Over the years, many of our PR clients have asked us to get their executives speaking slots at upcoming business events. This can be a great opportunity for experts who are ready for it. But too often, neither the executives nor their marketing teams are fully prepared to capitalize on speaking opportunities.
Many come to us because they know that I planned conferences for Arizent (back when it was called Faulkner & Gray) back in the day and now plan webinars and virtual conferences for Weekly Real Estate News. They want to know what it takes to get their executives on stage.
There are really two parts to this issue. The first is preparing your executive and your marketing team to get the results you want out of a speaking appearance. The second part is actually getting the attention of the conference planners.
We’ll cover the first part in this post and save the second for the next.
Defining the conference speaking opportunity
Over the past 25 years, I’ve attended a great many business conferences. Most follow a typical format that offers a number of keynote addresses, usually early in the day, followed by a number of panel sessions, usually divided into tracks that cover the critical issues important to attendees.
A keynote address can be as short as a 20-minute presentation that is part of a group of short speeches on a single topic or as long as an hour, though usually slightly less to allow for questions and answers.
Panel sessions generally include a moderator and one or more subject matter experts. The sweet spot is three, but I’ve seen panels with as many as five experts. In a typical panel session, each speaker will get about seven minutes to address the audience on questions that have been agreed upon in advance.
The keynote address is about capturing the attention of the audience and holding it for the duration of the speech, something that requires training, a great speech and practice. I can count the number of memorable keynote speeches I’ve heard over the years on one hand.
Success in the keynote will launch an executive to the top of the industry. Anything less will brand the speaker as a person who doesn’t have anything memorable to say.
Success for the session panelist is even more difficult to achieve because they only have a few minutes to be memorable while answering a question that they may not even consider important to their target market.
It’s rather like a casino. Most will not win, but winning on the conference stage brings with it significant rewards.
Preparing for a successful conference speaking engagement
The first step in any plan is defining what success means to you. When I prepare executives for speaking engagements, here are my success metrics:
- Engagement we get on social media when we announce it.
- Number of attendees we get into the session at the conference.
- Number of status updates others make due to the session content.
- Number of new contacts that approach our expert after the session.
Notice that three out of four of our success metrics don’t even involve people who attend the show. In any industry, there will be far more who don’t attend the show. Translating our executive’s speaking engagement into interest from those prospects is the way to capitalize on a speaking engagement.
Why? Because we just don’t have enough time to wow the world from the panlist’s table. We have to make the fact that our executive was chosen to speak the news and then proceed to prove through other content why that was a smart move on the part of the conference planners.
Now, we can polish the answers, offer attendees handouts or takeaways and offer clever soundbites to the audience in the hope that they will go viral, but the best way to capitalize on a speaking engagement is to make a big deal about the fact that it happened, regardless of what the moderator allows our expert to respond to during the session.
As for keynotes, that falls to a great speech and plenty of preparation. If your executive hasn’t already proven they can dominate from the stage, don’t pursue those engagements until you have time to get them ready.
But once they are ready, it’s time to get the attention of the conference planners. We’ll talk about that in our next post.