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PR Guide to Executive Speaking Gigs

It will come as no surprise to those of us in public relations that 205 million people in the U.S. attend conventions, conferences, and trade shows each year. What we in PR like about such conferences are the opportunities to secure industry speaking gigs for executive clients. So-called speaking ops are a great way to build exposure and often come with built-in media coverage. All it takes is a strategy and advance planning.

Maximize exec speaking opportunities

Assign a dedicated staffer to manage conference work. 

The work involved in researching, vetting and submitting to annual conferences and meetings is real, and it takes diligence and follow-up. The PR team is also often tasked with drafting a CEO’s talk or coordinating all aspects of an onsite panel. It can be a big job, so we recommend designating someone within the organization or working with your external PR team to do the same. The annual conference schedule can be shared on a Google doc so that all communications staffers are informed of developments and to streamline things like topic generation and preparing abstracts.

Cut your teeth on low-hanging fruit. 

What? CES turned down your CEO? No room at SXSW? Time to recalculate your conference strategy. If an executive wants top-tier opportunities but has no real speaking history “to speak of,” start with smaller groups who are hungry for interesting presentations. Look into colleges, not-for-profits and community organizations to start. Hone presentations and master speaking skills through these experiences while building that all-important speaker resume, the “calling card” that helps organizers make a selection. At the same time, videotape speaking engagements to create a sizzle reel like this.

Think beyond your industry. 

Obviously, any CEO or other senior officer wants to be where the customers are, but it can be beneficial to generate exposure elsewhere. A company specializing in advertising sales technology will naturally attend conferences in the adtech space, including Advertising Week or Cannes Lions, but savvy marketers will also find niche conferences appealing to pharma, retail, financial services, or other industries where potential clients may congregate to hear a relevant speech.

Don’t hold out for the keynote. 

By all means, if a CEO is a big deal in the space, go for it. But don’t stop there. Conferences and trade shows offer all kinds of other opportunities for qualified and interesting speakers. These include panels, workshops or even hosting drinks or a breakfast. The very creative can even make their own opportunities like a fireside chat, the informal conversation between a moderator and guest popularized by tech startup events like Startup Grind, TechFire or SaaStr Conference. We also like the idea of a presentation fueled by a live quiz or poll that engages the audience in real time and invests them in the outcome. And even if you’ve missed deadlines, get on the cancellation list. They happen more often than you may think, and if your speaker is flexible (and humble) enough to serve as a back-up, it can offer important exposure and endear the PR team to the organizers in the process.

Promote, promote, promote. 

To improve the odds of securing top gigs for executives, make sure each social platform contains speaking credentials. This includes the company website where links to video and slideshare are posted and regularly updated. LinkedIn pages for both the company and the individual offer another way to get the word out also; include “public speaker” in job titles to help optimize search results within LinkedIn and Google. Speakers should also sprinkle appropriate keywords throughout their profiles to appeal to organizers on the hunt for presenters. LinkedIn allows users to create separate job profiles, so consider creating one devoted solely to public speaking, including videos. Finally use the powers of the network to ask for and receive recommendations. Apply the same strategies to your other social networks as well. It’s also helpful to draft press releases about the conference for appropriate trade and vertical publications, as well as the newsletters and other information published by the conference itself. Finally, incorporate speech highlights in company newsletters and dedicated mailings to prospects.

Start working on 2019. 

If your PR team hasn’t already begun research for next year’s conference, get on it!

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