Make the most of speaking opportunities

Mar 20, 2015

In this post I give you some ideas about how to integrate speaking opportunities into your content strategy and to make the most of that seal of approval.lucyburnsspeaker 

I have a motive for writing this post that would be ulterior if I wasn’t being so upfront about it. This post is a weenchy bit off-message for this site. What I really want to do with this post is to add my voice and to draw your attention to an ongoing issue in the Irish Technology sector: the lack of gender balance in speaker panels at events. So excuse the preface and the axe and grindstone. However I’m also bundling it with some useful content strategy below so I hope you won’t go away cursing me.

To the point: my long time social media friend MaryRose Lyons of Brightspark Consulting shared an excellent article that she wrote this week. She shared some useful tips for event organisers to help them attract event speakers and female speakers in particular. MaryRose and I are involved in the DigiWomen movement which enables connections through the understanding and use of technology. Women’s under-representation at technology conferences has been a huge motivating factor for DigiWomen which is tackling this by consistently calling out the organisers of events like the Sunday Business Post’s Swipe Summit, talking to the confirmed speakers and the media but also by running grassroots events to encourage more women to speak and to give them the confidence to do so. The latest campaign is encouraging  organisers to curate speakers panels that are at least 30% female using the hashtag #30pc across social networks. The deadline is looming for the Swipe Summit but let’s hope other event organisers are taking note.

MaryRose, being the pro-active type, focuses on helping event organisers find and reach more women for events (although, similar to me, this is not her job or the focus of her work.). Hop on over to her article to read those tips if you are responsible for this challenging but fulfilling task. Also I just noticed that a long time activist on this issue, Sabrina Dent, also has some suggestions on how the balance can be redressed by organisers, sponsors, speakers and delegates. I have heard Sabrina speak at two very different conferences on two very different topics and would count her among the most memorable speakers I have heard.

But maybe you find yourself on the other side of the fence and you have been asked to speak at an event.

(Note I wasn’t actually a real speaker at Measurementconf, that most excellent and gender-balanced event: I was pitching on behalf of a cause close to my heart, Dublin Youth Theatre.)

How do you make the most of this opportunity? How can you use this opportunity to reach new customers, build trust with existing customers, show your expertise to collaborators and media and build your company’s visibility? Accepting an invitation to speak is an excellent opportunity to fulfil all these objectives so my first tip is:

  • Say YES. Always welcome a speaking opportunity positively. You can work out the details later. Even if you know you’ll be in a far-flung corner of the world, or the fee or exposure doesn’t cut it (see below), say yes, you will help them find a suitable (female!) speaker on the topic. However do have some questions at the ready. Here are a few to get you started:
      1. What is the theme of the event and how does your expertise fit into that theme according to the organiser?
      2. What other speakers are involved? What percentage are women? What topics are they covering? (There was a tendency at Web Summit 2014 to count female interviewers, panel chairs and moderators as speakers which was a bit of a cheat!)
      3. Who are the sponsors and will they be involved in the session at which you are speaking? (Are you okay with this? Do you have strong feelings about their product or service?)
      4. Is this the first time this event has been run?
      5. What is the format of the event? What size audience do they expect for you? Are you speaking alone or as part of a panel? How long are you expected to speak for? What time of day will you be scheduled?
      6. How is it being promoted? Ask them to please share numbers, demographics, any data they have on their market and potential delegates. If they are paying you a fee you can be a little less pushy on this but get as much information as possible. More on this below.
      7. To whom is it being promoted?
      8. If the event is established can they share details about previous years? What proved successful? (If you know speakers who presented in previous years, no harm to talk to them about their experience.)
      9. What can you do to help them promote the event?
      10. Are their any restrictions that might not occur to you in relation to sharing information about the event? Speakers not fully confirmed, details about venue being ironed out. If nothing else this may give you an insight into the organiser’s readiness and issues around control they might have.

    Ultimately you are trying to gauge where this event fits your business objectives. For example, if you are working on a partnership or collaboration with a company that is a competitor of the event sponsor it might be worth giving the opportunity some serious consideration. Please feel free to add any other pertinent questions in the comments below.

  • Further to question 6 above. What’s in it for you? Call me cynical but if there isn’t a fee that will cover your preparation time, your expenses and ALL of your time there you need to be able to assess the worth of the event to you. Assessment means you will need to be able to measure it. Will it help you fulfil business objectives like an increase in qualified traffic and leads? Will it increase ezine subscriptions? Will it boost sales? How will you measure this?
  • Events are content too! As I advised in a previous post on being nominated for an award, let your stakeholders know that you are among the speakers in an upcoming event. Chances are they will be interested in the content of that event too.
  • However always be useful even when you are sharing this happy news. As an example, imagine I’m a stakeholder who follows your yarn shop on  Facebook (Yes I have a craft addiction.) I couldn’t give a hoot if you have been invited to speak at the Knitting and Stitching Show but if you write a blog post/ send me a newsletter/ update your social network and tell me that you have been asked to talk about the pros and cons of merino wool for different types of crochet garments, you’ve got me at “merino”. Give your customers some insight on what you propose to speak about at the event. Or, better still, ask them what they think needs to be covered: what challenged them the most and how did they surmount that obstacle? What was the lesson they learnt on that journey?
  • Get involved. Don’t just show up on the day and expect a crowd. Ask the organiser if you can write a guest blog post/ ezine article/ Google+/ LinkedIn article or Facebook update about the content of your upcoming experience. Share this across your own channels as well. Any feedback will allow you to gauge at least two things: how engaged their audience is with the organisers and how engaged their audience is by your content. Ask for comments or feedback – it might help you hone the direction of your presentation to better suit the mood of the delegates.



  • Similarly hook up with other speakers and sponsors with variations on this content. Can you collaborate to ensure the greatest reach for all? Even a one off podcast or video will work so much better with two speakers than one. It’s unlikely that other speakers will be in the same niche as you and should love an opportunity to show how their offering fits into business strategy with yours and vice versa. It’s likely that sponsors will relish the opportunity to share useful content with their audience. They have already decided that this event and its content is right on message for them and this will help them make the most of the opportunity.
  • Follow through…. Share useful content during the event: Twitter is especially good for this. I have made some great connections with speakers I admire by livetweeting using their Twitter handles (@TwitterUsername) at events. I also find that it’s a great way to share interesting content and gauge whether interest in that information is universal or niche among those in your field. This can also double up as “note-taking” to help you write your follow up to the event.
  • …And follow up Sometimes when the content of the event as a whole has percolated for a bit you might have a more formed opinion on ideas raised so it’s a great way to build on the information you gathered and cement the networking that you did at the event itself. Share useful content and slides from the events as part of your write-up. Don’t forget to:
    • Follow new contacts on Twitter.
    • Connect with these and others on LinkedIn
    • Send individual emails to key contacts to maintain the connection: let them know about your follow up blog post.

    Remember if the follow up blog post is a little too industry focused for your audience you can always publish but keep it off the front page and off the networks where you communicate most with your customers.
    As an example of follow-up, I particularly love this infographic below that was created after Congregation which I hope will inspire anyone to get involved in this event. This was published a couple of months after Congregation, along with an eBook and the podcast of the blog submissions which created another flurry of chatter about the event just when the date for next year was announced. A well planned schedule by Eoin Kennedy – a PR pro to the last!

    Congregation is on November 28th 2015 and, as long as you talk social media, it is a great opportunity to pop your speaking cherry in a very supportive environment :)

    Now all you have to do is prepare your presentation. That’s the really hard part!





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