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Jul 17, 2006
Blog Post

How to Avoid Landing in the 90% Rejected Speaker Wanna-Be Pile

SUMMARY: No summary available.
I really enjoy reading Mike May's blog,, because I totally relate to it. He's a conference consultant who helps events pick great speakers. Here at Sherpa I'm the one who leads the Summit Speakers Committee.

So Mike and I both wade through deep piles of speaker proposals looking for just the right people. As his blog reveals most often it's daunting.

Which is sad. Hundreds of marketers and PR folks have put their hearts and souls into crafting speaking proposals that show organizers take one glance at and say, "Nope."

For example, we received more than 160 speaking proposals for MarketingSherpa's upcoming B-to-B Demand Generation Summit. We only had room for about 16 speakers total, so only 10% would make the final cut no matter how fabulous all the proposals were. What made the difference?

Here are some tips drawn from my own experience at both speaker selection and submitting proposals to other shows, plus some insights from Mike.

#1. Vendors: No, you can't pitch your lovely company

If you're a vendor to the field (i.e., your company markets goods or services to the types of people who attend this show), your chances of being accepted are extremely slim unless you:

- Detail which clients (i.e., people who match the attendee
profile rather than people who pitch to them) you've already gotten to agree to speak with you. Simply saying, "I can get some clients; ask me about that" will get you nowhere, because most organizers have been burned by that one in the past.

- Present new research you've conducted about the industry
(tactics, jobs, mistakes, etc., anything with numbers). The more exclusive for the show, the better.

- Offer to run a lab or workshop that the conference can pitch as an add-on extra (and you've got the leadership).

- Pitch your techies, scientists, engineers or other functional professionals who are completely and thoroughly unrelated to marketing and sales.

#2. Consultants: No tired speeches

Just as blog readers tend to read multiple blogs on the same topic, show attendees tend to attend multiple shows on the same topic. This is partly because it's often easier to get budget for "training" than it is to get the content in any other format such as professional handbooks.

And partly it's personality type. A certain demographic just adore going to shows. It's their favorite way of keeping up in their profession.

Show organizers know this (which is why they often swap postal lists with each other for promotions). They also know if you presented a similar-sounding speech at another show, their attendees will be disappointed.

So, if you are planning on presenting very similar material in several places (and why not, you worked hard to develop the presentation), let the organizer know the areas are not overlapping audiences. For example, you may repurpose an internal presentation or only present at a series of regional niche events.

#3. Experts: Avoid overviews

Great -- you've noticed there's a show about a topic that you're precisely perfect for. Let's say it's Widget Marketing. Don't write a proposal saying you'll give a speech about "everything about Widget Marketing." You may think that sounds tailored to the show. The organizer thinks it sounds way too broad.

The organizer has to pick dozens or even hundreds of speakers on this same Widget Marketing topic. If your speech is an overview, then how does that stand out from everyone elses? You need an angle.

And, as Mike notes, don't pretend to be an expert with hands-on experience when you're really a novice with strong opinions about the topic.

In either case, the expert and the psuedo-expert, the only way you'll get the gig is if you're so incredibly famous that folks will show up to hear you speak about almost anything. (That's called a Keynote.)

#4. Don't ignore format

Review past events from the same organizer to see what format they tend to prefer. Most shows tend to focus primarily on one particular type of presentation such as group panels, intensive workshops, case studies, roundtables, etc.

#5. Copywrite your proposal

The conference organizer is viewing your proposal with the
attendee-hat on. They wonder, "Would someone buy a ticket to hear this?" Luckily they know what makes people buy tickets because the organizers copywrite show brochures that market tickets for a living.

The more your copywriting can match the types of descriptions used for that organizer's other shows, the better. So, grab some old show session descriptions from the same organizer and let it inspire your description.

One final note -- longer can be better. I'm not talking about marketing fluff, but rather specific speech details. A busy organizer may not have time to contact you asking for more details about your speech, so the slot may go to the description that was more fully fleshed out.

#6. Timing is critical

Organizers put together shows up to nine months in advance. By the time you see any promotion about the show appearing,
especially if that promotion names speaker names, it's probably too late for you to get on board. Instead, contact the organizer to find out when they normally accept proposals for the next show.

While you're at it -- be sure to volunteer to stand in if needed of they have an unexpected hole. Since shows are programmed in advance, sometimes holes occur when speakers' jobs change or their companies go through upheaval.

#7. Horrible but true -- some shows ask you to pay

MarketingSherpa never ever, ever, ever asks speakers for a cent. However, I've discovered that puts us in the minority. Many show organizers either give you a gig if you are a show sponsor or ask you to pay for the gig outright.

I'm not saying it's morally wrong -- if the event is in a high-profile location such as NYC, SF, Chicago or London, the cost of putting it on is far higher than attendees ever suspect. I understand in business you have a responsibility to the bottom line.

However, I do heartily wish that more shows clearly labeled
themselves as using the paid gigs model. The situation can be very deceptive. It can also be hurtful when sponsors are
offended when their speaking proposals are turned down or
speakers are offended when they're told, yes, but here's the bill.

... anyway, if you would like to speak at Sherpa show, be sure to watch our "Fame" section below every week because we make announcements when we're looking for proposals.

And, if you'd like to see who the lucky 16 speakers are who we chose for this year's Demand Generation Summit, here's a link:

Useful links related to this article:

MarketingSherpa's Fame section

Mike May's blog
See Also:

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