As your career grows, more and more people start handing you microphones; whether it’s just for a small acceptance of an award, to join a panel with your peers, or to keynote a major conference. Speaking at conferences and trade shows provides a huge opportunity to get your personal brand and company out in the spotlight while entertaining and educating attendees.
Speaking at events should be a win/win situation for everyone involved: the speaker (you), the event organizer, and the attendees/audience. These tips will help you take the leap from event attendee to speaker while creating value for everyone involved.
1. Understand the Event Audience
Before you even submit to speak or accept a request, be sure to understand the event audience. If you’re looking to generate leads for your company at the event, you’ll want to make sure your ideal customers are actually attending. This may mean passing up some opportunities to speak because it really wouldn’t provide value to you or the attendees. It might provide a paycheck but that’s not what speaking at events and conferences is for.
Another part of understanding the event audience is understanding what they want to hear about. Understanding the attendee demographic breakdown will help you prepare your talk for the event by understanding what the audience is really looking for. You’ll also be able to skip over topics you think they may already know. For example, if you’re speaking at Dreamforce you might not want to discuss the basics of using a CRM but you may want to discuss how certain customizations within Salesforce allowed your team to triple your revenue.
Being a great conference speaker is about understanding the event audience. It will help ensure everyone is on the same page going into developing your talk or presentation.
2. Let Event Organizers Know Early
The early bird definitely gets the worm when it comes to applying for speaking engagements. It shows that you’re paying attention to their event specifically and not just using the spray and pray tactic. Look for events anywhere from 4–6 months out and put the day the speaker proposals open on your calendar so you can apply early.
I also highly recommend following and engaging the event organizer on social media prior to submitting a speaker proposal. These little gestures go a long way.
3. Don’t Sell Your Product
Or, as we like to say, “less shill, more chill.”
If people don’t want to hear Gary Vaynerchuk talk about Vayner Media, they definitely don’t want to hear you talk about your business or product. Sorry, but they don’t care. What they want is valuable information that will help their own business.
That doesn’t mean you can’t mention your business or tell a story about how you were able to achieve x through y. Just like you all of your content marketing isn’t about your product, your presentation shouldn’t be either. By providing immense value to the audience, everyone will want to know the name of your company and talk to you afterward anyway. Be a great conference speaker and sell more by not selling anything at all while you’re on stage (besides yourself)!
4. Do Sell Yourself
This is a two-part section because it involves both selling yourself to event organizers and to the audience.
When selling yourself to event organizers, come in with a strong game plan. Know exactly what you want to talk about and why you’re an expert, how much you expect to be paid for the engagement, and how you can help the organizer gain more exposure through your own network. Event organizers may come back to you and say they can’t/don’t pay speakers. This is a whole other conversation we plan on covering because it’s becoming a major issue. However, knowing your value and expectations will set the table for a better conversation up front.
Selling yourself to an audience is totally different. Before the event, try engaging with other attendees on the event app or on LinkedIn. It will drum up the people attending your talk and possible connections. You also want to make sure you’re super personable during the entire event, not just on stage. Selling yourself is about providing value, listening, and engaging. Knowing when and where to do this is key to your success in speaking at events and conferences.
5. Know Your Worth
In doing the research for this article, I came across way too many articles citing event organizers not paying speakers fairly. There are, of course, going to be discrepancies between veteran event speakers like a Cindy Gallop and someone just starting out. But, there are also huge differences between what men get paid and what women or people of color get paid. Some articles even cited that the same event paid male and female counterparts dramatically different sums.
Knowing your worth when you submit a proposal or are asked to speak at an event are crucial. You can avoid the awkward by being very upfront about your needs and expectations. Great seminars, keynotes, and sessions take hours to prepare and your time is valuable. Have a concrete deal in mind (speaking fees, travel, hotels, conference passes, etc) in mind before reaching out.
However, you don’t want your expectations to be too high. Be flexible when it comes to working with event organizers but remember your worth.
6. Set Yourself Apart
How many social media conferences are there? And how many sessions are at every social media conference?
I’m not about to do the math but I can tell you it’s A LOT.
And this is just talking about social media at social media conferences…What about sessions at other types of conferences covering social media? You get the point.
When you submit to speak, pick a topic that you know well and that will set yourself apart from the crowd. This is where your unique personality and experiences should come into play. If you’re pioneering a diversity campaign, talk about that. If you’re beginning to explore how to use new technologies in new spaces (like using VR in B2B sales) then definitely talk about that! Provide a unique value proposition as a conference speaker that only you could tell and you’ll be on your way to speaking at top conferences in no time.
7. Engage the Audience
Have you ever sat in the audience and had the speaker ask a question and no one even looked up from their smartphones?
You don’t want to be that person. We don’t want you to be that person.
Audience engagement is a tricky thing; that might be why we’re seeing event organizers invest more and more into attendee engagement software. Ask the event if they offer this technology and be prepared to use it if they do.
Engaging an audience is way more than asking questions or being the Microsoft hype man. It’s much more nuanced than that and should be incorporated throughout your presentation and in the way you talk. How your voice sounds, where you pause, what your slides look like, and so, so much more go into audience engagement. This is definitely something that takes practice, and studying other top speakers is a great place to start.
8. Publish Your Work
If you don’t have a personal website by now or at least a rockstar LinkedIn, you will want to get on that stat. Then, you’ll want to publish your presentations and talks online so you can get more reach with them. Once you have a few video recordings, you may also want to create a video reel so you can submit that to event organizers when you apply to be a conference speaker.
Another great thing about publishing your talks from the event is the ability to create even more content. You can put the contents of the talk into a blog post, talk about the experience, or upload a Slideshare of your presentation. Make sure you squeeze every drop of value you can out of speaking at events.
*Please make sure the event organizer allows for republication of the content both publically and personally (on your video reel).
You’re on Your Way to Being a 💣 Conference Speaker
These pointers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to speaking at events. Every event is different and so is every audience; don’t get discouraged if your speaker proposal is rejected. Get up and dust yourself off again and keep going!
Being a conference speaker can open amazing doors both personally and professionally and we can’t wait to see your success.