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Lessons Learned: Presenting at a Search Marketing Conference

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Lessons Learned: Presenting at a Search Marketing Conference

I never thought I’d be writing this type of blog post. However, in the hopes some of you can learn from my own experience, here’s a story of just how “the story” is more powerful than delivering all its other parts.

Bright Edge & Bing Ads at SMX EastBright Edge & Bing Ads at SMX East – courtesy SMX Facebook

Presenting at a search engine marketing conference, like the SMX East 2012, had been a goal of mine since I got into the industry just under five years ago, but even though I felt like an expert in the field for what I was presenting, I never thought I could do it. Taking the stage and presenting in front of peers that likely knew more on the topic than I did? Yikes! Hell, I even wrote a post about my journey and preparation (Caution: it’s a long one…).

One thing I learned throughout the process was that content matters. Stage presence, illustrious slides, and fancy animations don’t make a presentation—the message does. For the past six months, I’d been researching how to better align UX, developers, content strategists, SEO, and social media with paid search engine marketing strategy.

What I found was huge. I interviewed thought leaders from each vertical, from Jason Falls to Rand Fishkin, and what I found was that there was no alignment between paid search other marketing channels. But alas, I’ve spoken about that in numerous other posts, so, today I’ll talk little about how I prepared to present in front of over 150+ like-minded search marketing professionals.

To prepare for the presentation, my company, Zeon Solutions, along with an independent presentation coach, trained me on the basics of public speaking. What I learned helped me not only with the presentation at SMX East, but will be sure to provide me with insight and knowledge for client meetings, conference calls, and pitches.

In essence, it comes down to five principles: the Unplug, maintaining conversation, building connections, effective choreography, and building your message.

Unplug the Audience

First things first. Let’s say you’re 27 years old, have been in the industry for four years, and have become a subject matter expert in one thing dealing with search engine marketing. How do you beat the jitters when thinking about speaking to people that know a lot more than you do when it comes to SEM? Well, if you’re a subject matter expert, simply unplug.

The first thing the audience will notice is your appearance. You’re young, fresh, and dressed in a trendy fashion. You know what their thinking?

“Wow, this kid thinks he’s going to teach me something.”

Because you’re a subject matter expert, you know more than they do. You’ve read books, experimented on client sites, wrote thought leadership pieces. What does appearance matter? Everything. Unplug the audience and be straightforward. Let them know you may not be an expert in everything SEM, but you’re sure as sh*t an expert on this.

Maintain Conversation

Remember back in the day when you were in high school or college courses, and the professor just kept babbling on and on with no remorse? Yeah, that’s how some presentations are. Avoid that by including the audience in your presentation.

An effective way that I was able to include the audience in my presentation was by starting with a poll. I asked three questions dealing with their roles in search engine marketing within their organization. That helped a ton with establishing a connection and maintaining conversation with the audience.

Build Connections

I mentioned the importance of maintaining connection when presenting at a conference. One way to do that would be to build connections with the audience. When you do your survey or ask questions of the audience, you’re building rapport. You’re not only building credibility, but you’re telling the audience that they are a key part of the presentation.

Bonus Points: When asking your question of the audience, remember a few names and positions/roles. Mention that in your presentation to illustrate your dedication to the audience and build credibility.


If there’s anything I learned from the AMC show Mad Men, it’s that choreography is everything. From the way you position yourself at the podium to hand movement and maintaining eye contact with the audience, the way you choreograph the presentation will make or break it.

One thing that our consultant, Sharon Ellis, mentioned was that you shouldn’t end the presentation without the audience feeling that you’ve locked eyes with each and every one of them.

Build Your Message

So, you’ve gotten accepted to speak at a conference, but is it that you really want your audience to walk away with? Building your message will ensure a return on investment of sorts so the audience doesn’t feel “jipped.” For my presentation, the message was that current system in place for enterprise SEM campaigns is broke. The solution was to fix it through some activities and processes I highlighted throughout the presentation.

Wrapping It Up

In all honesty, I believe that those who are chosen to present at an industry conference are truly topnotch. The only thing in the way of success is delivery. While not every organization has the experience or resources to train, anyone that presents at a search engine marketing conference can use and employ the principles above to ensure a successful presentation.

If anyone has additional tips on presenting, we’re all ears here at search engine journal. Feel free to leave your insights and recommendations in the comments.

Download the presentation and read transcription here.

Photo credit: SMX East image – courtesy SMX Facebook profile.


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Anthony Piwarun

Anthony Piwarun is a Milwaukee SEO/a> who manages a Search Engine Marketing team at Zeon Solutions, an Inc. 5000 award ... [Read full bio]

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