Ever dreamed of standing on stage and speaking at an event or conference? Yeah, it was never really my dream either (and I live for activities that push my boundaries and get my adrenaline flowing).However…I’ve been on a mission this year to build my personal brand, and there are few better ways to get yourself recognized than by getting up and speaking in front of an audience.
It all started when it was freeeezing cold this past Christmas. I’ve been living in Minnesota for the past year, and if you’re not from around here (or haven’t had the pleasure of visiting during the winter months), you should know that the average December temperatures are around 10-12 degrees. Or – in other words – f’ing cold.
As is pretty usual for that time of year in Minnesota, there was nothing open. Usually I’d be out fulfilling my winter adrenaline-junkie needs with snowmobiling, but there wasn’t even much snow, so that one was a no go too…
I was pretty bored, so I decided to do something productive with my time and write an ebook on growth hacking (if you haven’t seen it already, you can find it at 100daysofgrowth.com).
While trying to promote the book, I ended up doing a ton of outreach to secure guest posts, which led to me being interviewed on more than 15 podcasts. It was while I was recording those podcasts that I realized how much I love educating people. This prompted me to revisit my quest for speaking at conferences and events.
Ultimately, I ended up securing five new speaking gigs using cold outreach emails and my tool Content Marketer. Want to get your foot in the door for similar speaking opportunities? Here’s how I did it…
Step #1 – Find a list of conferences
Needless to say, this is the first step – and a pretty integral one at that – to securing a speaking engagement at a conference. Obviously, I’m not going to get very far if I don’t even know which conferences are being held when and where.
Thankfully, the brilliant Kristi Hines has put together a pretty comprehensive list of business, digital, marketing, and tech conferences from all over the world, which you’ll find here.
There’s also a thread over on Growth Hackers – there are already plenty of great responses, but if you have any of your own to add, you should definitely do so.
If you’re “across the pond” in the UK, you’ll want to take a look at this excellent list from Digital Angle. While there are quite a few UK conferences included in Kristi Hines’s list, there are quite a few more on Digital Angle’s list that Kristi’s missed.
For events and conferences elsewhere in the world, or in different industries, I’ll have to leave you with my good friend Google.
Step #2 – Use Content Marketer to scan for the speaker’s details
At present, access is very limited. Once you’ve made your request, you’ll receive an email from me letting you know that you’ll be notified as soon as we launch. However, if you want to join our pilot program and be among the first marketers to try it out, you can reply to that same email with a sentence that describes why you deserve early access.
However, I’ll save you from any potential disappointment by warning you that this is assessed on a case-by-case basis and that there’s no guarantee of access being granted.
But either way – whether you have access now, or have to wait until launch – I want to give you a sneak peek on how to use Content Marketer to quickly find the contact details of speakers at a conference (or, for that matter, pretty much anyone).
First, click “Scan Url.” Enter the URL you want to scan for details; i.e. a “Speakers” page on a conference website. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to scan the “Speakers” page for Content Marketing World:
Then, click “Go!” and wait for the tool to work its magic. If there are a lot of people listed on the page you want to scan, it’ll take a few minutes to collect all the details. However, it’ll still be much (much) faster than searching manually.
The final results will look something like this:
From here, you can select all of the results or pick and choose the ones that matter most to you. Then, you simply export the details to a CSV file to get ready for the next stage of your outreach.
Step #3 – Come up with a few different pitch angles
Now, before I ever sent out my first outreach email, I made sure to prepare properly. Instead of sending a few emails with no particular focus to them, I came up with three different angles that I would try out in my different messages.
I also made sure I was ready to track the success of each approach – that way, if I repeat the activity in future (and I likely will), I’ll be able to save time and boost my response rate by using only the method that I found to be most successful. What can I say? I’m a split testing junkie.
Note: I’m going to show you the specific pitches I used below, but as with all split tests, don’t rely on the results others get. Everyone – and every market – is different, so always perform your own tests so you can find out what works best for you.
These are the angles I tried…
Angle #1: I emailed one or two of the event speakers to let them know that I’m writing a blog post about the conference, and asked them if they could help me out by letting me know which talk they’re most excited about.
If they responded positively – i.e. with an answer to my question and a contribution to my blog post, I replied back again to thank them, and at the end of my email I snuck in a sneaky “P.S – Still looking for speakers?” message.
This approach was friendly and natural, and it showed my interest without making me sound desperate. It also put the framework in place for me to build a potentially valuable connection later on.
