I Want to Speak at Your Conference, Now What?

Posted by EricaMcGillivray

I love working with all kinds of speakers at Moz, whether for big shows like MozCon or our biweekly webinars, Mozinars. I also get out there and speak myself. Many people ask me how to become a speaker in our industry or if they can speak at one of Moz’s events. The truth is, speaking is hard. And putting yourself out there is awesome.

So, you’re ready to take a step toward being onstage. What should you be doing?

Have a speaking goal

A speaking goal will keep you focused on what you want to get out of speaking. Goals may vary event to event, or encompass both short-term and long-term dreams. And yes, they may change over time.

Here are some goals either I or speakers I’ve worked with have had:

  • Conquer my fear of public speaking.
  • Share my incredible new idea with a crowd of like-minded people.
  • Share my field with an adjacent audience.
  • Show my expertise in a field.
  • Get new clients or a new job.
  • Get other speaking gigs based on how well I do.
  • Speak on the MozCon stage.
  • Learn how to deliver a dynamic presentation the way speakers like Rand Fishkin and Wil Reynolds do.
  • Speak in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people.

What’s your goal?

Come up with pitches!

Keep a document of ideas that you’d like to speak (or write) about. Don’t wait until you see the announcement that a conference is now accepting pitches or until you receive outreach about speaking, as you’ll probably suffer from idea block.

Research the conference you want to speak at. Figure out who its audience is. Look at past topics. If possible, attend the conference before you toss your hat in to fully understand what it’s like. Make sure you’re the right speaker. Some conferences have requirements, such as being a sponsor, having a certain title (VP, Director, CEO), making sure speakers fit a code of conduct, preferring actionable talks to inspirational ones, etc.

Great pitches clearly communicate your topic to the people throwing the conference. Sadly, many pitches come in as a teaser written for an audience to get them to attend your session. A conference runner and selection committee need to know the actual meat of your presentation. They want to make sure the topic’s details are ethical, match their audience needs, meet knowledge level requirements, and more. Think of how different a link building session at Blackhat World would be compared to SMX.

Stay informed on when pitches go live for the conference. This means you can be prepared to submit your idea immediately—not worrying about the deadline—and will ensure you don’t miss it. For example, the pitches for MozCon community speakers always go live three months prior to the conference date. For the upcoming MozCon in 2016, they’ll be on our blog in June.

Build your speaking portfolio

I can’t stress the importance of having a speaking portfolio enough, especially if you’re interested in talking at conferences with closed selection committees, such as MozCon. Speaking portfolios show off your hard work and put actual, concrete examples in the hands of event organizers. It will also set you apart from others.

A search for “marketing speaker” on LinkedIn gives 43,000 results:

LinkedIN search for "marketing speaker"

For “SEO speaker” on Google, 8.9 million results are returned, and Scott Wilson dominates the knowledge box:

Google search for "seo speaker"

What should you put into your portfolio?

1. A decent, professional headshot

For any conference you’re speaking at, you’ll need to send in a headshot. You’ll want to make sure yours looks good both on your portfolio and in comparison to your fellow speakers. Be prepared when you’re selected as a speaker. Don’t be the one who sends in a headshot taken at a party with someone else obviously cut out of it or from when you last renewed your passport.

There are plenty of professional photographers who will take headshots for you. Make sure you get both the rights to use them and the high-resolution version. If you can’t afford one, check out Kick Point’s guide to taking a professional headshot with your phone. While you want to present your best face, make sure the photos actually look like you. It’s okay to photoshop a pimple, but own and love your wrinkles, big ears, or whatever else you’re worried about.

Some speakers also might add a memorable touch to their photos, which they then bring to the stage. For instance, Ruth Burr Reedy’s headshot features a green blazer that she often wears onstage when speaking.

Ruth Burr Reedy and her green speaking blazer

You will probably want to get a new headshot at least every other year. The reality is that we age, changing both our personal styles and our looks. The worst comment I’ve ever received was someone asking me the age of my headshot because I “looked so much younger” in it. It was only two years old, but I’d changed my hairstyle, which made me look older. (Also, when remarking on someone’s headshot, don’t make sexist comments like these.)

2. Have a speaking bio ready

Another general request from conferences will be to send in a bio about yourself. You want to keep it short and relevant for the audience you’re speaking in front of. No one wants to read a bio that’s longer than your topic pitch.

Here are some examples of my own bios:

Longer with a broader audience: Erica McGillivray is a die-hard geek who spends a ridiculous amount of time being nerdy, both professionally and personally. At Moz, she’s the senior community manager and wrangles a community of over 500,000 members, co-runs the annual MozCon, and works on whatever else is thrown her way. She’s also a founder of GeekGirlCon, a nonprofit run by volunteers that celebrates and supports geeky women with events and conventions. In her spare time, Erica’s a published author and has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard.

Shorter with marketing-focus—Erica McGillivray spends a ridiculous amount of time being geeky, both professionally and personally. At Moz, she’s the senior community manager, wrangling 500,000+ people and co-running their annual conference MozCon. Erica also is a founder of GeekGirlCon, is a published author, and has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard. Follow her at @emcgillivray.

Shorter with pop culture-focus—Erica McGillivray spends a ridiculous amount of time being nerdy, both professionally and personally. She’s a senior community manager and wrangles over 500,000 community members for a local startup. Erica’s also a founder of GeekGirlCon, a published author, and has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard.

