Speaking at an industry conference or a trade show is a fantastic way for you to communicate with a large group of people in one go. It provides vital visibility to both you and your business, and helps to establish you as an authority, and a thought leader, within your industry. When your message is combined with an audience that has the potential to influence others, the opportunity becomes that much more valuable. It’s this combination of a strong message and exposure to the right audience that makes a speaking opportunity such an effective way to raise your industry profile.
The advantages of speaking at an industry event can be significant; however, be careful when selecting which event and consider how you’ll benefit. This checklist, which is available here as a free download, will help you make the right choices as you consider your next speaking engagement.
Is the Event Right For You?
Securing speaking appearances can be a rather difficult and lengthy process, especially if you haven’t done one before. However, that doesn’t mean you should just accept the first opportunity that comes your way. Ensuring the right fit will go a long way towards making sure you’re not wasting your time.
Before you apply, take a close look at the event in question. Will it put you in front of the right people? If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask the event organisers about the type of audience they expect. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them for the anticipated attendance numbers.
It’s also important to consider the costs involved. If you’re looking at a potential “pay-to-play” scenario, you need to determine whether it’s worth the expense. Find out if the event has other opportunities for you to communicate with your desired audience; these could include panel discussions or editorial coverage in trade publications. If possible, speak with people that have presented at this show in the past and ask them about their experiences and the return on their investment. This will give you a good idea as to whether or not the show is worth your time and money.
Start Looking for Next Year’s Opportunities Now
Figuring out which events you’re interested in is just the first step in landing a speaking opportunity. The next step is to ensure you’re in the running to be considered.
The typical trade show has an initial deadline for submissions six to eight months before the event. This means that you’ll have to plan well ahead in order to get your submission entered in time. Therefore, your best bet is to start looking for information about a given trade show a few weeks after the current year’s event has taken place. This will give you enough time to figure out what you need to do in order to submit an application, as well as provide a timeframe for collating the necessary information.
Study Submission Criteria Carefully
Every event has a different set of submission criteria. Assuming they are all the same may be the very mistake that results in you being on the outside looking in. The submission criteria will tell you exactly what is required and when it is needed. Some events want a simple abstract of your presentation, while others will ask for your completed presentation, along with any supporting media. Knowing exactly what the show is asking for will help you avoid any administrative errors that could cost you your place at the event.
A careful examination of the submission criteria may also open your eyes to additional presentation types that you were unaware of, such as joining a panel or demonstration. Additionally, thinking outside the box may help you to find a place at the show of your choice. For example, conducting a presentation with a customer is not only a novel approach, but it will add extra gravity to your message. It is an opportunity to show your audience that you understand the issues they face, while at the same time your customer’s testimonial helps them better relate to your message.
If you have any questions about where you fit into a given event, contact the organisers — be sure to mention to them any ideas you have for panel topics or workshop discussions.
Keep Your Submission to the Point
Calls for submissions may include limits on content, such as “three pages max” or “up to 2,000 words.” It’s important to note that you’re not required to reach this limit in your submission. In fact, doing so may jeopardise your standing as a potential speaker.
Instead of cramming your submission with extraneous content, focus on being as concise as possible. A few paragraphs of highly focused content are far better than several pages of fluff. This is something to keep in mind not only for your initial submission, but for your actual presentation as well.
A good rule of thumb is to come up with five main points that you want to cover. When crafting your presentation, build it around those five points. This will keep you focused on the ideas that matter, while curtailing any desire to go off-topic.
Promotion and Preparation
Promotion and preparation might seem like two separate concepts, but the two are very closely related. Without both, your speaking appearance has virtually no chance of being successful.
As soon as your presentation is accepted, it’s time crank up your promotion machine. Start talking about it with interested parties, including customers and colleagues. Send out an e-mail blast outlining your presentation to everyone you think may be interested, such as sales targets, colleagues, industry contacts, etc. Promote your appearance on social media wherever possible. And don’t forget to take advantage of all marketing channels provided by the organiser; after all, it’s in their interest to get the word out too.
As you promote your speaking appearance, start to prepare your presentation. Focus on your five key points, and work on cultivating a 15- to 20-minute presentation that highlights these, without resorting to filler. Think about how your slides will look on the screen. Don’t clutter slides to the point that they can’t be read, but don’t under-populate them either. Consider the day-of-show details, such as how big the room is and how many people you’re likely to be talking to. Rehearse as often as you can, and solicit honest feedback from friends and colleagues whose opinions you value.
Practice makes perfect — this principle holds true for both promotion and preparation. The better you prepare, the more likely it is that your presentation will be a success. And the more you work at promoting it, the more visibility you’ll have on you and your ideas.
When you’re speaking about the industry for which you have such enthusiasm, it’s only natural that you’ll be inclined to promote your own products and services. It makes sense — the end goal of any trade show appearance is to generate interest in your company. Unfortunately, speaking and sales don’t always go hand in hand. The members of a trade show audience have typically paid to attend. They didn’t fly in and lay out a significant sum of money to listen to your sales pitch. If you end up going into sales mode, the odds are very good that you’ll alienate your audience and undermine the purpose of your appearance.
So, then, why make a speaking appearance if you can’t pitch your products? For a few important reasons. First, the very fact that you’re speaking at a major show indicates that you have something important to say. It gives you credibility, and gives people a reason to take notice of you and your business. Furthermore, a well-oiled speech conveys the fact that you understand the problems of your customers, as well as your willingness to help them solve those issues. Lastly, peer-reviewed presentations are part of a successful sales and marketing mix, and can contribute greatly to an increase in sales activities.
After the Presentation
The work you do after your presentation is just as important as the presentation itself, if not more so. It’s the effort you put into following up after the show that will make you stand out among attendees.
After you’ve finished your presentation, take some time to talk directly to the people in attendance. Take note of the questions they ask and the roles they have within your industry. Exchange contact information with these individuals, and follow up with them shortly after the show.
Of course, you don’t have to limit your follow-up to just the people with whom you connected with personally. Ask the event organisers for a full list of attendees, then reach out to them at your earliest convenience. Thank these people for their attendance and, if possible, include a copy of your presentation, along with any supporting materials, such as additional slides, diagrams, or articles/white papers etc.
Once you’ve followed up with the show attendees, use your presentation to enhance your online brand. If you recorded your speech, turn it into a podcast or a video. If you choose to make it into a video, converting your presentation into small clips may work best in terms of providing digestible and relevant content to your audience. If you didn’t record your presentation, you can always redo it, and upload the recorded version alongside a set of slides to accompany your verbal words. If you prepared a paper for your event, feel free to use that as a submission to a trade publication or as a piece of valuable web content.
However you use your presentation, be very careful not to upload anything until after the show is over. Many conference organisers insist on speakers presenting original content at their events. Although the material must be original at the time of the presentation, it never hurts to think ahead to how you might put your content to good use after the event’s conclusion.
If you are up for the challenge, find some great events that fit your goals and book some speaking gigs! It’s a great way to reach a lot of people, further establish you and your company as industry leaders, and maximise your visibility.
Click here to download your copy of the free Speaking Appearances Checklist.
Neil Howman, Managing Director