Featured Post

Update: SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

It was a little over a year ago that I posted the " SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me? " in which I detailed o...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Deux - Speakers

(yeah, just "Speakers")

It's Saturday 2 weeks before the event begins, and I am finding myself focusing on getting these speakers confirmed, their profiles on the website, their talks in the agenda, and their details emailed to them. At times I feel like I can take an hour or two to relax (and watch mindless sitcoms on Hulu) and there are times I feel like there is too much to do and I can't take a break.

17 Days Until the Event

Status Update: 
Speakers: 26 out of 29 speakers confirmed
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 0
Agenda: 2-4 spots left to fill (I reworked the times and cut back a few slots)
Logistics: Still need to coordinate F&B, layout of room, AV, Video Recordings, Meetup event details, Party details, and Photographer.
Marketing/Promotion: Started on Daily Emails - still need to get speaker emails set up as well as the marketing emails; schedule tweets, Facebook updates, get a Google+ event update schedule figured out (can't schedule those - have to do them manually), update Lanyrd,  finish last years videos, print materials for event (signs, schedules, promotion of next events) and oh so much more.
Master of Ceremonies: Still Me
Volunteers: 0 (possibly 1 or 2)

A Note to Speakers - or Advice when Speaking at a Conference  

However you wish to take it

After my close friend, and fellow SES conference frequenter Simon Heseltine confirmed that he will be in San Francisco the day of my Birthday party, I asked him if he had time to come speak at the conference as well. The day he confirmed I saw his post on SEW "The Guide to Speaking at Search & Social Conferences" and it got me thinking once again about the frustrations I get with speakers for every event I plan.

There are certain triggers and qualities in the people that approach me about speaking that send up red flags of warning. I often wonder if they know they are discouraging the person that approves their speaking, and if they knew they were doing it that maybe they would stop. I have thought about writing a post that talks to those wanting to speak, but worry I might offend someone. Well, no one reads this blog anyways (there are 1-3 visits to it each week), so why not do it here? If someone is offended by what I have to say, and to the point where they cancel their speaking on me, well... I guess I didn't need them to speak anyways (so there *sticksouttongue*).

Some of the points Simon makes are very valuable - so I'm going to call them out, and perhaps add to them so anyone that reads this can get more insight from a planner as well as someone with experience speaking. So, you should probably read Simon's article now (if you really want to get something out of this).

Speaking at a search or social conference like SES brings with it a few perks.
Most (not all) conferences will give you a free conference pass as a speaker, which makes it much easier to get your boss to agree to let you leave the office for a week to go to locations including London, New York City, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

Note the "few perks" including a free conference pass, and great locations to visit. For example "San Francisco" which is one of our conference locations. Even cooler, is my conference in Hawaii. The reason why I point this out is because a lot of speakers (and I'm talking about people I have personally never heard of before, haven't met, and don't have a very impressive background) will ask me about T&E coverage and an Honorarium. When I started planning these conferences I had grand visions of paying travel and expenses to every speaker, and giving them a gift in the form of a iPad, or something cool, as a "thank you" for speaking.

But then reality set in and the budget of a conference that is just starting out is not big by any means, and I just haven't been able to compensate the speakers. What I have been doing is offering them an all access pass to the event they are speaking at and, in addition, provide them two passes to hand out. To them it's worth $3,000-$4,000 with my out of pocket being just $1,000-$2,000 (depending on what they eat and drink, what activity they go to, if they use those extra passes, etc). Most speakers are perfectly happy with it, and some even get very excited and appreciative of the extra passes they get. But, there are a few that not only ask about T&E but then actually tell me they won't speak unless something is paid out to them. As I mentioned in my last post, the speaker that filled out the form requesting to speak (which clearly states all the details) actually 2 weeks before the event asked for T&E and honorarium, then told me he won't speak since he isn't getting compensated.  It's really no skin off my back as I can always find another speaker, but it frustrates me that I gave him a spot, have been sending him communications, and so close to the event he cancels. He is no exception... It happens often.

What gets me through it is the speakers that do end up speaking at our events. They love getting on stage and inspire the attendees. They show up to all of the networking events and activities and get to know attendees. In the end, when we weed out those that are above speaking for the sheer passion of the community and the greater good that we are all working towards, it makes for a very valuable event in the end.

Planning Your Conferences

Think about the topic(s) that you’re able to speak on knowledgeably, and that your company will allow you to talk about. Look for conferences that align with those topics by looking at the agenda for previous events. While prior events may not necessarily have had a session on that exact topic, when you make your pitch many conferences will add in new or consolidate new with existing sessions in order to keep the content fresh and up to date.
Wappow! conferences are extremely different from any other conference out there. There are often times that speakers fill out our form and I can tell that they haven't researched our event. EmMeCon in particular is a TED like event (which is the closest I can come to explaining it quickly) - the topics are a quick 20 minutes and are meant to be inspirational. We look into the future of technology and will ask the questions "Where are we going?", "Where have we been?", and "How did we get here?" often. I get so many speaking proposals wanting to talk about "How brands can benefit from social media" which is great, but everyone wants to cover it, and this event is for the advanced, it's not about teaching, but rather about inspiring. If speakers would take the time and watch our videos, check out the agenda, and get to know the event, then they would have a much better chance of getting chosen to speak.

