Including conference strategy in your planning this year will put your organization’s executives and brand messages front and center on the prestigious speaking circuit. Indeed, conferences are ideal places to disseminate your brand messages and connect with current and prospective customers. And if leveraged effectively, they can go a long way toward establishing and strengthening brand thought leadership and generating new business. But just like any part of a communications plan, how to get speaking engagements requires careful thought and planning, as well as expertise in designing compelling speech topics and “selling” them in to conference planners.

These three steps are key to every speaking engagement strategy.

Setting Your Targets

Conferences are about connections. They offer an opportunity for your company to engage directly with its key audiences. That’s why at Stern Strategy Group we refer to conference relations as direct engagement. A critical component of any speaking engagement strategy is the target list. It’s important to clearly define your audience and then identify the platforms that map back to them. Too often, we see brands create their target list by adding only the most-known or buzzworthy events. Yet, if you dig deeper, you find these brand name platforms don’t always reach the intended audience or provide any true business value. For example, SXSW certainly has cache: it’s a hip platform that attracts star speakers. But its sheer size and concurrent sessions competing for attendees’ attention can make it difficult for some speakers to connect with intended targets. Similarly, while a TED talk seems to be on most thought leaders’ wish lists, there are countless industy-focused conferences with decision makers in the audience that are proven to deliver tangible business value.

A critical component of any speaking engagement strategy is the target list. Clearly define your audience. Then identify platforms that map back to them.Click To Tweet

As a first step, we think about the audience you want to impact. What industries are important to your brand? What size company are you targeting? What are the titles of the people within the organization you want to reach?

It’s okay (and encouraged) to shoot for the stars – and we do – but we make sure to balance out dream platforms with more attainable targets. And don’t overlook local or regional events. Especially for newer speakers or those who lack a C-level title, local and regional events are perfect venues to build exposure and experience. In fact, you can often secure a more substantial slot on the agenda than at some of the larger conferences, where you may find yourself buried in large speaking faculties or many tracked sessions. For example, if you’re looking to reach HR professionals, consider events put on by the regional chapters of SHRM rather than the association’s much larger national conference. It can take time to win a spot as a keynote at a national or international event, and some platforms require certain titles or affiliations for the keynote slot. Building your direct engagement experience with secondary speaking slots, panel engagements, moderating panel opportunities, etc., will make you all the more interesting to the next conference planner targeted.

Shaping Your Message

What’s your topic? You may have polished sales and marketing communications, but Stern will help you evolve these messages to make them presentation ready. When you are vying for a conference organizer’s attention, it’s important that your ideas stand out from a sea of other possible ideas. The key to how to get speaking engagements is to think about what you can offer that no one else can. What problem or issue can you help attendees solve? Do you have new research to present or a counter-intuitive perspective? Make these elements the core of your presentation.

As we help shape your topic, it’s critical to call out what audiences will learn or take away from your talk. Remember: Many conference attendees are taking time off from work to listen to you. They need tangible insights not only pertinent to their jobs, but also simple to act on quickly. Consider what three takeaways attendees will learn from the talk. From the start, it’s wise to have a few different speech topics that can be tailored for different audiences. If you have your targets straight, this should be a simple exercise.

Additionally, we consider how your talk will take shape outside a stand-alone talk or keynote. Many conference platforms feature interactive formats such as panels or fireside chats. We go one step further, and have other potential speakers lined up – perhaps your clients or other industry thought leaders – who could partner to co-present with you.

Sharing The Proof

A picture may tell a thousand words, but videos speak volumes. Conference planners need assurance that a speaker can hold an audience. Whether we’re working with curators for Aspen Ideas Festival, World Economic Forum, Techonomy, or New York Times Live events, we know content that shows our clients in action makes all the differences in speaker selection. Video, such as that from a previous talk, should show how you present in front of an audience. Relatively new to the speaker circuit? No video? No problem. We advise you gather a small audience at your workplace or home and film yourself giving a presentation. The video doesn’t need to be heavily produced or edited. In fact, we’d counsel against editing a “highlights reel” that only shows your best work. We give conference planners the video in its entirety so they can get a full picture of what they can expect. To prove you are the expert on a given topic, we also make sure to have links to supporting media coverage or blogs.

Now is a great time to begin a conference relations program as many planners are already starting to plan for top events in the summer, fall and even next year. With Stern, you’ll have our input into a smart and calculated plan, and you’ll start to see your brand executives go from attendees to sought-after speakers. Let’s explore where will we see you on stage this year!

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Tara’s curiosity and creativity consistently drive clients and colleagues toward their goals in ways never before imagined. Whether she is making powerful connections on the conference circuit or translating narrative into a compelling visual form, Tara is counted on for her sharp ability to make communications concepts come to life. In her role as vice president, she leads our direct engagement competency and guides strategy for visual and graphic projects. Tara’s inquisitive nature extends to her personal life where she is learning to craft leather handbags and building a hockey rink for her children in her backyard.