How to land a speaking gig at an industry conference

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Giving a talk at an industry event can be a great way to increase your visibility and grow your business. Here’s how some SMB execs have successfully grabbed the spotlight.

There you are, at one of the many industry events you attend each year, listening to a speaker up on the stage giving a talk about the trends affecting your business. She’s compelling, dynamic, entertaining at times. But in the back of your mind you can’t help but think, “I should be up there giving that talk.” And why not? You’ve got the experience and the knowledge and you’ve been told you’re a great communicator. So what’s stopping you?

Getting an opportunity to speak at a conference or share insight as a panelist or moderator can open many doors to new relationships, which is why major conferences receive hundreds of applications from would-be speakers. They accept very few. If you want to be one of those selected, we have some important advice from both those who organize the events and executives who made it up on stage.

John Nixon, an Associate Producer at Achilles Media Ltd. which organizes major international events such as the Banff World Media Festival and NextMedia, says, “We seek out specific thought leaders who we feel would provide the most insight and entertainment for our audience.” Achilles does its homework before reaching out to prospective speakers, according to Nixon: “We have our finger on the pulse of any given industry we work in so we know who would be the best for our events.” But Achilles’s events aren’t invite-only, “We are certainly open to applicants,” he adds.

Unfortunately, applying to top-tier events such as the ones Achilles produces can be a tough sell. “A very small percentage of these applicants make their way onto the program,” notes Nixon.

So how can you boost your chances of conference-stage success?

Dayna Dixon, conference manager for Toronto’s annual Digital Media Summit, employs a similar strategy as Achilles’, and thinks there’s plenty of opportunity for applicants to get a spot on stage, saying, “Make sure you have an updated bio and website and provide any links to previous speaking engagements…. videos are a great way to show off your skills.” Dixon is also a fan of communication: “Don’t be shy – follow up to see if your submission was received,” she advises.

We reached out to several SMB and startup execs to find out how they made it on-stage and, as you might guess, their answers varied greatly.

David Davies, a founding partner of SendtoNews.com, a syndicator of sports video highlights, took a strategic approach to getting his CEO, Greg Bobolo, a speaking gig. “I first of all worked to get on any industry conference stage,” he says. Davies then carefully compiled a list of the conferences he felt were a good match for Bobolo. “[We] reviewed industry conferences agendas a year in advance,” Davies says. He then pitched the organizers with relevant topic ideas and a CEO bio for Bobolo.

Ralph Barbagallo, a Unity3D developer, agrees with the idea of getting speaking gigs through smaller opportunities. “Speak anywhere they’ll let you,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be at a large conference. Record your presentation and put it up somewhere.”

The referral strategy was also how Saskatoon-based Vendasta, a white-label maker of digital marketing tools, managed to land its first speaking gig. “Our initial speaking spots came through referrals, where a partner would recommend one of us to be on a panel or to lead a presentation.  Now the opportunities usually come to us,” says George Leith, Vice-President, Sales.

Mike Porter, president of printmailconsultants.com, feels that the quality and tone of your pitch to conference organizers is key to getting a gig. “It is extremely important to keep the content of presentations informational. No sales pitches or heavy marketing messaging,” Porter advises.

Porter also has some tips for people who may not have a high public profile. “It is helpful to be a recognizable name. I accomplish this by contributing articles for association newsletters or magazines, commenting on their blog posts, or joining conversations on LinkedIn. I also publish my own newsletters and write for a trade publication. I self-published a book a few years ago.”

Also, did you read Saul Colt’s report on how to navigate attending a conference, whether you’re a newbie or seasoned vet?

Photo via Digital Journal

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Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer tech writers. He created Sync.ca, an award-winning Canadian technology blog which had an audience of over 500,000 monthly visitors. He covers start-ups and the latest crowdfunding gadgets on VentureBeat.com and has written about the business of getting hired at Workopolis.com. You can always find his personal thoughts and musings on his blog at excitable.ca.
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