Fierce competition for speaking opportunities. Shrinking session times. Trend back to in-person events.

These are just a few of the findings of Scarlino Speaker Strategies, LLC’s State of Conference Speaking in 2024 survey, in which we asked conference organizers from around the world about their agenda planning processes. We asked respondents what types of events they are planning in 2024 and other questions to better understand what subject matter experts and executive speakers can expect over the next 12 months. Some of the more notable findings included:

Shrinking Session Length – Organizers shared that 66% of keynotes today are less than 30 minutes long. Fireside chats (even those with two speakers plus a moderator) tend to last between 18 – 30 minutes. And panels mostly run between 30 – 45 minutes. The days of back-to-back 1 hour-long sessions are over. This trend started years ago and highlights the effect that TED talks have had on the industry.

Early Planning Process – 58% of the conference managers who responded to our survey begin inviting speakers at least six months in advance of the event. Some begin to extend invites as early as 12 months or longer. Many that we surveyed already had confirmed speakers through June of 2024. Interestingly enough, we have seen an increasing number of events add a second ‘call for content’ within a couple of months of an event to highlight current topics that the attendees might be interested in.

Virtual Speaking is Virtually Gone – More than 8 in 10 of survey respondents noted that they are planning live, in-person events in 2024 and will only accept virtual speakers in rare instances.

Hyper Competitive Speaker Selection – Almost half of the conference managers we surveyed accept fewer than 20% of the speaker suggestions they receive. Even more pronounced, one-third of all organizers surveyed accept 1 in 10 speaker proposals or less!

Based on these insights, you may think your chances of getting into a conference are slim. But we see reasons to be encouraged. Many organizers shared they are increasing the number of events they will producing over the next 12 months. And across the board, organizers are responding to attendee feedback and finding ways to fit more relevant content onto their agendas.

Our biggest takeaway? The conference world is hungry for more in-person content in 2024!

And though competition is fierce, our readers are in luck, because we have a few pieces of advice on how to increase your chances (besides working with Speaker Strategies):

  1. Understand conference focus – Do your homework! Make sure that you understand the conference theme and focus before you suggest a topic. Conferences often shift the focus year-to-year, and you don’t want to simply assume that one topic idea will work at every event. What worked last year may be outdated or obsolete. Consider how you can tailor your topic to the conference theme.
  2. Content is King – Spend a considerable amount of time creating a topic idea so that it will be beneficial to attendees. People attend events to learn something they cannot just read online. Clearly articulate the lessons that attendees will take away from your session. A clever, pithy title can help.
  3. Match titles and experience level – If all of the other speakers on an agenda are CXO-level executives, you should only suggest speakers with similar titles. Review previous conference agenda to determine what titles were used in the keynote spots and in the breakout session spots – then make your suggestions accordingly. It is also important to understand whether sponsorship is required to speak, which may be the case at some events.