We all know that networking is a major key to success, and conferences are an amazing place to do it. All the important industry players from all over the world are there—in one city, in one building. You would be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many of these people as possible. Of course you can buy a conference pass, make laps around the networking happy hours—shaking hands and giving your elevator pitch on repeat. But there is a better way. What if I told you that you could introduce yourself to everyone there at once? You can, by becoming a speaker.
Get Your First Gig
It doesn’t happen overnight. No one is going to ask you to speak at their conference, especially if you’re still new in the industry. Much like being an actor, you have to build a portfolio.
The most important thing is getting that first break. If you’re not active on social media, now is the time to boost your social media presence. If the organizers haven’t heard of you, the first thing they are going to do is look for you on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They are going to check not only the number of followers you have, but the quality of your content and the amount of engagement you receive.
Aim for a smaller conference that you’ve attended in the past that is most relevant to your experience or industry and reach out to the organizers. Avoid the sponsorship people. If they have “sales”, “partnerships”, or basically anything that implies some sort of transaction in their title, don’t engage. Most likely they will ask you for money to speak at their event. Try to get in touch with event organizers with editorial titles. Look for titles that include “engagement” “events” and “creative”. These people are focused on content and putting together a great event, they usually aren’t concerned with money at all.
When you get in contact with the right person, pitch yourself like you’ve never pitched yourself before. This is not the time to be humble, not even fake humble, boast about all your experience and accomplishments, name drop, whatever you have to do to make yourself sound awesome. You’re trying to convey to them just how relevant you are for their conference and how what you can share can make it extraordinary.
Maybe you won’t be able to get in as a keynote speaker for your first gig, if that’s the case, panels are a good way to get your feet wet. Jump on panels with people you know in your industry that already have a spot. Organizers are usually pretty willing to add people to panels, even at the last minute, especially if you know someone else on the panel.
Once you get that first speaking opportunity, the most important thing is that you don’t drop the ball. You have to be better than good, you have to be amazing. Think about everything that annoys you about guest speakers and avoid it.
Get psyched. You have to be high energy, there’s nothing worse than a monotonous and unenthused speaker. Remember, you are there to inspire and engage. Show your audience passion for your industry, it’s contagious.
Be sure not to let your passion get away from you. Don’t ramble—remember to pause and breathe. I always try to speak in bite-sized chunks, not only is it easier for the audience to follow but it also makes you extremely quotable. Think tweetable. After I started breaking my speeches in to tweetable chunks, sure enough, people started tweeting my talks. That’s the ultimate audience engagement and you should strive for it. If you’re on a panel, that’s even better. You have time to formulate your thoughts while others are speaking and come up with a really thoughtful and interesting response.
Lastly, make sure you have thoughtful creative assets. Gone are the days of PowerPoint slides with pictures and bullet points. Think about including GIFs, videos, Memes—make it fun! You’re equal parts educator and entertainer, it’s the small details that will make you memorable.
One Opportunity Will Lead to Another
Every single time you get on stage there will be an opportunity for another speaking engagement. Someone in your audience will likely be an organizer at another conference and can and will recommend you—if you’re good. After your first few speaking gigs you will see a snowball effect. Every speaking engagement can be used to boost your resume for your next. Being able to name conferences you’ve spoken at previously, especially if it’s on video, will immediately bring you to the top of the stack of speaking proposal for top conferences.
At some point, most likely after your first really big spot, organizers will start reaching out to you. The gig that really put me on the map was a keynote spot at SxSW Interactive. Anyone that is anyone goes to SxSW, so I was able to speak in front of tremendous influencers and got tons of requests to speak after that. Also, it was easy to get gigs being able to say that I spoke at SxSW.
If you want to take your career to the next level and boost your networking results at conferences, you have to stop being an attendee and start being a speaker. Focus on getting your first gig, building your portfolio, being a memorable and engaging speaker and using opportunities to open doors to new opportunities. Being an awesome conference speaker guarantees that you will get yourself and your story in front of people that are going to be beneficial for your career development and your business.