How I Spoke at Seven Conferences and How You Can Too…
Yesterday I did a post on The Seven Surefire Ways to Become an SEO Rockstar. I like doing humorous posts and hope you enjoyed it, but I thought I’d also do a more serious post about growing a persona in the industry and getting noticed – because to some degree I feel like I’ve done it. In the last nine months I’ve spoken at seven events (two were panels). I had never done it before.
I’m certainly not the best speaker on the circuit, and I will never have the most practical advice to give about SEO (I’d say listen to Richard Baxter, Wil Reynolds or Sam Crocker for that). I guess what I’m most proud of is that I’m not in a company that has regular speakers at events and no one has encouraged me to do it – I just wanted to do it, and I managed it off my own back. I’ve managed to get onstage a few times and deliver some half decent stuff that’s got some decent feedback. If you’re gunning for something similar, I felt like there were ten key things to do it. All my slide decks are in this post.
#1 Read Lots
Read a lot. Don’t be too worried about blogs – books give you a more concrete point of reference, and you can normally trust them. However, if you’re giving practical advice always read and reference blog posts. You can’t really do good stuff without knowledge – you’ll just talk a whole lot of hot air. If you’re not sure where to start, then read all of the books in my resources section first (I need to update this). You’ll end up knowing a fair amount about digital marketing.
#2 Set a Definable Goal
Set yourself a definable goal. Before I started doing any networking, the end result was to be on the stage at SMX London. This was the first search conference I ever went to and one I had immense respect for. Ultimately, I reached the goal, but reaching that wasn’t the best part. It was about meeting a whole new bunch of friends and finding out about a world I never knew existed on the way there.
#3 Start Inhouse
Practice speaking within your own company first. Be it presentations at meetings, client meetings, wherever. Speaking outside is a different ball game – an external audience who are really looking for actionable advice. If you’re under confident and crap onstage, you won’t get away with it. You might not get invited back either.
Network hard. People in this industry drink beer (ED. NOTE: apart from Dan Barker ) – if you want to network them, you probably should too. While alcohol covers a multitude of sins, there’s nothing quite like it for breaking down barriers and meeting new people. Outside of London, it’s not so easy – and even there meet ups aren’t that regular. You’ve got to make the most of your time and talk to people – read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone or Marcus Taylor’s Get Noticed. Find out about events, go to them and don’t be shy.
#5 Be Original
Talk about original stuff. I’m completely tired of presentations about link building! How to do outreach emails, or how it’s about relationships/hustle/influencers/great content. To me, presentations that talk about done to death topics very seldom stand out from the crowd. Position yourself as unique – I largely focus on convergence marketing. I never and will never focus a presentation on link building or outreach. If you’ve been to 3-4 conferences and think you can deliver something that you’ve not heard before, you’ll be in a good place. People like refreshing stuff.
#6 Don’t Be Superfluous
Simplify your slide deck. When building a deck it’s easy to go off on one with your sudden love for Powerpoint and invest time in pretty pictures and diagrams, only to bin all your hard work when the talk doesn’t flow. Think about structure in simple terms – make a point with a couple of slides and move to a related point. Do not flit between unrelated topics or just stick stuff in because you think it makes you look clever. I’ve been there, listing a load of books in the vain hope it would give me kudos; fortunately it never saw the light of day.
#7 Practice Relentlessly
Practice your speech to no end. Some people write the slide deck in a couple of hours the night before and manage the perfect delivery. These people will be abnormally comfortable onstage, usually after years of practice. Don’t believe you’ll be like them when you start out. Unless you are blessed with supreme confidence, the only way to kill the nerves is to make your delivery absolutely tight. Practice relentlessly. In the days before the conference, I don’t really consider any time as free – I am completely obsessed by the delivery and I only return to normal afterwards.
#8 Make it Funny (Where Possible)
Do it with a smile. Confidence is not an easy thing to find – and most of the time preceding my entry to the stage, I’m absolutely shitting myself. I try and break the ice by telling or joke or making my title intriguing enough to take notice. Once I see some indication of interest from the crowd, be it a laugh or a nod, that’s normally it and I’m away. If you walk on with a dull title and fixate on your slides in monotone you’re in a world of forget. No one will remember you for the right reasons; follow the other suggestions and your confidence will rise naturally.
#9 Take it Online
Back it up with online content. Speaking is just part of your profile, but you have to carry on the conversation outside of events that won’t come quickly at first. I got lucky this Spring with a combination of pitches and invites. It was only after some initial success and reputation building via guest posting, networking and my own content that people took any notice. If you deliver something amazing to one room and do nothing else, you probably still won’t have conference organisers requesting your presence. If you follow the next tip, eventually that may occur.
#10 Never Stop
This is the hardest part. If you don’t love what you do and don’t want to invest a huge amount of time in your career and hustle constantly, it’s unlikely you’ll be onstage regularly any time soon. In the week, I never really stopped working other than the odd evening on the beers. ‘Working’ of course, takes many forms in social networking – going to events, tweeting, blogging, reading, creating slide decks, doing real work in work hours. It completely engulfs your life, but ultimately, it makes you feel fulfilled, respected and valued. I don’t know why I want to do it – I’m not doing it for any real business gain (other than employing people, it has no effect on our business). I guess I do it because I love the rush, and I’m fascinated by the outcome.