The Art of Self-Promotion #1 - Speaking at High-Tech Events, Conferences & Tradeshows

I was recently asked following question: I am thinking about getting back into speaking at some more conferences abroad. I am honestly not that well-connected ((internationally) after leaving a large technology company based in Redmond, WA) so I was wondering if you have any good input to where and how to market myself?

Here are some ideas and opinions I have about this and I invite those of you who choose speakers for conferences or who speak regularly to chime in and see what you think too.

1. Understand the Event Producer Game

For the most part event producers in the high-tech arena fall in to a handful of categories:

Big Time - Large technology companies that host their own events to showcase and educate their customers and partners on their products. i.e: Microsoft (TechEd, PDC, Convergence); Oracle (OpenWorld), Lotus (Lotusphere) - The crème de la crème.

3PM Circuit - Third-party media companies who host events to educate attendees and as a revenue-stream/channel to sell subscriptions, memberships, ad space, publications (and all the articles, top ten lists and best of listings inside as well). Just look at the very bottom of an event's website to see who is "producing" GenericCon, GenericConnections, or GenericSummit. I call it a circuit as I know many people who speak at all of the events in a circuit and do very well by them. There are some great events in this space and some not so great, do your homework.

Opinions - Analyst companies who host events to educate consumers about their non-biased opinions of who the movers and shakers are in the marketplace. i.e.: Gartner, Forrester, IDC (only if you sponsor or are an analyst will you speak here).

○ Assoc. - Professional associations, community and user groups usually host educational and community building events to strengthen community ties and add memberships to their associations lists, newsletters, certifications and content. i.e.: Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS), SharePoint Saturdays, and the like. (These are great for getting your feet wet.)

That said, you and your content need do one of three things:

-Draw Butts in Seats (BIS) which increases revenue for the event

-Enhance or expand the importance in the marketplace of the event (fresh, new content)

-Shake things up (though they will never admit it) some organizers want a few rabble rousers to speak in order to give things a goose, get some press and tweet, tweet, tweets!

2. You Must Rock and Be Specific

What do you know and know well? Attendee/customers and all the other speakers (PMS, devs, consultants) who are there to propel their businesses, consulting services, products and themselves will be there watching, assessing and reviewing (blogs & tweets). If you don't know your stuff, haven't presented in a while or are regurgitating content (yours or massaged from another). GET THE HOOK & GET OFF THE STAGE.

○ Know your subject and know it well. Be ready to riff, keep going if your demo fails and to be asked the hard questions.

○ Practice, practice, practice. (Us theater folk)...NEVER go on stage without rehearsing. I still do anytime I know I'm putting it out there.

○ Tell your barber, bartender, or colleague the rough outline of the talk - if you can't, you don’t know it

○ Once you passed that test, give it to your spouse and kids, and take them for pizza after - they will be one of your toughest audiences

○ Tape yourself and watch for the "ums" and that you haven't smiled once. Let people see you actually LIKE what you are talking about  - More Tips on Presenting will follow in The Art of Self-Promotion #2 - Find Your Inner Orator

3. Ready Made or Get It Ready Content

Do you already have content that is ready-consumable that you can use (blog posts, books/e-books, standard presentations that you keep in your back pocket)? Fantastic! If not, you need to do some research, and start looking at event content in your arena.

○ What grabs you - most event websites show at least the titles if not the entire abstracts of sessions. Review how titles are built that grab attention and aren't cheesy

○ Where do you fit - get familiar with track names, which one would your talk fall into? Make it easy for an organizer to pick you by using the track name in your title or abstract

○ Who's on first - look at job titles and company names and see who is getting chosen. See who is "buying" into speaking slots through sponsorships (showcase session or vendor session) and who is just speaking. You can always purchase a sponsorship/booth if you want a guaranteed slot.

4. First Not Best (with props to Al Ries and Jack Trout, if you haven't read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, you are just plain silly - thank you @TFerriss)

I know I said know your stuff and be a rock star, which I still uphold. But another item to consider is to be on the look out for "Calls for Content" or "Calls for Papers" at the events in your industry that you attend or would like to attend.

BE FIRST! Early birds often get the worm on these. Great titles, snappy abstracts and if you have established a name for yourself are all good too. But don't miss an opportunity because you weren't paying attention. Sign up & subscribe to the event's newsletter, blog, Twitter account. Create a rule in your email to watch out for the words "Call for Content". If you are super smart you would get to know the event organizers when you go to these events.

Maven Insider Tip (MIT) - event organizers tend to be women (apologies for the stereotype)

What do women like? (That's a whole other blog post, however…) Having their names remembered and an attendee telling them what a great job they have done organizing the event  (and that you'd love to be a speaker sometime). Whomever is organizing - male or female, everybody loves a compliment - get to know them. They are an influencer and love people who make their jobs easier.  Bugging someone about speaking at an event the day before it starts is a sure-fire direct route to the "round file".

5. Make Your List Check It Twice

After all that you need to put together your list of events that you'd like to target and see if you can figure out when they go out with their Call for Content or if they don't officially have one, what do they do? Most of this info is on an event's website.

If not you can start by sending an email to the and simply ask. Again if you know a producer ask them. They may not be able to tell you but you can ask to be considered, put on "the list" or when to check back.

Maybe send them something like this….

Hi Heather, I'm interested in being a speaker at this year's generic event do you know when the call for content opens? If not is there a way to be put on the email list for notification? I would appreciate it.

One last question, is there someone else I should ask about this - a content owner or manager that influences these decisions? Here are a couple of ideas I have that match up with some of the tracks from last year's event (insert link or attach it) that I think will really excite attendees. You did such a great job organizing the event last year and I'm eager to be a part of it. I hope all is good with you. Thanks for the information.



Happy Hunting and I'd love to hear if any of these ideas helped snagging a speaking slot or other helpful hints from you rock star speakers out there.




About Heather Newman, Owner & Head Maven, Creative Maven Inc.

@creativemavens, @heddanewman