I’ve been on the conference speaking circuit for more than three years now. Without fail, I’m asked more often than not, “How did you get this gig?”
While that's an incredibly empowering question, there are more than a few moving parts for those looking to expand their brand into speaking.
Whether you’re new to speaking or have a few events under your belt, here are a few tips I can offer for those who crave getting out of the seats and onto the stage.
1. Stop Selling
If my editors come back and make me whittle this article down to one point, this is the one I’d keep. For all that is holy and chocolate, stop selling!
Speaking engagements are never about you—they’re about your audience. They’re about delivering well beyond the price of admission to those who paid to be in the seats in front of you. As a conference-goer, there’s nothing worse than feeling as if you’ve just endured a 45-minute infomercial for a speaker’s product, widget or book.
To shake yourself free of the impulse to sell, ask yourself one question: What is the one thing I want my audience to remember when the last word falls out of my mouth? That one thing should be the focus of your talk. So build your pitch around that one thing.
When you deliver that one thing with clarity, that’s what gets audience members hunting you down post-talk and asking how they can find out more about you and your brand of business magic. And no, “Stop selling” doesn’t mean not having a slide where you share your contact information. It just means that audiences are there to be delighted, educated and entertained. You—and your incomparable expertise and experience—are the vehicle for delivering just that.
2. School Yourself on Conference Content
Now that you’re not focused on selling, it’s time to dig into the event itself. Here are two key details to understand about most events that issue calls for speakers.
- Lead time. Most national meetings and conferences have a lead time of eight to 12 months for booking speakers for their next event.
- Relevant yet evergreen. Knowing that events book speakers so far in advance, your message has to be evergreen enough to withstand that time delay between pitch and speaking day.
Do your homework on the organization's past events, speech topics and speakers. What do the talks have in common? What level of expertise do the speakers universally share? How long are the typical presentations? Are there varying types of presentations (workshops, flash talks, panels)?
And finally, it’s more than a fine idea to have attended a conference prior to pitching yourself as a speaker for it. Attending a conference gives you a better grasp of the overall vibe of the venue, event flow and makeup of the attendees so you can craft a pitch that will reflect the true personality of the event.
3. Craft a No-Brainer Pitch
Selling? Ditched. Event knowledge? Check. Now it’s time to craft your pitch. Keep in mind that event organizers are generally overwhelmed with speaking pitches. Stage time is precious, so treat it as such.
Here’s how to craft a pitch event organizers will love and that will stand out from the sea of meh and, in the process, stand a better chance of making it to the final event schedule:
- Create a snappy headline. Think about the headlines you read online that make you click. Your pitch headline should be equally click-worthy.
- Explain why you’re "The One." Don’t give a talk about Steve Jobs unless you’ve met Steve Jobs and have something unique to share. Event organizers look like rock stars when they deliver a top-notch speaker slate because that’s what brings attendees in year after year. Share relevant details about your background, credits, clients (if appropriate) and brand reach. If you can humbly state why you’re the best one to deliver this talk, that speaks volumes over bravado and braggadocio.
- Make clear why the topic is timely and relevant. Why this talk and why now (or, why eight months from now)? Explain why your topic addresses a key pain point for the event's audience, and be sure to leave room for your talk to morph and adapt as the event draws closer.
- Pour on the sauce. What’s the hook? Make event organizers sit up and go, “Wow! We have to have this speaker in this year’s lineup.” Whether it's a tie-in to pop culture or a comparison between two unlikely topics, the sauce of your pitch is the butterscotch topping on a beautiful pitch sundae. It sets you apart from other speakers who might be pitching the same topic in a predictably more mundane way.
4. Offer Clear Attendee Takeaways
Finally, be sure to have clear takeaways for attendees. To craft these, it helps to think in bullet points. Here’s a visual structure for a pitch with all these points combined:
Snappy Headline Goes Here
What’s the pain point? Explain here who you are and what set of solutions you can offer to address what those paying customers in seats want to know most. If they attend this session, they'll walk away with a clear understanding of:
- Takeaway 1
- Takeaway 2
- Takeaway 3
When the speaker selection committee and audience can see a well thought-out list of deliverables for attendees, you’ve done them all a favor. You’ve taken the thought process out of the sales process and made it a no-brainer for them to see why your topic is a fit for the event and goals.
5. Deliver Your Pitch on Time
Finally, my last recommendation is to send in your speaking submission on time. I can’t imagine how annoying it must be for event organizers to have "OMGCANISTILLPITCHPLZZZZ?" requests loading up their in-boxes. If you truly want to speak at an event, know the deadlines. Follow their submission guidelines. Be respectful.
The winning pitch process isn’t just about making you look like a rock star. It’s about making the event organizers feel like rock stars for putting you on the slate. And you’ll look like a rock star when you give them everything they need to make an empowered decision that best serves their paying audience.
For more insights from event organizers on crafting a winning pitch, check out this informative post on the topic. It's chock full of straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth tips from an impressive array of professionals.
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