Speaking Opportunities: Start Now to Get On Stage

By Tim Johnson

Speaking on stage at conferences can be an enticing “one-to-many” opportunity, a chance to reach a large number of prospective buyers or influencers in just 30 to 45 minutes. But getting that spot on stage can involve a lot of twists and turns along the way. First, I will start by going through some of the obstacles to securing that valuable speaking spot and then some “how to” tips for gaining that coveted invitation to speak.

Enhance Your Thought Leadership Program and Brand Recognition

mic for conference speakerSpeaking can be expensive in terms of budget and time. Speakers often have to be members of the association that puts on the conference. Or, their organizations must be sponsors for conference managers to even consider them as speaker. These costs can run from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the association.

Speaking can also be time-consuming. The speaker must submit an abstract, often as far as 4-6 months in advance. Some associations require abstracts that can run to several thousand words. Once accepted, the speaker must put together a presentation, usually well in advance of the conference. He/she must then travel to the conference, which can involve flights and hotel stays. Speakers often spend 2-3 full days traveling for the opportunity to speak for 30 minutes.

Make the Most of Speaking Opportunities

Contrary to Woody Allen’s comment that “80 percent of success in life is showing up,” there is much more to maximizing a speaking opportunity than just showing up. The speaker’s marketing team should promote the opportunity via social, direct marketing and media relations long before the actual presentation. Then promote the presentation live as it takes place, and repurpose the content via contributed articles and blogs.

Sometimes, speakers end up at conferences that aren’t the right fit. An “ill fit” can take several forms. Sometimes, the audience isn’t composed of direct buyers or influencers of the speaker’s products or services. Materials conference managers distribute can be incomplete or misleading. In other circumstances, the audience can represent the right target industry, but the specific niche is off target. For example, the conference focuses on networking hardware while the speaker represents a networking software company. Or, the speaker is a CEO, but other speakers are manager, director and VP levels, which could diminish his/her personal brand.

Now on to strategies to gain that speaking spot.

How to Land More Speaking Gigs

A conference manager once told me that she was the most popular person in the world for about three months a year – the three months prior to the conference she managed. When possible, stay in touch with conference managers throughout the year, forward topic ideas, and ask how plans are coming for next year’s conference. If you are to be in the city where the conference manager is located, make the effort to visit.

1. Be what they need.

One to two months before the speaking abstracts are due, contact the conference manager and ask if there are topics they are especially interested in covering at this year’s conference. If feasible, offer to submit on that topic or put together a panel of experts. If putting together a panel, start early securing the other panelists. It can be difficult to reach potential panelists and coordinate schedules. Positioning the speaker as a resource to help out the conference manager – and not just one more person trying to market their company – goes a long way.

2. Be flexible.

Be flexible in your abstract. Offer to speak as a single speaker or serve on a panel. Submit multiple abstracts covering different topics. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the conference to select the speaker.

3. Be available.

Follow through on deliverables that conference managers request. These usually include photos, bios, presentation abstracts, the presentation itself, potential handouts and more. I have seen speakers bumped at the last minute because they failed to cooperate with the conference manager. Remember, if the conference is worthwhile, the speaker will want to speak there again in the future.

Never forget! Conference managers remember cooperative speakers, and they also remember uncooperative ones…

In my next blog, I outline how to make the most of that speaking opportunity, once you’ve earned it.

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