Speaking at conferences is great for building a personal brand. It’s something that helped Jono Alderson a lot. His speaking at conferences is legendary, because of the way he speaks and the amount of content he is able to get in. That takes a lot of preparation.
I talked to different speakers, asking them about how they prepare and what tips they can give you. Listen to Jono explain why research is important, why you have to be ready and why you need to tell a story.
I’ve often talked to people at conferences who would like to be speakers themselves. They come up to me after a talk and share their own eagerness to be on stage. When I ask them why they are not, often the answer is in the lines of ‘my boss won’t let me’.
Unfortunately, it’s something you hear a lot. Management doesn’t feel speaking at a conference benefits the business. Why share “secrets”? Why take away valuable time from office work? They feel the conference is more of a day off than actual work.
They are wrong, of course. There are plenty of reasons for businesses to pursue speaking opportunities. But it isn’t easy to convince them otherwise. Once they make up their mind, you won’t convince them that easy.
Yet you can convince them. It only needs a little bit of persuasion ;-).
You need to focus on two things: making it worth their while and getting them involved. All in the right balance of course.
It’s never about you
Before I go into these two things, though, there is one thing you have to realise: it is never about you. Even though you are the one who wants to speak.
When trying to convince management, stay away from your personal reasons. Management isn’t interested in why you want to speak. They don’t care about your personal brand or your ambitions. They care about the business. That’s where you should focus on.
How to convince your boss
Make it worth their while
First of all, when looking for ways to convince management, look at them. Find reasons why it is worth their while that you are speaking at a conference. Why is it better that you are on stage and not at the office? Why does it have to be you and not one of your colleagues? Answer these type of questions. Those are your first steps to speaking at events.
A few examples of ‘reasons’ that could convince them:
Show the financial benefits
A conference usually costs money. You could, of course, show your boss you get a free pass to the event, so it doesn’t cost them anything, but that won’t do it. You have to show the financial benefits for the business.
This means potential clients. You want to show them, you will speak in front of x-number of potential clients. That’s where the financial benefits start. Potential clients equal potential money. And potential money is where management usually gets interested.
Explain what Branding does for the business
Of course being at a conference is much more than potential money. Branding your business will also help the financial growth in the long run. But branding does a lot more. It eases your talks. It opens doors and it gets attention.
Make sure you show how many bloggers wrote about last year’s conference. Show how many people are in the audience. Show what other branding opportunities there are from speaking at conferences.
Second, a big part of convincing your management is making it a team effort. Yes, it will be you on stage, but remember, this is not about you. It’s about the business. Get management (and other internal influencers) involved in the process. If you do so, they will be more inclined to say yes.
A few ways of getting them involved could be:
This is the easy part. As a speaker, you often get an extra pass or a discount on a pass. Don’t invite the colleague you’d like to hang out with, invite your boss. If he or she rejects, at least you got him or her interested (and you can still take your favourite colleague). If he does want to go, great!
This means you get to share the excitement with them. This means you are the person who is going to open up doors for him or her. Doors to new businesses and connections. Your boss will be grateful forever. And will be more likely to say yes to this and future events.
Ask for their help
Finally, ask for their help. Tell them you want to do a great job for the business. And that you need their help with this By creating the best presentation possible. Get them involved in what topic to talk about. Get them involved in practising. They will feel part of the show. They will want to see you succeed. And therefore say yes to your request.
Of course, every boss is different. Every management has their own reasons to say yes or no. Be sure to find out any hesitations and potential reasons for saying ‘no’ before you ask the question. And make sure you have the answers to those problems.
What do you think, will this work for you? Let me know in the comments!
I hope I will see you at one of the next conferences, as a speaker of course! Good luck!
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But what about your personal brand. How does personal speaking help there? Is it worth investing time to become a great speaker?
Here are 6 reasons:
It builds confidence
You get to present your ideas to a group of people
Your ideas will get more traction and have more impact
It gets you better jobs
You can demonstrate your knowledge
You will stand out: people will remember you
The obvious answer here is ‘yes’. But why the ‘yes’? Let’s dive into that.
1 It builds confidence
For some people public speaking is terrifying. The thought of getting on that stage and speaking to a group of people can make some people physically ill. Yet when they do it, that feeling of illness turns into a feeling of invincibility. The actual speaking can be the drug that not just cures the nerves, it creates an addiction as well.
