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The Perfect Pitch: How Speakers Are Selected

Getting accepted to speak at marketing conferences is becoming more difficult. Here are some dos and don'ts when pitching to be a conference speaker.

How Speakers Are Selected

Several years ago, building the perfect pitch to speak was pretty easy.

Know your game and explain your way through it. Have a few good contacts and hopefully a few recognizable clients you can use as a reference.

Not anymore.

Those days are gone.

With so much information on the internet including online training, small local conferences, great up to date articles in Search Engine Journal, and the bosses being more wary of busy staff going off on conferences, it isn’t that easy to run a conference.

A conference owner has to be picky even with their dearest friends in the industry.

While speaking at Pubcon in Hawaii, Brett Tabke, the founder and CEO of the conference, asked me if I can fill in on a panel that was about to start in a few hours.

He told me it was for “Link Building” and that I’d be fine. Link building is pretty much my least favorite subject, I quickly responded and said, “There is a ton of link building topics and speakers, I haven’t much that I can add. It’s going to be awful.”

So he replied and said, “No, I know you will do great.” So I bet him, I bet that I would get the worst score he has ever had in the history of his organization.

I put together a plain black and white presentation, threw in some nifty tactless cartoons and called it, “Link Building 101: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know”.

Not only that, everything in the presentation was complete violation – what not to do. I purposely structured it that way so I could get a terrible score.

So when I went up on the podium, I told everyone to prefill in the form before I started speaking with one star.

Then I dug into trying to convince people how to participate in link farms, how to purchase links from blogs willing to sell them, etc.

There was nothing of any value. It was all black hat on purpose.

When I finished, I got a standing ovation.

Who would have known?

I think people realized that the presentation was completely backward and they actually learned what “not” to do specifically.

I was so embarrassed.

Tabke came around and patted me on the back and said, “I told you so.”

The point of that story is the biggest take away I can provide you and it changed my thinking of how I present and pitch:

Be unique.


You have to stand out.

So that leads to now.

It seems to be getting more difficult to pitch and be accepted.

Not only am I competing with a fresh set of hyperactive millennials who think they know everything, but I have to pitch a year in advance?

I can’t even plan a week in advance, but a year? Not only that, I tend to wonder, speaking pitches seem to be getting harder and harder.

How do I even stand out?

So I thought about who I should ask this question too and went straight to Tabke. Not being partial, Tabke has the same issues as pretty much every conference owner has. So here we go:

Submitting to present seems to be getting more challenging every year, why do you feel this is happening?

Brett Tabke (BT): We have so many people that are experts in a wide range of topics, that sorting it is difficult. The other part of it is that there are so many conferences that accept pitches now, and every one of them is in a different in format.

One conference wants you to pitch for a specific session, and others want you to pitch for a perfect session you would build. As a speaker, it is hard to know who wants what.

As a conference, we don’t want to turn the pitch into a game of “guess what I want you to tell,” where the speaker just puts in a pitch to fulfill the pitch topic.

What seems to be your greatest challenge when selecting candidates to speak?

BT: Understanding their qualifications. So many times it is hard to read between the lines of a pitch.

For example, we had someone pitch a generic pitch to us and we passed on them. Turned out they had just given a big keynote at another conference and thought that should be enough to get them into our conference.

We really rely on a wide range of metrics to choose new speakers.

What type of people are you looking for, can you tell me how you rank them (experience, gender, topic suggested, etc.)?

BT: We are looking for people with deep knowledge in specific niches where they are king-of-the-hill.

We want them to share how they got to be king and how they stay there. We rarely look at gender unless “all things are equal.” We allow all that to happen organically.

Topics are incredibly important. Matching a speaker with an appropriate topic can be tricky. We have so many speakers, that having two people fit on a topic can be a challenge.

What are your suggestions in standing out if I am new and have never spoken at a conference before?

BT: Show some history somewhere. Get as much experience as you can before you pitch. A good YouTube video will go a very long way. And be super active on the socials.

We are human too and favor folks who promote us as well as we promote them. So we do look at a lot of the intangibles from brand, social following, notoriety.

What are some things not to do when presenting to be a speaker?

BT: Trying to go too high level and broad. Stay in your lane of expertise. Speak from core expertise.

Always offer tips and takeaways from what you have learned. Give them three things they can take home and apply.

What was one of the worst (or funniest) speaker applications?

BT: “I can speak on SEO or anything you want bro.”

I think there are many learnings here; stand out and be a subject matter expert.

Be unique in your pitches and make sure they will not only keep people learning something new, but they are engaging and memorable.

Understand that if the conference owner cannot successfully keep his paying attendees going back to their boss and telling them they have picked up so many great ideas and learnings that they can implement, then that conference owner has failed.

Put your shoes and perspective in the owner of the conference and ask yourself, how would I keep people coming back for more and how do I really “wow” them.

You are the product of the conference, build your pitch, your personal brand and knock ’em dead!

More Resources:

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Michael Bonfils Global Managing Director at SEM International - Digital Innovation Group

Michael & his global associates at SEM International focus on worldwide digital campaigns custom tailored for agencies and multinational corporations.

The Perfect Pitch: How Speakers Are Selected

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