Richard Etchison April 1, 2020 | 10:13:15

How To Book Speaking Opps In The COVID Era

COVID-19 has crippled some industries, and it’s had an indirect effect on countless others. Even B2B technology companies – normally resistant to many ups and downs – rely on event PR to drive business development and thought leadership. SaaS businesses, like many B2B tech companies, devote big budgets to industry conferences and trade shows for sponsorships and speaking opportunities.

In fact, my job is to help client executives win high-level earned speaking engagements at technology conferences to complement or substitute for paid appearances. Yet in March, one by one, every major tech event announced a postponement or cancellation, from SXSW to Mobile World Congress to Cannes Lion – which initially postponed before fully canceling 2020 just last week. Now that all tech and other events have been nixed, what do speakers bureau managers do?

New speaking opportunities will open in 2020

Event marketers and executive thought leaders should now set sights on Q4 and 2021, of course. But there’s some good news in the conference world for PR planners. Event producers and programmers are scrambling to adapt. Many are racing to learn the fundamentals of live-streaming and online video production. While some have elected to cancel their conferences completely until 2021, others want to salvage their hard work and give registrants something for their money, shifting to ‘virtual’ events in a variety of formats. I’m seeing a transition to virtual forums, webinar series, town halls, and on-demand conferences. The LA Games Conference is now the LAGC Select online conference experience; SaaStock North America is now SaaStock Remote. Midwest Digital Marketing Conference is now MDMC20 On-Demand Digital Experience combined with a FREE LIVE 2-day virtual summit.

This shift opens up some new earned speaking opportunities since some originally booked speakers may not opt to participate in newly online events.  In fact, there may be real opportunities for execs to win last-minute engagements if they’re willing to record talks or participate in Zoom interviews, panels, or roundtables. Further, since few live tech conferences routinely record sessions on video or audio, these new recorded event formats generate useful PR thought leadership and marketing content with the potential to be seen by more eyeballs than a standard live show.

Now is the time to grab vacated speaking slots

For the many conferences that have simply opted to postpone from spring until autumn or 2021, there may be vacated speaker spots due to the change of schedule. It could pay to reach out to event programmers and pitch your speaker, because no doubt their speaker rosters and agendas will be shifting.

Thought leaders and their reps should have their eyes on Q4 and 2021 with regard to traditional live presentations, since as a rule you must be pitching topics to programmers at least six months ahead. Additionally, since many conferences have rescheduled for October and November, the live tech event schedule will be jam-packed like never before. Big time executive spokespeople can only be in one place at a time, so speaking slots may open up that would not ordinarily be available.

Change up your stump speech

We’re all hoping that the virus will be contained by autumn, so that life can return to normal. Given the gravity of all that’s happening, however, business speakers should  consider talk topics that reflect on the crisis when pitching sessions for late 2020 and 2021. No doubt, tech conferences will be programming retrospective topics on lessons learned from the pandemic as it relates to our various sectors. Live-event producers are soldiering on, making the most out of a tough situation; and event marketers and executive thought leaders should do likewise. The premium on in-person experiences may take on greater importance than ever before!

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