One of the best ways to learn is to teach – like speaking for a room full of PPC nerds at one of the largest digital advertising conferences in the world.
Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. This one starts over a year ago when I learned that I could select two conferences to attend in 2018 in order to build my networking, to stay ahead of the trends in my marketing specialties (acquisition and analytics), and to bring back what I discover for our team.
The two that I ended up choosing were CXL (I wrote about my experience at CXL here) and HeroConf 2018. Needless to say, I had an amazing experience and drew on some of the best insights and advice in the industry of digital advertising from last year’s HeroConf event. Then, about seven months ago, I saw their call for speakers for the 2019 event and I decided to spend a few weeks coming up with… the most amazing pitch!
The Pitch: Getting Selected as a Speaker
Since getting selected for my first speaking event I’ve done a lot of research on how to pitch, what to speak about, and tips on navigating the speaking circuit. The bottom line is speaking about what you are passionate about – it comes across in everything you do, and it’s easier to fall back on what you love when you are standing in front of a room of fellow experts. Things to consider taking seriously when selecting how to frame your pitch:
- The audience of the event (who is putting it on and who will be there).
- The length of the speaking session you have (15 mins vs. 45 mins).
- The actionable takeaways you will be giving people (what will people walk away with).
When you can answer these, you will have a more targeted pitch that will help. You won’t get selected every time, and you don’t want to get selected for every single event unless you only plan to speak for a career. Find the events that work best for you and what you are passionate about. It’s a lot like job searching (everyone’s favorite) – you might end up putting in a lot more submissions than you find success for.
At the end of the day keep a record (or an archive) of all of your submissions with your answers to every question they asked. You will start to get better at identifying the characteristics that events are looking for out of their speakers.
The last bit I want to talk about is finding the right events. I’ve casually mentioned this already, but it’s critical you find the events that are run well (nothing like the Fyre Festival) and get a spreadsheet going of all of the events you think would be ideal. Get their dates down, find out if they are accepting calls for speakers, and then keep your notes well organized. Speaking isn’t an afterthought; it’s got to be a serious attempt to share what you know to the professional world.
My Pitch: Convincing Your Boss(es) to Confidently Spend (More) on Advertising
As an analyst and PPC nerd, I thought about what topics I end up coming back to over and over again. That topic was centered around proving the effect of marketing so that we could have a bigger (and practical) budget.
Historically, marketing departments that are set up as cost centers are the first to get cut, budgets slashed, and are rarely seen by organizations as the true sales enablers they are. It makes sense too – it’s difficult to measure, track, and prove the exact influence of the budget compared to the other departments in an organization. Out of this problem has come many wins and losses in getting my ideas and projects accepted by stakeholders and decision makers.
My passion as a marketer has always been around analytics and being a customer-centric data evangelist. So how could I take the problem I’m always facing (proving larger budgets) and my passion projects (customer centricity) and turn them into a talk? The marriage of these ideas was immediately clear to me (my nerd moment) because every time I have that problem I turn to the context of data to support my case.
I had my topic and wrote out a very early outline. That outline led me to read two dozen research papers on the topic of customer-centric thinking, data maturity, transformative practices for businesses, books on CLV and decision making, and ultimately podcasts while I was driving to work and back. I had only started digesting the information I needed when I settled on a draft outline for my pitch that helped me fill out the submission (here’s a snapshot of that draft):
|I ended up with a pretty different outline than this one-pager when it came time to build my presentation spanning 20+ pages. My manila folder was bulging with research on the topic.|
|I kept gravitating towards CLV… so I highlighted with various colors every mention of the topic in my research, coded it for the specific area it spoke to, and built a guide to help me stay focused. Here’s what that looked like:|
From this, I wrote my 20+ page presentation in the form of a long essay broken up by headers and slide numbers, so I had exactly what I needed to build my slide deck. I even wrote a blog on the topic of CLV to prep for my talk. I basically wrote out everything I’d want to talk about in the order (like a story) that I’d want to talk about it. I felt that although I wasn’t planning on reading from a script when I spoke, I still wanted to have some idea of all the possible information I could talk about for each section. Initially, I scoped the talk to be 105 minutes long, and I had 30-40 minutes to give my talk, so a lot needed to be condensed.
|Here’s the 20+ pager:|
The condensing happened over three months… January ‘til the end of March, when I set to have everything done. I only had to prepare for one single conference talk, so I could be fairly liberal with my time while I worked, finish my MBA, and had my fourth kid (not much happening at all). I was able to give my talk to my marketing team here at CallSource, and over three different occasions, they helped me narrow my talk substantially. I was able to refine what I wanted to say up until the day that presentations were due (here’s what my title slide looked like):
Then came practice, practice, practice… I think I spent a few days running through the slides in full. The day before I spoke I took a few hours to run through the first dozen slides to make sure I could memorize what I wanted to say and in the right order. The morning of, I practiced just the first few slides until I was very comfortable with it. When the time came, I wasn’t nervous but excited to share all that I had learned and put into this talk. Preparing for months and pouring hours into this helped me realize what it takes to speak at these kinds of events.
You think you know what to expect, but it was a wonderful surprise to feel the support of other speakers, attendees, and my team here at CallSource who helped me. That’s why you should speak because you will stretch yourself and push yourself in ways you didn’t know possible.
Outside of speaking at the event, you get to attend all of the sessions. That includes keynotes, breakout sessions, lunch, and networking events.
As a speaker, you gravitate towards other speakers because you are all in the same boat, but it’s important to connect with the attendees. These people are some of the nerdiest and most passionate marketers on the planet, and they are there to hear you and others talk marketing. What could be better?!
Traveling is a hog… planes, hotels, Uber/taxis, shuttles, parking, checking in and checking out. It takes a lot of effort and resources to make the best of it. I filled up 20 pages of notes in my event notebook with tons of notes to reference when I got back. Unless you’ve got a photographic memory, I would take notes galore. When speaking try to film, take pictures of, and record your talk (ask the event manager if you can or if they can) for a way to document your achievement. At HeroConf there are a handful of speakers that show up each and every year because they deliver impactful talks and the attendees want them back. Speaking is a tremendous privilege and if you rock everyone’s socks… you might get invited to speak again!
- Speaking is a long-term proposition. Plan at least 6 months to a year out.
- Find the right events and do your homework to understand the audience and topics that you are passionate about for the event.
- Take your pitch seriously and ensure that you have solid takeaways for attendees.
- Refine your presentation and use the support of your company or your network to help you focus your talk.
- Attend the rest of the event and network with your tribe!
- Learn more about HeroConf here.