2 You get to present your ideas to a group of people
You are someone with an idea. With a plan. And you want to make sure more people ‘get’ that idea. What better place than a conference to start spreading that idea? Yes, you can write about it, but being in a room with sometimes hundreds of people listening to your story: what better way to present your ideas is there? You have direct influence and you can see them in the eyes while you talk to them.
3 Your ideas will get more traction and have more impact
If you are on stage, chances are your ideas will get more traction. You are showing people what your ideas mean and you are telling them in person. This is powerful. More powerful than written language. This means your ideas will likely not just travel further, it will have more impact. Because if those you reach while talking share, they will share with passion.
4 It gets you better jobs
When you are speaking, chances are potential employers will see you talk. And get impressed! Which will open up doors on the job front. You will be more visible, thus more trustworthy and more wanted! From being the next resume that ends up at the bottom of the stack, you become the bookmarked name they want for the job.
5 You can demonstrate your knowledge
If you are building your brand, or even when you are ‘just’ working for a boss, showing what you know is important. It builds trust. It builds Thought Leadership. And it gets you business. Being on a stage makes that you can demonstrate the knowledge that brings you all that.
6 You will stand out: people will remember you
Finally, in a world where information is everywhere, it is getting harder to stand out every day. Writing articles means you are one of the many. When you are at a conference, on a stage, people will see YOU. And when you deliver the right speech, they will remember you better.
All these are reasons for you to get on that stage and speak! And if it’s not for your personal brand, it might be for your business. Is there any reason you shouldn’t get on stage? Let me know and we’ll chat about it!
When we speak, we try to persuade. We try to persuade the audience of our views. We try to persuade potential clients of our products or services. We try to persuade, period.
But persuasion doesn’t ‘just happen’. It happens for a reason. So we should dive into the minds of those we are targeting. And we should understand how persuasion works. This video, narrated by one of the great experts in persuasion Robert Cialdini, might be a good start.
Should you or shouldn’t you be doing public speaking? When you have been attending events, you might have thought “why do these speakers want to be on stage? What’s in it for them?” You could be wondering what makes them do it. But you could also be wondering if you should go on yourself.
Is it worth speaking at conferences? Either for your own brand or for your company? Does it matter? As a speaker myself, who loves to be on stage, it’s easy to say “yes”. Of course, it’s worth it! And it’s fun as well! But like with many things, you have to back that up. In what way is it worth speaking at conferences?
In two posts I’d like to highlight the benefits of speaking. Both for you as well as for your company. In this post, we talk about the company, in another post here, we talk about the personal benefits of speaking.
Why is public speaking important for your company?
At a conference you can find four types of speakers:
The independent speakers;
The speakers who work for brands;
The speakers from vendors;
The speakers from agencies.
Why would brands, vendors or agencies take the time to go to conferences and speak? What is the benefit of public speaking for them? They don’t get paid for it, so there must be something else that makes it worth it. There are benefits of speaking at conferences for businesses. But what are they?
If you fit into one of these categories, here are some reasons how you could benefit from speaking in public.
1. It gets you more sales
The main reason why, especially, agencies and vendors send staff to speak at events is sales. They are hoping to get business out of the event. By speaking they want to attract the attention of possible clients.
When agencies or vendors are pitching their products or services, this backfires. Pitching makes for a bad experience for the attendees. With the consequence that they won’t buy.
More often you do see businesses that ‘get it’. They tell a story, show their brand and based on that, get more business.
When they are on stage they talk about past cases and experiences. With that showing potential clients how knowledgeable they are. At networking opportunities (breaks, drinks, and dinners) they will then make the connection. That is where they can ‘pitch’.
Though most companies won’t get a lot of direct sales from speaking at events, it does set them up for sales. So when sales matters to you, public speaking matters to you.
2. You can showcase thought leadership
Public speaking is an effective way of getting your message across. It can help you to show thought leadership
Your company exists for a reason. That means you have a ‘message’. A message that goes beyond selling your product. It’s your reason for existence. Spreading this message can be part of the marketing strategy. To try and become a thought leader in your industry is one of the tactics.
What better way to get a message across, than speaking at conferences. You reach people who go to the event as well as those who read about it on blogs.
