10 SEO conferences. 7 cities. 2000+ attendees. 85 speakers. 93 presentations.
SEJ Summit was just a twinkle in our collective eyes 3 years ago. We’ve learned so much since.
Today, we’re fortunate to enjoy consistently excellent ratings in attendee feedback surveys.
We’re able to attract talent from the industry’s leading companies such as Google, Microsoft, ESPN, and renowned speakers such as content strategist Ann Handley. And speakers ask to return every year.
One of my primary responsibilities is working with speakers on their presentations. I ensure SEJ Summit’s content is relevant for SEOs, includes current and proven tactics, and is interesting. We don’t want to waste the audience’s time or money.
Secret #1 is an unusual requirement: every speaker must do a “dry run”.
A couple weeks before, the speaker and I get on a call. While sharing a screen, the speaker gives their presentation as if there is an audience, complete with self-introduction and slides.
Afterwards, I give feedback on…
- Narrative flow
- Repeated content by multiple speakers
You see, we’ve found out the hard way that dry runs are the only reliable way to discover if the presentation is what it is supposed to be, and is as good as it needs to be.
I’m surprised more conferences don’t do it.
Here’s a few things I’ve caught:
- Graphic images (dead animals, risque illustrations)
- @#$%! Curse words
TiposTypos by the dozen
- Two speakers covering the exact same topic (reminds me of showing up at a party in the same outfit as someone else.)
- Excruciatingly boring presentations
Some speakers hate this requirement.
We’ve had to convince more than a few speakers why this was necessary.
“You know that I’ve spoken at X, Y, and Z conferences…?” Or, “Don’t worry about me, I’ve been speaking for years. This is not my first time.” (I could almost feel a pat on my head).
Nonetheless, we persisted. And almost without exception, the “showtime” presentation is better than the dry run. I like to think this process helps the speaker perform even better.
#2: Always Do What’s Best for the Audience
In a single session, you have 3 agendas at play:
- The speaker, who may be interested in promoting a new product or service, or themselves.
- The conference organizers, who are interested in filling a topic requirement or making a sponsor happy.
- The audience, who is paying for the privilege to be there.
The audience’s interests should always win. And they’ll know if you compromised.
#3: Star Power Only Goes So Far
Having recognized industry experts is a draw, but banking on name recognition alone is risky. If the star’s content isn’t relevant, updated AND interesting, their ‘fame’ won’t save your speaker… or your conference reputation.
#4 Practice Makes Perfect
When I compared the dry runs versus the live sessions, the live sessions were almost without exception, better in every regard.
I like to think that this is partly because the dry runs are an effective vehicle for practice.
#5 Treat the “Little People” Well
We found that speakers who were rude, or ignored staff (staff who were just trying to schedule the dry runs, or ask for presentation drafts) was a bad omen of speaker diva behavior later on. Oddly enough, these folks tended to be subpar speakers as well.
We discovered it was best to nip it in the bud, and to fire the speaker early on so we could start over with someone else.
#6 Feedback, It’s Your Friend
Show me a speaker who generally resists incorporating feedback, and I’ll show you a speaker who will be awarded with negative ratings from the most important judge: the audience.
There’s a reason public speaking is feared more than death. Speakers have their egos on the line. But no content is perfect, no speaker is perfect.
Carol Dweck, the author of one of my favorite books called Mindset, believes defensive behavior inhibits growth. The speakers who resisted recommendations tended to get below average ratings.
For SEJ Summit Chicago on May 11, we’ve incorporated all these learnings into what is shaping up to be our best conference yet.
If you see me there, please introduce yourself! I’d love to get YOUR feedback: we are always learning.
Please join us for a 1-day, multi-track conference “by SEOs, for SEOs”. Group discounts end May 5.
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