Through the years I have spoken with many people who are tempted to pitch for a speaking spot at a conference. I know that although many people may pitch well they may not do well at the podium. For some it is not easy to speak in public and it really is not easy to be an effective speaker at a conference in front of all your peers.
I contacted some people I consider conference experts and they have some advice if you are going to speak at a conference.
Danny Sullivan – @DannySullivan
Well, Chris just did a long post of what not to do for us:
I suppose the key question is what does the speaker consider successful? The speaker may have a different view than the audience.
If your goal in speaking is pitch your company as much as possible, that might be deemed a success by you but probably not the audience. They didn’t come to learn about your company. They didn’t come to hire you. They came to learn.
To me, your success as a speaker happens because more than anything else, you do it out of a desire to teach, to share knowledge and to help others. If you’ve started from that standpoint, you’re far along the path to success.
Speakers often speak, of course, because they want to get something more than just satisfaction of sharing out of the talks they give. I think wise speakers understand that when they’re not pitching, when they’re educating, they’re demonstrating that they have great skills that others could use.
You’re not “giving away” away anything other than the fact you’re a smart person that someone might want to hire. People come to learn, but they may also learn that they’d rather have someone else work for them. The best pitch is no pitch at all.
Beyond not pitching, your success comes from your ability to show, rather than tell, as much as possible. People like specific examples, exact information on how something happened, a process they can see rather than generic bullet points they can read. Takeways may sound cliché, but that’s what people want.
Not all panels are tactical, of course, so the ability to see or share a big picture view of coming changes, something different or unique, is also welcomed.
Barry Schwartz – @RustyBrick
I rarely speak, but the main thing is to know what you are talking about. So much so, that you can give the presentation without even preparing. Not that you shouldn’t prepare. But I would only speak on a topic if I know I can give the presentation without having to prepare. :)
Marty Weintraub – @aimClear
There are no substitutes for hard work and authentic sharing. We think the best tactic is to invest research, time and be willing to truly offer up current, relevant tactics. The more a speaker is willing to give, the better. We invest a lot of time pitching sessions, speaking proposals and building the presentations.
So far as the presentations go, don’t read the slides! Use them as a guide for what you want to discuss. One awesome trick is to not fly in the bullets and have them all on the page together on slide change. That gives attendees a chance to take notes and you the opportunity to mix up the order of what you say. I often start with the middle bullet in my speaking, then paraphrase the bottom bullet, move to the top, etc… The audience perceives that as not reading the deck, even if you do read some. Keep the bullet points short and to the point. Make the deck look as professional as possible and have someone proof it. Illustrate your slides. If there is an opportunity to connect with the moderator and fellow panelists prior to the conference, don’t miss it. If the moderator does not contact you, reach out yourself to clarify what the other speakers are going to cover.
Humor is cool, but if your content is weak, being funny gets old fast. Don’t apologize if you’re uncomfortable. Take a minute before you start and look around the room. Focus on your breathing. Choose five people at the four corners of the room and middle to connect with and rotate looking at them. This helps you to take in the whole audience and makes everyone in room feel more included. Don’t be afraid to pause and let a slide do the work, especially if it’s funny.
I like to email the bloggers and journalists in the room notes for live tweeting and coverage, ahead of time so make sure you take a moment before to figure out who’s in the room. Brian Eisenberg gave me the best advice ever: “After you are done with the deck and you think it’s the right length, then cut 20% of the slides out.” In other words, make sure you have few enough points to make that you can fit them in the allotted time slot.
Think of preparation for conferences as outbound marketing. That’s how to justify the expense. However above all, don’t sell your services from the podium, as that’s a total turnoff for most attendees. Avoid saying, “me,” and “I” over and over. It can come off as arrogant. Let your knowledge of the topic speak for itself and the clients will come anyway. Base your pitches on blog posts. Share the blog post as a reference.
Marty is author of “Killer Facebook Ads” (Wiley/Sybex 2011) & CEO of aimClear® A fixture on the international conference circuit, Marty speaks regularly at Search Engine Strategies (SES), Search Marketing Expo (SMX), PubCon, SEMpdx, International Search Summit, All Facebook Summit, Socialize, OMMA, eMetrics, Search Insider Summit, & others. aimClear.com, Twitter.com/AimClear
Michael Gray – @Graywolf
As a presenter you need to accomplish 3 goals: enrich, educate, and entertain.
Give people data or information that has value and that they can use. Distill it down to core concepts and make it actionable, make it something they put on their to do list right away, and start once they get back to the office. Keep it short and interesting, if you really know you’re subject you should be able to think on the fly and play off things the other speakers or the audience has said. A little humor is goes a long way, especially if you can find a way to make it viral by saying or showing something that is applicable, but completely unexpected.
Rand Fishkin – @Randfish
I actually made a deck and put it on Slideshare recently. You can find it here http://www.slideshare.net/randfish/making-presentations-better
My rules for great presentations:
- Make it Actionable
- No Bullet Point Slides
- Content Must Fit the Audience
- Tell a Story (stories are inherently memorable)
- Do it with Passion
With regards to Mozcon specifically, my only advice is to kick unreasonably large quantities of butt while on stage at other events and we’ll eventually find you and invite you. There’s no pitch process or methodology for getting a speaking invite.
Rae Hoffman-Dolan – @Sugarrae
I think I actually come from a different perspective, because I personally don’t think I’m a “great speaker” as far as straight up “talent at public speaking” goes. I talk fast… very fast, and my “Jersey girl” definitely comes through during my presentations. However, I think I’m always invited back to speak because I have passion, and knowledge, about the topics I speak on – and that comes through to the audience.
So my first piece of advice would be to make sure that you pitch for a panel because you’re passionate about the topic and because you actually know the topic well. Don’t just pitch for a panel on a topic that you have mediocre knowledge of because it still has open slots. If you’re lackluster about or not extremely knowledgeable on the topic, it will definitely show through during your presentation – and that could affect the likelihood of you getting asked back to give future presentations on topics that you DO know well.
Secondly (and I know this will likely be echoed by everyone else being interviewed) never attempt to sell your company, or yourself, during the presentation. It’s ok to give them a bit of knowledge about who you are, but the fact that you’re on stage pretty much verifies that there is a reason the audience should listen to your advice.
I see a lot of people make the mistake that they need to pitch their services during their presentation. But the truth is that if you share freely with the audience, your talent and the value of your services will be obvious. I rarely take consulting (I’m primarily an affiliate marketer) and therefore never pitch any services or do any promotion at all during my presentations. Yet, at the end of every single session I’ve ever done, I have folks asking for my business cards and if I offer consulting services. So simply GIVE to the audience. If you give awesome advice, you’ll have folks naturally asking about your services.
Lee Odden – @LeeOdden
I think defining success in regards to speaking at events needs to consider more than the speaker’s own agenda. The event itself has goals, as do sponsors right along with the attendees. As a speaker, I think it’s important to focus on creating an experience for the audience that results in their delight and satisfaction. A great presentation will inspire sharing of the good news about what the speaker has to offer to other attendees, conference organizers and companies.
Here are a few tips to help great speakers with great presentations get the exposure and outcomes they desire:
- Empathize with the audience – Make sure your content is relevant for the audience you’re presenting to.
- Under promise and over deliver – Unassuming yet confident presentations, real examples and actionable advice.
- Promote your session, before, during (well, not actually DURING) and after – Teasers, Twitter etc.
- Give & Get Recognition - Thank those that supported you and schedule interviews before and after session.
You might even write a wrap-up blog post acknowledging those who engaged during the presentation or what the best questions were. Be gracious and attentive with questions after you present and also respectful of the following panel by taking things out in the hall if necessary.
Following this kind of advice has given me the opportunity to present all over the world, but more importantly, grow my business without any advertising or salespeople.
Jon Henshaw – @RavenJon
The first place to start is to ask yourself what you would want as an audience member. For me, I want resources. That means cutting the esoteric BS and long conceptual mumbo jumbo, and just give them some clear actionable information and resources. Even if you suck at presenting, the audience won’t hate you if you give them something they can use.
The second thing is to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know it well, you better learn it quickly or don’t speak at all. I’ve made this mistake, and it sucks!
The third thing is to keep it simple. Your presentation should be built upon a clear outline. The slides should use imagery and/or a short sentences. Also avoid using long paragraphs or lists – it’s too much for the audience to absorb. Be sure to include links to online resources and use a URL shortener so the audience can quickly jot it down in their notes.
Fourth, practice your presentation. Don’t just skim through it, practice it! Practice it in your hotel room, at home, wherever. Doing a full run-through of a new presentation can greatly improve your delivery. It not only makes you better prepared, it can also point out areas of your presentation that need to be improved.
Lastly, public speaking is about facing your fears. If you’re new to public speaking, you’ll soon discover that what people really want is the first thing I mentioned, actionable resources. If you give the audience what they want, regardless of how nervous you are, your presentation will be well received. Frequency also helps alleviate the fear of public speaking. It becomes much easier to speak when you figure out that nobody is going to boo you or run you out of the room, and that they’re there because they want to hear you speak.
Pro tip: Try to socialize and get to know people at the conference. It will help you better understand the crowd you’re speaking to, and will help alleviate some of your anxieties.
Dennis Goedegebuure @thenextcorner
First, focus on what people want to hear. What would you want to hear from a speaker? Second, always prepare new content. Some people go to multiple conferences, and nothing is worse than seeing the same presentation again! Third, don’t get drunk the day before! Be prepared…!