch,” says Scott. Slides should not be an outline of what you say but should offer visuals to illustrate your thoughts.
- Prepare extra, “hidden” tangents. To keep a speech flexible for different audiences, create a much longer speech than you actually need to use, with additional slides for various subtopics that some audiences might be interested in. Then, during your speech, or while answering questions at the end, gauge your audience’s interest in particular topics and divert to a tangent accordingly. Scott sets up a possible tangent every 10 slides or so, but only uses them when it’s appropriate.
Tip #5. Following a good presentation, you’ll likely be approached by audience members looking to start a conversation. But you can encourage even more post-speech interaction and make more contacts with techniques such as the following:
- Offer attendees an extra piece of valuable information, such as a white paper or useful article reprint, if they give their business card to you after the speech.
- If possible, position a second staff member in the room to interact with attendees if too many people are waiting for attention at the podium after the speech. It’s your best chance to establish a relationship with a hot prospect, so you don’t want anyone to drift away before you have the opportunity to chat with everyone.4 Strategies for Post-Show Follow-up
Once you’ve given your speech and have returned to your office, don’t leave out one of the most important aspects: the follow-up. Consider ways to keep people thinking about you and your speech after everyone is back at work.
Here are four suggestions:
#1. Blog about your speech. Scott makes sure to update his blog immediately after giving a speech, highlighting the topic and giving his impressions of the event. Besides attracting readers who may not have seen you in person, you also can send a link to event organizers to include in a list of media mentions about the show.
#2. Offer a giveaway to add names to your mailing list. Gamse has attendees enter their business cards into a drawing for a free hour of consulting. She follows up with those names by email, thanking them for attending and giving them the chance to ask further questions, such as what resonated with them and what they would like to have heard more about.
#3. Make yourself available to media for follow-on interviews.
#4. Ask event organizers to share feedback about your speech. Attendees’ assessment of your performance will help you learn if there are areas you need to improve, or if you got a great response. If consensus is the latter, then you can ask the organizers to provide a referral for future speaking engagements at other events.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from speakers' bureaus and submission forms:
Past Sherpa articles -
PR on a Low Budget: Combine 3 Tactics for Peak Impact
5 Steps to Landing (and Acing) Speaking Gigs to Promote Your Services or Company
6 Steps for Giving an Unforgettable Speech
David Meerman Scott:
First Advantage Recruiting Solutions: