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Why You’re Not Speaking At That Conference

2014 January 3
by Russ Somers
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Talking+Heads++punkI’m surprised by the number of people I’m running into who are surprised that they’re not speaking at any given conference. I am a working marketer, not a self-promoting keynote wannabe. But I speak occasionally at conferences ranging from SXSW to Pubcon to Mediapost’s Video Insider Summit to Digital Marketing University to Shop.org to WhichTestWon’s Live Event to Refresh Austin to the Social Media Breakfast to others.

I can’t make you an in-demand keynote speaker. But I can explain very simply why you are not speaking at all.

1) You didn’t apply to speak. The Speaker Fairies do not descend from on high and select speakers. Just as when I played in bands, getting out and hustling matters. That means identifying the relevant conferences, watching for their Call for Speakers, and submitting a proposal relevant to the conference content. Know the timelines – SXSW starts almost a year out. Unless you are an executive, don’t expect anyone to do this for you.

2) You don’t publish your thoughts. When was your last blog post? How do you promote and cross-link to other bloggers in your area of expertise? If Vine is relevant to your topics, do you passionately use it, or just read about what brands are doing with it? How often do you tweet, how many followers do you have, and who are they? Are they random bots, or do you identify influencers in you industry and engage with them? And…I hesitate to ask this…but what’s your Klout score? No, it’s not a perfect metric and I love to make fun of it, but it has some directional value. Someone with a Klout Score of 84 and 15K followers might, possibly, be a thought leader. Someone with no Klout score and 40 followers is anonymous by comparison.

3) You’re not working the network. I’ve seen more than one speaking opportunity come through referral. This goes directly with #2 – if you’re publishing your thoughts and connecting with other publishers in your area, referrals will happen.

4) You’ve confused your value prop with that of your company. If you work for Microsoft and your passion is software, the company’s executives form the speaker’s bench. It’s their business and software conferences are about positioning Microsoft, which is the job of those executives. On the other hand, if you manage events or demand gen or sales operations for Microsoft, it should be very easy to land speaking gigs at conferences on event management, demand gen, or sales operations. You are uniquely well qualified to give “lessons from the trenches” tips in your field of work.

5) Start out in the small clubs. Again, as with bands, you don’t go straight to the biggest concert hall. Look for local unconferences, speaking gigs at business schools, etc. Most applications ask where else you’ve spoken, so this lets you flesh that out. (And, as with bands, get a few chops down).

6) Your session description wasn’t differentiated. A friend once earnestly told me that he planned to submit a session on how social media was changing marketing to SXSW. There are, I think, several hundred sessions on that topic at a typical SXSW. One year I got in by promising a cage match, another year with haiku. It doesn’t have to be goofy – people still talk about Tim Walker’s panel on Sports Metaphors for Business. Think like a marketer and craft something that will stand out.

This all may sound like a bit of work. It is. I do it in addition to my day job, which is why I’m writing this at 9:30p while watching “Batman” on cable, and on other mornings I’m scheduling my day’s worth of tweets at 6am.

  • Dave Jobe

    Face melting starts early – both in life and before sunrise. Cool post bro. Cheers, DJ

  • Russ_Somers

    The first rule of face melting is to rise with the face-melting sun!

  • http://www.twitter.com/jljohansen jljohansen

    Just thought I would let you know Russ that this post has inspired me to submit a proposal to a conference. I may not get accepted, but it starts to shift the inertia towards doing these things rather than making excuses for not doing them.