Pre-Conference Prep

You should get an email from the conference giving you all the details about your session (e.g., timings, fellow speakers, moderator, equipment), about the conference (e.g., dress code, expected level of attendees, and other event logistics), and most likely some badges to display on your blog or website.
I skipped "The Speaking Pitch" - I highly recommend reading it, he's pretty spot on. So, onto preparing for the conference. I highlighted here that Simon points out how "You should get an email from the conference giving you all the details...". I cannot stress enough the importance of each speaker watching for that email and all emails following. I personally (since I am a one-woman operation) spend at least 2-3 hours (often more) crafting up the emails making sure speakers have all the details. Not only to make sure they have everything they need, but to hopefully avoid the one-off emails I get from them asking the same questions that I spend the time putting in the emails. In fact, I just got the question as I am typing this "How many attendees are there? What is the recommended hotel? ". There have been 3 emails mentioning the hotel - and a reminder that they needed to book their stay before yesterday or they would miss out on the discounted rate (that I carefully negotiated with the Hotel). Now because this person didn't pay attention to her emails she will have to pay full price for her room. I don't write those emails for my benefit, I write them for their benefit... but I will still get complaints that the hotel is too expensive, or get questions regarding the logistics of the event.

Preparing Your Presentation

Many conferences require that you submit your presentation electronically a week or so in advance. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes, should it need further refining, or should some new data or news become available that would be of value to the audience.

Back when I was speaking I never had a conference ask for a Power Point before the event. In-fact I usually emailed it to the person in charge or brought it up to the AV person on a thumb drive just before I spoke. I started asking for presentations ahead of time because, now that I am on the other side, getting the presentation as they are going on stage causes a lot of confusion, delays, and looks unprofessional to the audience.

I know the last few events there was confusion as PPTs weren't queued up and there wasn't a consistent person manning them. It's something I plan on making sure doesn't happen this time, and speakers sending me their PPTs days before the event relies heavily on that.


Make sure to show up at least 15 minutes before you’re scheduled to speak. Check that your presentation is on the machine and is the latest version (if not, whip out your thumb drive). Make sure that any videos or audio you have work correctly, then head to the rest room as unlike the attendees you’re not able to leave the room should nature demand so.
Listen to your fellow presenters speak. They may say something that you can tie into your presentation, or during the audience question-and-answer period.

I can't stress Simon's point enough that you show up at least 15 minutes early and to listen to what your fellow presenters have to say. I actually ask our speakers to attend the entire event. I'm so particular about this that I will not ask someone back if they just show up for their talk, present, and then leave shortly after. Staying for a full day, or even the full three days bodes well with me, and will get them asked back every time. Someone that stays and adds value by attending the networking events will also get recommendations from me to some of the larger more prominent conferences (yes, conference organizers know each other and we talk).

The rest of Simon's post covers Q&A and a few more helpful tips that I strongly recommend read and fully understanding.

More Notes (from me)

Just a couple more pointers to add to Simon's post.

Check your ego at the door

Just because you were chosen to speak, does not mean that you are any smarter or better than anyone else at the event. You may think you belong to the "speaker's club" but the truth is there is no club. Whatever celebrity you feel while at the conference, it goes away when you get back home to your friends and family. Trust me, I've been there. I thought I was a celebrity with people lining up to meet me after I spoke. People would buy me drinks, pick my brain, and hand me their cards hoping that I would talk to them after the event is over. When I started planning events instead of speaking that all went away. Now no one knows my name, no one even knows I am the person that organizes the conference - I am just the "man" behind the curtain. I don't even see articles mentioning my name as a top SEO, Social Media, etc. expert or writers asking to interview me anymore.

To add - my favorite speakers include Myron McMillin, Lynne D Johnson, Dr. David Evans, Evan FishkinGillian Muessig, Bill Leake, Shravan Goli, Zoe Harris, Jeff Jonas, Pascal Schuback, Scott Porad, Ian Lurie, Mike Yao, Josh Rizzo, and a long list of brilliant and inspirational speakers that are just like everyone else. If you're looking to speak, spend some time with these people (you can find them at my events, and soem at other events too). Each and every one of them has a passion for helping others and if asked, will tell you they have no idea why I love them as speakers so much (I admire their modesty).

Be Appreciative

Organizing a conference is not an easy task, and the costs that come with that far outweigh the financial benefits. Every person I talk to that organizes conferences have the same passion for what they do that I seem to have. We get a high off of the value that people get from the event we planned for them. That is all the reward we need. If you have ever organized an event, you probably know that there is absolutely no money in it. If there is, then the event tends to lose it's integrity - speakers are booked without given the topic of person presenting it any thought. Sponsors provide thousands of dollars to market to the attendees, and boy do they market to the attendees.

If you understand what we organizers put into the event, you will appreciate the chance to speak at one. Show your attendees appreciation for paying money to be there to see you speak. Thank your conference organizer for all the hard work and effort they put in to make the show happen. Talk to other fellow speakers and admire the efforts they put in to being there just as you did.

Lastly - Be Professional

I haven't had a problem with this at my events (thankfully) but I have read some pretty horrific reportings and even articles regarding harassment, "hooking up", and general misconduct at conferences. What attendees do, is their business, but speakers are also representing the conference they are speaking at during networking and other activities associated with the event. If I know a speaker tends to behave inappropriately, I won't ask them to speak. I myself am no perfect angel, but I know enough not to drink too much or carry on inappropriately at a conference. I also don't drink at my own events (though my 40th Birthday Party at this EmMeCon might be the exception).

If you are truly serious about speaking, memorize Simon's post, and head my rantings just the same, and you will be an amazing speaker. If you wish to speak at one of my events - there is a form (and an official process) on the website. Don't contact me directly, it just annoys me.