There are many misconceptions about best practices in speaker program management. Whenever you combine a conference industry that is trying to stay on top of the timeliest trends with companies who are attempting to plan their calendars, product announcements and travel schedules months, or years in advance, it is a challenge to get everyone on the same page (or conference agenda, in this case). After having several conversations with both conference managers and clients, I realized that there are several myths out there about how to run an effective speaker program. Below I’ve tried to debunk the five most common…
Myth #1: Develop specific target event list for each executive, and only focus on those conferences.
Many companies and agencies stand behind the practice of developing a target event list for each executive at the beginning of each year. The goal is to proactively pursue a specific set of events associated with an executive based on a predetermined platform. The challenge with a static list is that it doesn’t take into account potential changes in a conference’s theme year-to-year. For example, the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Conference on the west coast switched its focus from mobile to digital to AI over the course of a few years. If that event had been on an executive’s list who could not address AI, it would no longer be appropriate, leaving a gap in their event participation plan. Instead of separate executive event lists, I suggest creating a master list of the conferences where you would like your company to have a presence. Then, as each one begins its agenda planning process, do your homework to determine (based on the event theme and timing) who the best company speaker might be and what topic they would address.
Myth #2: Members of the C-Suite should only do solo keynote presentations.
Most leadership and industry conferences are moving away from the hour-long, solo keynote speaker format. Conference feedback forms have revealed that attendees prefer short sessions (average is now less than 30 minutes) that involve a conversation or some interactive element. This may either be in the form of a fireside chat interview, an executive panel, or a debate. Since conference producers are trying to sell tickets, they will create an agenda based on attendee preferences. Therefore, unless the conference under consideration is your company’s own annual meeting or your executive speaker is popular and charismatic enough to attracts hundreds of attendees regardless of the format, then you should aim to manage the C-suite’s expectations when it comes to the types of speaking opportunities for which they may be invited.
Myth #3: Accept every speaking invitation that you receive.
When you have an executive or subject matter expert who is trying to build his or her speaking resume, it is a smart strategy to accept most speaking invitations. But a strong speaker program is built around finding the best, and most relevant places to tell a story to target audiences in a timely way. If your executive appears everywhere from the local Chamber of Commerce to every industry event on the calendar, their appeal as a speaker may wane. Some conference managers may think that the speaker will no longer be a draw because attendees have likely already heard his or her talk. Make sure that you are striking a balance between creating a speaker presence and overexposing your executive speakers.
Myth #4: You should make as many speaker submissions as possible to increase chances of acceptance.
While this is statistically true, it is rarely the best strategy when submitting speakers. Your speaker suggestions should be carefully developed based on the ideas that your company is most eager to share at the conference, the topics or theme on which the conference is based, and the speakers who are best qualified to deliver those topics based on the timing and target audience. Conferences typically limit the number of speakers from each company on the agenda. Therefore, you want to be sure that every speaker submission you make fits the above criteria. You also don’t want the conference managers to think you are just running up the numbers to increase your odds. That strategy could work against you.
Myth #5: Talk about your products or company on stage to increase visibility.
The surest way to turn off an audience is to use the conference dais as a platform to sell a company or product. Even if your company paid for the speaking session as part of an event sponsorship, your speaker should avoid talking about why your product or company is so great while on stage. Attendees are interested in learning something new. That is why people attend conferences. If you focus on best practices that attendees can use in their daily work or life, they will begin to see you as a thought leader or industry expert. This can lead to additional conversations and even future sales. Conference stages are not the appropriate place to sell your product unless you are part of a pitch competition. Otherwise, save the product discussions for the expo floor.