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How To Score An Earned Speaking Engagement

Speaking at a conference is one of the most powerful demand generation arrows in the marketing quiver. The conference organizers do all of the hard work: they manage the pre-event promotion, the on-site logistics, the attendees and much more. Programming a conference is never for the faint of heart; it takes months – in some cases, years – to ensure the right mix of subject matter experts, motivational keynotes and compelling panelists come together seamlessly, on budget and on time. Being able to populate the program with the right speakers makes or breaks the conference’s success.

Speaking engagements come in different shapes and sizes: paid, sponsored and earned. While this post focuses on the last one, let’s touch upon the others for clarification. Paid means you are an undisputed subject matter expert who commands a fee. Think Fareed Zakaria, Malcolm Gladwell or Amy Cuddy. You’re marketed on your own efforts because – although you might have a day job – you have a following. Sponsored is the opposite. Your marketing department has decided to spend the $15K to get 20 minutes on the stage so you can make a thinly veiled product pitch.

Earning a speaking engagement is entirely different. You’re not being paid; in fact, you might wind up paying for your own hotel and airfare. There’s no quick way to circumvent the “call for presentations” no matter how many times your company has exhibited. You are selected as a speaker because your subject matter expertise is timely, interesting and educational. Here’s how to make that happen:

1. Most earned speaking engagements start with the conference’s call for presentations, or CFP. It’s usually available online and contains valuable details about the event as well as a contact for additional information such as attendee demographics.

TIP: Conference organizers are tightly wedded to their CFPs so bite the bullet and fill it out completely. Failing to do so will mean your submission will probably never make the first cut.

2. Conference organizers favor speakers who can provide proof of performance. That means a video of you presenting to a group or at another conference; in other cases, actual session feedback scores from earlier speaking engagements are required. A few conferences will permit the submission of named references; similar to job references, these should be individuals outside of your organization who can attest to your presentation style and skills.

TIP: Ignore the proof of performance requirement at your own risk. Conferences have been burned by boring, inarticulate speakers who drag down the attendee experience so if they cannot find evidence of your skills, they’ll move to the next on their list. Take the time to create your own personal TED talk-like video to show conference management how knowledgeable and charismatic you are.

3. You are part of the conference’s marketing machine. Conference organizers love speakers who have solid social networking presence and are willing to use it.

TIP: Be sure to differentiate your submission by calling attention to yourself, your website, published work, blog postings and social followings. Let the conference organizers know that you’ll be promoting your appearance at their event using the show’s hashtag. Your promotional power adds value to your speaker submission.

Be the speaker that everyone wants on their conference program. Follow the rules, support the cause, show up on time and create raving fans. News travels fast among conference organizers and if you’re the speaker that attendees love, your good fortune (and qualified sales leads) will quickly multiply.