PR Tips For Getting Speaking Engagements


In the technology PR sector, it’s our dream to have a client CEO deliver the keynote speech at a major conference, or to appear on a panel with illustrious peers. Executive speaking opportunities offer great visibility, built-in media coverage, and contact with prospective customers. As a bonus, speeches from conferences can also be recycled as bylined articles or video snippets suitable for social sharing.

But how does a young company generate such opportunities? Submitting a potential spokesperson for speaking engagements can be a full-time job. It can also be very competitive, with some exceptions. For female founders of successful technology businesses, there’s likely to be greater opportunity for plum speaking engagements, simply because they are so rare. But for more typical candidates, the submission process can be lengthy, labor-intensive, and overwhelming.

How to get speaking engagements at conferences

Look at last year’s conference program

Start by building a calendar of targeted conferences. The best way to gauge a conference’s relevance is by studying the past year’s program online. Past programs offer a wealth of intel, including the format and tone of the session abstracts, quality of speakers, and themes. These will be useful for creating a speaker proposal of your own. Some conferences like the Digiday and Digital Summit series offer guidance on submitting proposals.

Who goes to this conference?

Research conference attendee demographics, usually found on the website or program under the sponsorship, FAQ, or the “why attend?” tabs. What are the job functions and seniority level of the attendees? What size companies do they represent? Who sponsors the event? Peg your prospective speakers to their most important audiences; a CEO should be speaking to an audience with at least some C-level executives. If 70% of the attendees are from SMBs and startups, then it may not make sense for your enterprise-level executive to participate.

Pay-to-play or earned speaking engagement?

To avoid wasting time it’s good to know whether the speakers are generally from sponsors, vendors, agencies, or brands. If the speakers are mostly repping sponsors, the event leans toward a pay-to-play model. If you are a PR pro for a B2B vendor, make sure the conference welcomes such speakers without sponsorship. Most clients are interested in earned opportunities, because they don’t need us to secure paid ones.

Don’t wait to submit

Get in early. To find out when speaker submissions open, you often need to get on the conference’s email list. But don’t wait for that date. Ask smart questions to the coordinator even before submissions open. Submissions often ask for extensive company financial and biographical information, which will take time to be compiled and polished.

Know the coordinators

When submitting your speaker, do not try to sell or promote a product or brand. Instead, think of it as a collaboration with the coordinator to help them build outstanding conference content. Cultivate ongoing relationships with conference coordinators in the same way you would journalists and industry analysts. They’re every bit as valuable. Stay in touch, ask questions, and even take them out for coffee if local.

Bring a panel or a partner

A PR team can improve the chances of acceptance by proposing an entire panel discussion — if your company has the ability to assemble a top-quality group. Many conferences will shy away from accepting speakers from vendors and steer you in the sponsorship direction. If so, why not pitch a joint session involving a vendor and one of its client brands about how they worked together using an original approach to achieve a great outcome?

Have a point of view

As is true of the most compelling thought leadership content, speaker/talk proposals have to dazzle in order to be noticed. The best way to stand out is to have a novel point of view relevant to the conference program. Don’t be afraid of taking a controversial stand on a hot industry topic. Alternatively, you can outline a pressing industry problem and offer tangible solutions or fresh thinking that attendees will be eager to take back to their companies.

Set your sights high — but not too high.

Your client may have his heart set on a top-level meeting where he can rub elbows with enterprise-level CEOs or celebrity entrepreneurs. But most candidates need to pay their dues before being called up to the bigs. There are countless tech conferences that match every industry, business stage, size, and niche. And no matter how naturally dynamic your speaker may be, he or she can gain necessary experience before mingling at Davos or keynoting a Dreamforce conference. As the executive’s profile grows, you will find him being accepted — and even invited — to speak at more prominent events.

Conferences & Symposia: Potential PR Goldmine

With a little work and ingenuity, professional conferences can provide a wealth of PR opportunity for a company leader. Speaking at conferences enhances reputation and visibility and positions an executive as an industry and thought leader. Speaking engagements can be used to build brand and product awareness in a specific context, highlight knowledge and expertise, and help build demand for the speaker at other events. Ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work proposing your company spokespeople? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Speaking engagements are giant networking opportunities. Not only will the speaker be afforded the chance to rub shoulders with other speakers and VIP attendees, journalists are often present (industry and local) and this setting provides natural access and the ability to build relationships. If the organization isn’t courting media, invite them yourself. Don’t forget to pitch your speaker to relevant local press.

Conference appearances beget more conference appearances. The more your spokesperson speaks, the greater the reputation as a thought leader, the more industry organizers will seek him out for other gigs. Also the more you merchandise the appearance through white papers, social media, press releases, slideshare etc., the more journalists and others will seek out your executives as a resource.

Conferences offer many ancillary activities. When your company leader is scheduled to speak, encourage him or her to take advantage of every opportunity that’s tied to the conference, such as pre-event activities, photo-ops, and on and off-site social events to network.

Collaborate for the best result. Your speaker knows the product/industry, but you have the cutting-edge communications skills. Assist in preparing the most compelling presentation possible to increase the likelihood of being invited to speak the following year. Encourage use of the most current best practices for PowerPoint presentations, infographics, video, etc. Provide speaker training if necessary.

Always be thinking of the next opportunity. Top conference speaking and panel slots fill up quickly. Keep a regularly updated list of opportunities with cal reminders to keep you on top of the schedule. Use byline articles, interviews, industry monitoring and other sources to help you develop fresh speaking topics.

And, remember to stay in touch with an organizer even if you’ve been turned down for an appearance. We recently contacted a conference with a panel scheduled within the week to propose a speaker “just in case of a cancellation.” The organizer contacted us right away with an open slot and, voila, a speaking opportunity was seized.



Tricks Of Trade Show PR and Networking

Trade shows and conferences represent an opportunity to reconnect with friends and associates in the industry; make new contacts; and be inspired by influential speeches and personalities. But, too often we view attendance as a group effort, or even a chore, sticking with the team we came with or those we know.

Whether it’s a new product show, a blogger conference or a huge happening like SXSW, here are some tips to maximize the networking opportunity so you can get a return on your time investment in the form of insight and contacts.

Have a plan. Study the floor plan in advance and plot your path to make sure you visit the most relevant booths and panels. Most exhibit directories exist online and many have a calendar plugin so you can manage visits with location in mind and avoid walking back and forth all day. Cluster meetings in the same general area for convenience, if possible, and give priority to those exhibitors whose businesses are most likely to advance your own.

Take names. Don’t be shy about asking for cards or using apps like to download contacts. Use every opportunity to make a connection, whether it’s a journalist or blogger; potential business partner; or even a prospective employee. Limit your visits to 10-minute increments, but don’t leave without making a date to continue the conversation if  it’s warranted.

Document and share. Take smartphone shots of unique displays, note the best speeches, and share them on your social media feeds. It’s a great way of connecting with colleagues who might not realize you’re there!

Dress well. The trick to trade shows is to appear professional but be comfortable. A jacket or structured sweater is always good for a professional look, and for day-to-evening temperature changes, but you’ll be thankful that you wore smart flats!

Follow up. A quick note, a phone date, Facebook connection… just be sure to choose one and not all at once.  Be diligent to let no one go un-contacted after the event;  this is often the time when the “real deals” are sealed.

Got any trade (show) secrets you’d like to share?