3. Share your slide decks

SlideShare makes sharing your decks 100% super easy. While some conferences will share your decks, you don’t want to make your decks hard to track down. You want results like Rand’s when your name is Googled with the words “slide deck”:

Rand Fishkin and slide deck results on Google

If you don’t want to use SlideShare, there are other services out there. Or you can just upload it to your own site. Make sure you use a PDF version of your slide deck for the upload on whatever service you use; otherwise, your typography will look terrible on other people’s computers who don’t have those fonts installed.

Example slide decks show off how well you can build knowledge into a deck. It shows your style, and it can also show how you’ve grown as a speaker. You can say that you always present “actionable tips,” but a deck speaks to what you really do.

What if all your decks are proprietary or unshareable to the public? It’s time for you to create a deck for your portfolio. Maybe later you’ll present it at a conference. Or maybe it’s just a piece telling the world that you can indeed create a great deck.

What if all your decks are more interesting when presented? I definitely subscribe to having less words on the screen, which can mean that presentations become almost meaningless without the audio.

Ian Lurie does a great job at adding text—in an obvious way—to slides that make no sense without his voice:

Ian Lurie's slides with extra text for the SlideShare audience

This is extra work, but can really boost you as an expert. Not to mention that your audience will love you for giving them access to your deck later.

4. Get a recording of you presenting

Nothing says more about your qualification as a speaker than a recording of you presenting. It shows off your style, your confidence, and your radness. However, there can be lots of challenges around getting a recording. Many conferences in our space which have great speakers, like Pubcon, SMX, and State of Search, don’t record sessions or most sessions. And other conferences, like MozCon and SearchLove, do record conferences, but sell the videos so they’re private.

How do you get a recording?

A. Do it yourself. Record one of the presentations you’ve already planned on giving (or maybe that sample slide deck you built). Even if it’s just you and the camera, it’s better than nothing. One of my own speaking recordings is me practicing a talk in front of a handful of coworkers.

B. Ask if your recording can be shared privately. In the case of MozCon, speakers have asked and then used their videos to privately show conference runners their work. This is a great option when you’re pitching, but isn’t ideal when you’re setting up a page to show off your good work.

5. Put it all together on a webpage

Since most of us haven’t done so much speaking that we’re easily Googled to find decks and videos, like Rand Fishkin, putting all your information on one page is paramount. Plus, it makes all your assets easy to link.

Chris Brogan uses his LinkedIn page (plus how to contact him):

Chris Brogan's LinkedIn speaking section

Erika Napoletano‘s site makes it easy for you to understand her style and requirements for a speaking gig:

Erika Napoletano's speaking section on her website

Kerry Bodine‘s site displays her videos and tells you which events she’s spoken at and will speak at:

Kerry Bodine's site shows video and past and upcoming speaking gigs

Ask the conference organizer questions

Once you’re in, you want to be prepared for show day. Unfortunately, a lot of conferences don’t give you all the information. Here are five standard questions I ask conference runners when I’m speaking in order to be fully prepared, although you may have other needs:

1. What are the show’s hours? What time is my speaking slot? Are there any special events for speakers to attend (parties/networking, speaker-only gatherings, etc)?

You’ll want to know this information as you book your travel. You’ll want to make sure you’re on time for your talk, not completely jetlagged (if crossing time zones), and build in opportunities to meet your speaking goals.

2. How many people are attending this conference? Can you share some demographics about who your audience is?

You want to be prepared for both the audience size and their specialty. If you’re in front of a group of 20, you can easily do interactive elements in a way you cannot in a room of 1,000+ people. Likewise, you want to tailor your talk to the audience with examples and knowledge levels that they’ll relate to.

When Dr. Pete Meyers spoke at SMX Sydney, he Australiafied his slide deck:

Dr. Pete's Astralian deck

3. Do you use fullscreen 4:3 format or widescreen 16:9 for presentations?

No one wants to create an entire slide deck and then find out it’s in the other format. Let me tell you from experience, changing the formatting in PowerPoint or Google Docs stretches or squashes your images in horrifying ways. Also, as a speaker, you should know what the differences between these formats are and how to properly set up your slide deck software for each format.

4. What sort of setup is the stage? Podium or no podium? Wireless mic with a battery pack, handheld wireless mic, or wired standing mic? Will the projection happen from my own computer or your A/V system?

All these questions ensure that you’re prepared with the right equipment and that you dress appropriately. You don’t want to run to the Apple Store at the last second when there are no proper cables for your Mac laptop. And if you’re wearing a wireless microphone, you want to make sure there’s a place to put the powerpack—like a pocket or belt—which, if you’re wearing a dress, may not be part of your outfit.

5. Is there a due date for slide decks?

Getting your deck and anything else you’ve agreed to provide a conference with on time is paramount for your own time management and making the conference runners happy. Conference organizers prefer smooth working processes, as there’s already enough that can go wrong with live events. The last conference I spoke at, the deck was due during my summer vacation. I made sure my deck was done ahead of my time off because I didn’t want to spend my holiday creating it.

Practice, practice, practice

Nothing makes your presentation better than practicing the talk. Try to practice in front of people so you know if your jokes land or when you need to pause to resonate points. (My cat never laughs at my jokes!)

By the time you’ve gone through your talk five to ten times, you’ll have it down much better. It will be more natural, hopefully without the stumbles and other pitfalls that occur with not having your points down. We all have parts we’re great at and others we’re not. That’s okay, but let’s work on them.

Have fun!

Never forget to have fun when you’re preparing to speak. Whether you’re deciding to pitch your first event or you’re a seasoned speaker, you can rock it!

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Moz Blog

October 20, 2015  Tags: , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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