3. They will write about you: free publicity!
Speaking at events can be a great way of getting free publicity. As said, often there are bloggers at conferences. They report on the talks. And they spread what they heard. Get them to write about your talk, and there is your free publicity!
Often the free publicity doesn’t only come from the bloggers. Organisers want to get as many people as possible in the room. To get that, they will create publicity as well. Make sure you are a part of that! Always agree to get interviewed. Write a guest post. Be part of it!
4. You can make your audience think about topics
Public speaking opportunities make that you can make your audience think about specific topics. People need a reason to buy. That means they need to first see a ‘problem’.
If the audience doesn’t see not buying your products or services as a problem, you won’t sell much. To make them aware of that problem, you need to show them that problem. Whether it is at a conference or in a pitch, you need to be able to tell the right story. Get them to see a problem and see that you are the solution to that problem.
Public speaking is a great way of getting people to think about topics. Topics that further on in the consumer journey might lead to people looking for your product.
5. Getting access to sources of financing
Public speaking is a great way of getting the attention of those that can help your business further. These can be investors, your first customers or banks. Once they see you on stage, showing your knowledge, they start to trust you. With the right story, the right financier will think their money is in the right place with you.
So if your company matters to you. You should care about public speaking. Because yes, public speaking matters today. And if you also think it’s important, you better speak up…
Many speakers have some ‘tricks up their sleeve’. Things that will help them be more memorable, or look more professional. Some of these tactics (because that is what they are) are well known. Taking the selfie with the audience. Getting interaction by asking questions, you name it. Yet some tactics might actually backfire.
Without the speaker realising what went wrong.
Sometimes in the effort of being memorable, entertaining or helpful, speakers make mistakes. Mistakes that they aren’t aware off. But mistakes that can have a devastating effect.
If you are a speaker, be aware of the following tactics and how they could backfire.
“Engaging” the audience, or are you scaring them?
It’s what every speaker wants: an engaged audience. They are focusing and connecting with you. Some speakers will go ‘all out’ trying to engage the audience. “Get them involved”.
A popular thing to do amongst speakers is letting the audience ‘take part’. This can vary. From asking people to physically take part to asking the audience questions. Even getting them on stage sometimes.
Just look at how this sales speaker gets the audience to sing a song:
Now, this looks like fun (for some). But there is something speakers often don’t realise. ‘Engagement’ doesn’t always mean it’s the audience, that has to do something.
There is a big danger, though. For many people in the audience, it can be frighting when this happens. They might freeze. With as a result that in some cases, it stays awkwardly quiet when the audience is asked to join in…
One thing you have to know about people: most of us don’t like to stand out. With the known exceptions, people in a group tend to respond as the group does. We follow the group. If the group stays quiet, so do we.
This means that getting the audience involved might sometimes not be such a good idea. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. It does mean that you have to think about what it is that you are doing. “Read” the audience.
Know your audience before you speak. And when you do decide to get them involved: make it easy for them. Don’t ask open questions, asked closed ones. So they don’t have to step outside of their comfort zone.
[Tweet “Know your audience when you speak, and make it easy for them to participate, not difficult – @basvandenbeld”]
Giving away your slides before you start
Most of the speakers in the Digital industry love SlideShare. I love it as well. It’s a great resource to have. And at the same time, it’s a great content marketing tool. Putting your slides on SlideShare will help you spread your message. It is also great for your branding. Plus, it helps your audience remember you.
So yes, do put your slides on SlideShare. Just don’t make the mistake of sharing it too soon.
Many speakers upload their presentations to SlideShare before they actually start talking. At the start of their talk, they then tell this to the audience. They also tell them not to bother taking notes or pictures. Because after all, the slides will be available afterward anyway.
If you do this, you are doing something wrong you might not realise. And it has nothing to do with you, but all with your audience.
Everyone is the same when it comes to remembering things. We all need concentration or focus: we need to pay attention to remember things. It’s how our minds work. If we don’t pay attention, we won’t remember.
So what does this have to do with putting things on SlideShare you might ask? Let me explain this a bit more.
As soon as you are telling your audience they will get the slides, you give their brain the signal to relax. And to stop focusing on what you have to say.
They don’t have to take notes or pictures, so they sit back and relax and listen to your presentation. That sounds great but isn’t. Because when they do, they won’t remember as much from your presentation as you might hope they would. They can’t help that, it’s how the brain works. And you just told their brains it’s ok, not to remember your words.
