Attending a business conference is one of the best ways to build a network, and speaking at one is an even more effective way to create connections that keep you top of mind with potential clients, customers and partners. Entrepreneurs, startup founders, C-suite executives and business professionals from all echelons of various organizations attend these events just to expand and nurture their networks, making them fertile ground for relationship-building.
Scoring a slot as a guest or even keynote speaker—especially at a large business conference—can have a notable impact on one’s career trajectory. Here, 15 members of Forbes Coaches Council share the most effective tricks of the trade they’ve used themselves and/or have helped their clients use to secure a speaking gig at a major business conference.
1. Become A Thought Leader
Conferences are seeking thought leaders. Write a book. Publish quality content. Make sure you have a compelling profile that includes your awards and evidence of credibility. (Did I mention writing a book?) Have a point of view and network. - Juliette Mayers, Inspiration Zone LLC
2. Be Clear About What You Have To Offer
I land long-term coaching contracts and speaking engagements with Fortune 500 companies for myself and my clients by being very clear about what I can offer to them (a.k.a., why they need me). That, in turn, creates clarity when articulating why they want to work with me. Position yourself as the solution to their deep-seated desires, and you’ll find yourself in business for the long haul. - Olivia Jaras, Salary Coaching LLC
3. Limit Your Topics To No More Than Three
Build your subject matter expertise for each topic, then publish! A book is best; however, publishing on LinkedIn, a blog and your website are all valuable in building a platform for public speaking. Let the people in your network know that you are available. Finally, create a professional biography. - Barry Michael George, Impact Global Coaching and Leadership LLC
4. Propose A Catchy, Relevant And Timely Topic
One trick I’ve shared with a client was to propose a topic that was catchy, relevant and timely. Business leaders are looking for helpful information that will get them through today’s challenges. This insight helped my client achieve an edge over others who proposed broad theoretical concepts that are less relevant to the new business challenges leaders face today. - Stacy Soria, Gladegy Consulting, LLC
5. Make Them Feel They Need You
Rejection is your key strength in securing a speaking gig. Large business conferences are about creating value for the participants. The organizers who need you will want you. When you reject them, it gives them a chance to negotiate the terms with you and let you know they need your presence at the speaking gig. This puts you in a more advantageous position to influence your gig confirmation. - Jedidiah Alex Koh, Coaching Changes Lives
6. Match Your Value Proposition To Event Goals
Match your value proposition to the conference organizer’s goals. Do you motivate? Do you teach? Once you identify where you fit, have a clean website that highlights your value, thought leadership and a speaking sizzle reel. Make it easy for them to work with you. - Maureen Metcalf, Innovative Leadership Institute
7. Specialize In Something Specific That Few Others Do
The key to landing speaking engagements is to specialize. People seek you out for large speaking gigs and conferences because you offer something that very few others do. So, saying you’re a “coach” or “consultant” means nothing. Saying you’re a “coach for CEOs” makes a little more sense. But when you say that you’re an “executive coach who helps new CEOs develop strategic leadership,” then you will secure the big gigs. - Vinesh Sukumaran, Vinesh Sukumaran Consulting
8. Get Referred By Previous Speakers
I get my clients to network with previous speakers who can enthusiastically refer them. Often, speakers from a year ago, for example, may not be in the current year’s lineup. If they did well, they are in the organizers’ good graces and look good when they refer top talent. So it becomes a powerful win-win to work in the word-of-mouth referral. Get previous speakers to speak up for you—it almost always works! - John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
9. Have An Attention-Grabbing Title For Your Speech
I will share two tricks. This one may be obvious, but you need to have a video of a past speech or presentation to share so that the organizers can see you “in the act.” Second, title your speech in an attention-getting manner. One of my clients titled his talk “Safety in the Workplace” and got little reaction. We changed it to “A Hypodermic Needle in Your Eye,” and his audience size tripled. - John Lowe, Ty Boyd, Inc.
10. Customize Per The Organizer’s Needs, Concerns And Goals
I speak at more than 100 events a year. The key to earning business is to listen to the organizer’s needs, concerns and goals. Then you can customize your response to be the perfect fit. On a recent call, the organizer was worried about engagement, so I gave her five ideas of how we could engage the audience. She told me the theme was “courage,” so I customized my talking points around the theme. - Krista Neher, Boot Camp Digital
11. Make Sure Your Talk Is Relevant To The Theme
Most conferences have a theme, although this is not always communicated clearly to the public. Try to get some insider intel to understand the theme of the conference you’d like to speak at. Then make sure that your talk is 100% relevant to the theme. - Rajeev Shroff, Cupela Consulting
12. Focus Your Pitch On Actionable Steps
When responding to an RFP call for conference speakers, focus your content pitch on tools, steps or a model that attendees can implement and take action on immediately. As both a speaker and an attendee, the sessions that provide concrete, practical information and a feasible approach tend to be highly appreciated. “I can actually use this” is the most valuable feedback you can get. - Lisa Downs, New Aspect Coaching
13. Suggest An Insightful, Of-The-Zeitgeist Topic
It is always about the quality of a talk idea. I specialize in personal PR, so pitching my clients for talks is a large part of what my team and I do. Pre-digital-world it may have been about “who you know.” But now, with so much competition for profile-raising slots, it’s about suggesting a topic that is insightful, different and of the zeitgeist, as well as summing up the talk idea—not sending a bio! - Helen Croydon, Thought Leadership PR
14. Be A Podcast Guest Or Get Published First
Many clients are accomplished presenters, but may not have large-audience speaking experience. If so, start small. Appear on a podcast. Many are desperate for guests with valuable content to share. Get published in a relevant trade publication or blog. Use those as a “way in” to speak at a local event. Next, connect with conference organizers or trade associations to share your unique value. - Susan Sadler, Sadler Communications LLC
15. Contact The Event Planners Up Front
Once you know of a topic you could present in your sleep, I encourage you to use your existing network of contacts to help get an audience with the event planners—even before submitting an RFP! When planners have had contact with a potential speaker, there is a greater potential for building a relationship and being remembered. When all is said and done, you better deliver. - Lee Meadows, Meadows Consulting