Success rate: 20%
Angle #2: I emailed speakers asking for a quote about a particular element of the conference using a Google form. Eventually, I followed up asking whether or not they were still accepting speakers.
This approach is similar to what I did above (seeking contributions to a blog post); however, it was also slightly more formal, and a little less personal. Instead of sending a friendly, chatty email, the recipient gets a single question survey to answer in a form.
I believe this worked because the Google form was quick and easy to fill out. My recipients could also respond to me without worrying about having to reply to an email in which they’d have to return my friendliness by entering into a (potentially time-consuming) conversation.
Success rate: 27%
Angle #3: I was up-front and simply asked for what I wanted.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. In fact, the way I see it is that beating around the bush tends to do everyone involved a disservice. It wastes time and the outcome is often something nobody actually wanted.
Consequently, in my third approach I was completely honest and up-front and just asked whether there were any speaking spots left, and whether I would be able to fill one.
It may help your case to include an outline of what you want to speak about in your email, as long as you choose something timely and original. That said, you’ll obviously want to check what all the confirmed speakers are planning to cover – you won’t get very far by pitching a topic that’s already on the agenda.
But whether or not you decide to include a proposed topic, be sure to lead the email with your key question. This is the most important element of your message (both for yourself and for the person you’re reaching out to) so it should take the starring role in your pitch.
Below is an example of one of my “blunter” prospecting emails. In this case, I wasn’t certain who was in charge of booking speakers, so I asked (politely) to be put in touch with whoever could answer my question.
Certainly, if the recipient (at this stage) didn’t recognize my name or face, I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far by simply asking for an introduction. After all, if they don’t know who I am or what I want, they’ll (understandably) question whether introducing me to anyone else involved with the conference is the right thing to do.
Pre-anticipating that the recipient might feel this way, I put their mind at easy by quickly outlining why I was contacting them and why it might benefit them to pass my email on.
Success rate: 52%
What I Learned
Provide value in your outreach
The majority of the time, the key to sending a successful outreach message is to provide something of value to the person you’re reaching out to. This rule is pretty much universal, regardless of the industry you’re in, who you’re reaching out to, or why you’re reaching out to them in the first place.
In the above examples, both angles #1 and #2 provided something of value to the speakers in question – namely the opportunity to get a little self-promotion and personal brand building pre-conference. For lesser known speakers, this can be really important, particularly in conferences where multiple sessions run simultaneously. Understandably, no speaker wants to talk to a nearly empty room so any chance to drum up interest in their speaking spot is a big plus.
Of course, the value you add doesn’t have to involve writing a blog post about the conference. Another excellent way to get on the right side of a speaker is to provide information that they can use in their talk.
Remember that every speaker has to prepare their talk and, as anyone who’s ever had to do this will understand, preparing a presentation can be time-intensive and stressful. In addition to actually writing the presentation, you have the constant pressure of worrying what will happen on the day of the event, whether the audience will like you and whether or not that joke you included in your second slide will fall flat with your attendees.
Therefore, if you can offer some information or data that will add to their talk – and, consequently, take some of the work away from them – you should find it easy to get any speaker on your side.
Spark curiosity and get people excited
This is the approach I took with angle #3 – the pitch that achieved the highest success rate out of all of my variations. Why? Probably because it got people excited.
This is the same tactic I tend to use in my cold guest post emails. Here’s an example of a prospecting email that I sent to Jenna Goudreau at Business Insider:
My aim was to secure a guest post. When I initially contacted Jenna, I already had a very good idea on what I wanted to write about; however, I chose not to include that information in my first email. Why?
Because, if Jenna hadn’t been interested in the idea, there’s a good chance she simply would have deleted my email and that… would be that.
Instead, I chose to include an element of mystery by saying, “I’ve got a great idea for a post that would do well on Business Insider.” (Notice how I didn’t say, “I think it will do well.” I implied that I know it will do well. Confidence, even false confidence, will take you far).
This sparked intrigue in Jenna and ensured she’d want to know more. Upon her reply, the lines of communication between us were opened. This meant that even if she wasn’t into my initial idea, we now have the framework in place to continue the conversation and decide on an idea she would be interested in.
Provide proof of credentials
If the person you’re emailing doesn’t know who you are, it’s pretty much essential to provide proof of why you’re qualified to speak (or do whatever you’re claiming to be qualified to do).
My email signature, my twitter profile and my blog all help to validate my credibility to speak about digital marketing.