[Tweet “As soon as you are telling your audience they will get the slides, you give their brain the signal to stop focusing – @basvandenbeld”]
And what happens when people remember less of your talk? They will be less inclined to follow up. They are less likely to remember you when the topic comes up. And they will share less to their peers about your presentation.
Don’t fall into this trap. Tell them about SlideShare after your talk, but not before. Keep the focus and attention on you. And share at the end of your talk.
“If we don’t pay attention, we won’t remember. Don’t give away the attention with giving away slides too soon” – @basvandenbeld
A ‘bit’ of bragging
It’s human nature to want to show those you are going to talk to you exist. Proof that you are the ‘cool one’. So what do many speakers do? They turn to bragging. Showing off a little to gain some authority never killed anyone right?
Well, it’s wrong when you turn to the type of bragging I’ve seen many speakers do in the past few years. They brag about going out the night before with the other speakers. About drinking a lot and having a hangover. Or they brag about just finishing the slide deck last minute.
Somehow some speakers think it’s cool to act like you don’t care.
But what you are saying is you don’t care about your audience. You don’t care about them traveling to a city, sometimes 1,000s of miles away from home. You don’t care about them spending hundreds of dollars or pounds on the ticket for the conference. You are saying you don’t care about the conference. You only show you care about getting pissed with speaker friends. And hey, since you are there, why not do a speech.
Is that the message you want to send out? I don’t think it is. But when you are talking about these things, that’s exactly what you are doing.
Stop pretending like the audience and the conference doesn’t matter. It’s them you are there for in the first place. It’s great to hang out with friends, but that is the bonus. Not the talk you
On my holiday in Thailand, I was thinking about something. Something I’ve seen way too many times in the past 10 years. I was thinking about businesses struggling to make money out of conference speaking.
After my holiday I would be speaking at Brighton SEO. It’s a great conference. I was looking forward to being there. It’s a place to see friends, to meet new people and a place to do what I love most: speaking.
For many businesses, it’s much more than that. For them, it’s a place to connect to potential clients and to showcase themselves. When conference season starts, you know that businesses get nervous again about the conferences.
Of course, they want to make the most out of it! For me, it’s a lot simpler. I’m not looking for new clients at conferences. For them, it sometimes is a matter of life or death. They need to get clients from a conference to make it worth it.
So it’s understandable they want to be at their best at conferences. Either by sponsoring, networking and often speaking as well.
Speaking is the most direct way to get visibility. And leads. If they see you speaking on stage, it’s much easier to come up to you. And you can showcase your knowledge. It’s a win-win situation.
In the ideal scenario, a business has one or more of its employees speaking at a conference. They speak about case studies and teach the audience. After the conference, the leads will come pouring in. Because they made a big impact.
As with ideal scenarios, this hardly ever happens. I’ve seen from up close that businesses actually struggle with this. And I’ve seen many in all the years that I’ve been speaking around the world.
More than often you can hear businesses talk about if a conference ‘was worth it’. And most of the time the answer is “no”.
Why is that?
There are several reasons why conference speaking isn’t ‘worth it’ for many businesses. Sometimes they are targeting the wrong audience. Sometimes they are too sales driven. Sometimes it’s just not their day.
A lot of the times, it has to do with the speakers.
Don’t get me wrong. The speakers work hard for it. They make an effort to create great slide decks. To tell a story.
Yet so many speakers can’t deliver. They don’t connect to the audience the way they could. They lack experience, confidence or just that little bit of professionalism.
And you can’t blame them. It’s not their job. At least, not the main part of their job. Even though it’s part of their job. Often the speakers are practitioners sharing their experience.
This would make for an ideal talk. Because it’s always better to hear from those actually doing the work. The problem is that being a practitioner is one thing. Getting the message across is a completely different story.
If you are a great footballer, it doesn’t mean you will make a great coach.
But we would like the practitioners to get that message across, wouldn’t we? Because of that, it would be the ideal mix.
So why aren’t we helping them?
Often inside agencies, vendors, brands, a list compiled. On this list are the events where the company should be present and speaking. It’s one of the reasons we have created our events list. To help businesses find the right events. When they have the list of events, they add names to each conference. Names of employees who will be trying to get to speak there. Those people get the assignment. But they are lucky if they get time to prepare their talks. Usually, they expect them to ‘just do it’. Or at least with a short amount of preparation time.
Hardly ever you hear about a company actually helping their practitioners become better speakers. Better at delivering the story they build. Better at presenting.
Why? It’s just plain stupid they don’t. Because now chances are the talks will not get the attention they deserve. The speakers will work hard, but won’t have the result for it. All they get is the applause after a talk. But actually ROI, there isn’t one.
If you think a bit more about this you realise something. It is not just at conferences where this is costing the businesses money. It is costing a business money elsewhere as well.
How is a pitch decided for example? A big part of the decision is based on how the company presents themselves. If they have bad speakers presenting the pitch, they are less likely to win. Imagine how much money gets lost there…
Why do businesses not care? Why aren’t they spending time and effort on this? It could make such a big difference in the outcome of a conference. They could actually make a LOT of money on
Why aren’t they spending time and effort on this? It could make such a big difference in the outcome of a conference. They could actually make a LOT of money on conferences. If they would only care.
Start helping your staff become better speakers for crying out loud!!!!
Or do they care?
Maybe they do care. Maybe they just don’t know how. Maybe it just takes away too much ‘work time’ from those within the business to help the speakers. Maybe managers want to focus their efforts somewhere else.
Or maybe they lack the knowledge themselves.
During my holiday I was thinking about this problem. So many times I’ve wondered what on earth those businesses were thinking.
And I realised it was just that: time and knowledge.
They don’t know how and they don’t have the time to put the preparation into it. So they just let it slide. And hope for the one employee that is a natural at speaking.
Are you going to help your staff?
With a little bit of effort, a business can help their speakers become better. And can help them get actual ROI from talks.
What about your business? Are you helping your staff become better? Do you train them?
If you are not, you have a choice.
Do you choose the path of least resistance? Stick with the way of working you have been doing for so long? Are you willing to keep losing money on conferences? Or are you one of those companies that dare to help their staff become better at speaking? One that will make a difference?
“You have to connect with your audience”. It’s a sentence you can read in almost any book about public speaking or hear at any training session. You want the audience to get involved.
Why do you want the audience connection?
The books and the trainers are right. It’s good to get a connection with the audience. Once you have the connection, the audience is much more inclined to believe what you are saying. They trust you, so they will be more open to you. If they don’t trust you, your story, no matter how good, will not “do” anything. It won’t “live” and the audience won’t remember your important messages.
I always try to find the connection with the audience. Sometimes that is easier said than done. But I try.
At a conference a few years ago, I tried out something new. I asked my audience for help. Let me explain.
My talk was about Understanding your audience using data-driven marketing. It’s a topic I speak about more often and help businesses with.
As a speaker, it sometimes can be difficult to get a grip on your audience. They always come from different backgrounds. So they will perceive your talk in different ways.
In this case, I wanted to make an effort to understand my audience. That’s why I asked my audience for feedback. Right there and then. Asking for feedback is difficult. When asked, most people won’t tell you the truth. Or they keep it too simple: good, medium or bad. This doesn’t help me much to understand what they are taking away from my talk.
So I asked the audience for their notes.
Every audience is always making notes. On their computer, tablet or on paper. I decided I wanted to see these notes. So I asked the audience to tweet out a picture of their notes after my session.
I knew that this was tricky to do in Sweden. The audience in the Nordics is often a bit more reserved than somewhere else. They are knowledgeable but less interactive.
In this case, the result was great.
I got regular tweets with feedback and feedback in person afterward. And even better: I got pictures of the notes from some nice and helpful people in the audience.
What I learned
Looking at the notes helped me figure out a few things about my speech. Things that can help me improve my talks for next times. Here are a few learnings from the notes:
The audience understood my message. The message was that we need to make a bigger effort to try and understand our audiences.
People understood the different groups you need to split up your audiences in.
People like tricks.
Stories ‘stick’, I have to make sure the message is clear;
The quotes I put on the screen come back in the notes;
People on average will take away 3-5 things. Don’t put more in;
The competitor’s data part in the presentation didn’t show up in the notes;
The audience ignored Social Media platforms like FB-groups, G+ and Linkedin in the notes.
Some nice learnings there for me. I already knew about some of them. But there was some refreshing new information. For me, it was a success.
And somehow (but I haven’t checked that) I think this helped the audience as well. They will hopefully look at their notes in a different way.
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