One thing I learned during this process is that it can really help to consolidate your proof of credentials into one page, such as a press or portfolio page. That way, people don’t have go to multiple places to find out if you’re a good fit for whatever you’re pitching. Include a link to this page within your initial outreach email to make things even easier.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a website, a resume-type document could potentially serve the same purpose. However there are two drawbacks to this approach:
- A document just doesn’t have the same professional appeal as a well-presented page on a website.
- Including attachments in emails can increase the chance that they’ll wind up in people’s spam folders.
If you’re serious about building a personal brand, a website that showcases your expertise is essential.
So what happens next?
Securing a speaking engagement is only the start of the story. If you’ve used the techniques I’ve described above to land your own gigs, you’ll also have to prepare your talk and ensure you’re in the right state-of-mind (namely, happy, relaxed, and confident) to present it.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far about how to prepare a killer presentation, based on my own past experiences and the recommendations I’ve heard from others in my network…
Know your audience and their expectations
The best presentations fit the audience they’re being given to. You wouldn’t give a presentation on how to correctly indicate paginated content using rel=prev and rel=next to a group of business owners looking for an initial introduction to digital marketing. Instead, you might discuss what title tags and meta descriptions are or how they can get started with keyword research.
Before you plan your presentation (and potentially, before you even decide on a topic), find out…
- The background of your audience
- Their general level of knowledge
- The purpose of the event (i.e. is the audience expecting to be inspired, or receive practical, actionable information?)
- What’s expected of you? Why do the organizers want you to speak, how much time will you have to speak, and are there any particular points the organizers want you to cover?
Tell a great story
As humans, we’re hardwired to respond to a story. A linear narrative gives us something to hold onto, draws us in, and increases how effective we are at absorbing information (usually without realizing how much new information we’re taking in).
Buffer explains this phenomenon well:
“Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.
If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up.”
When writing your presentation, don’t just jump from one point to the next and hope you can hold your audience’s attention. Use a narrative to link all of your points together and keep your audience alert, listening, and excited about your conclusion.
Alternatively, tell a single story that illustrates the point you want to make.
Don’t worry about your slides… too much
Your slides should enhance your presentation.They should not distract from you or what you have to say.
In fact (and some speakers may disagree with me), slides just aren’t that important. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love well-made slideshows – they’re a great way to present information. But, that said, creating slideshows for the web is very different than utilizing them in a spoken presentation.
In some cases, a poorly-made slideshow can negatively impact the presentation itself, as they have a nasty habit of faking a structure and connection between points that isn’t actually there.
You – and your talk – should be the focus of any presentation. Your slides should only be there to provide visual aids that help to illustrate your points.
Alternatively, you could consider doing away with the slides altogether…
Practice makes (almost) perfect
Few people are born great presenters, and even those that are still need to practice their lines and delivery.
Don’t fall victim to procrastination and leave planning and practicing your presentation until the very last minute. The best speakers don’t rely on prompts, as it’s usually plainly obvious from their tone and pace when speakers read a prompt, and it’s distracting for everyone involved. But you’ll be forced to do so if you don’t make the time to ensure you have your presentation well and truly nailed down.
The more comfortable you are with your material, the more confident you’ll be on the day fo the event.
Of course, there’s a knack to rehearsing your presentation: try to emulate the real-world talk as much as possible…
- Try to practice in a similar location to where the presentation will take place (i.e. a large room, with seats facing you).
- Think about your posture. Stand tall, relax your shoulders and expand your chest. Feel free to walk around (particularly if you’ll be speaking in a large venue), but avoid fidgeting by rocking from one foot to the other or swaying from side to side.
- Think about the pace and tempo of your talk. Don’t rush. Speak at a pace that helps you sound confident and ensures your message is clear. Allow yourself to pause when necessary, either for dramatic effect or to reclaim your composure.
- Keep your eyes on your (imaginary) audience, and…
- Once you’re feeling pretty confident, find people who will let you rehearse in front of them and ask for their feedback.
And last but not least…
Remember that you (and your presentation) will never be perfect. Even the very best speakers still get nervous, slip-up, say the wrong thing, and stutter – so don’t stress yourself out by striving for perfection.
Take the time to create a great presentation and do plenty of practice. If you’re diligent, you’re guaranteed to be the best you can be and give the best presentation you can give.
So that’s how I secured five speaking engagements using a combination of completely cold outreach and my new tool, Content Marketer – as well as the tips and techniques you need to do the same.
If you decide to try these tactics out (or use any other tactics of your own), come back here and let me know how things went. I’d love to hear your success stories about the speaking engagements you’ve scored!