I’ve said before that conference production is at its core, a sales role – particularly when it comes to speaker acquisition. One of the key measures of a conference is the quality of the speaker faculty, and convincing 20 – 30+ VPs, CEOs etc to take time out of their lives to prepare a presentation, travel to your event and share their experience with a room full of competitors, is no small task.
In any sale there needs to be a pay off for both sides. Sales is not persuading someone to do something that has no value for them – it is showing them the value of what you want them to do. There is huge value for senior execs in all industries to come out and speak at events – unfortunately they are often not aware of what the true benefits are and so it is common to find that the best potential speakers want expenses and fees that as organisers we can’t afford to pay them.
Ultimately when we can’t persuade the best people to speak it leads to a lower quality of event, and less value for every one that attends, so here’s my take on why speakers should invest a little time and money in our conferences:
It’s good PR for their company
Fielding a senior speaker at key industry events keeps a company’s profile at the front of the collective industry mindset. Speaking at conferences is a great way for a company to cement its position in the market and to define how people think of them. Depending on the content and position of your presentation you can pitch yourself as a market leader, an innovator, customer focused, solutions focused, etc. etc.
There is a fair chance at any conference that some of the people who are watching your presentation may some day soon be looking for their next job in the industry – if you’ve positioned yourself right they may well look to you. If you didn’t take part, and prospective talent in that audience is going to be speaking to the competition…
Industry press also frequent conferences, making them great places to get your latest product or innovation noticed and talked about.
It’s good PR for them
As a lot of senior bankers recently discovered, no matter how good you are, and how secure you think your position is, there will come a time when you may well be looking for your next job. Speaking at events is a great way to raise your personal brand, demonstrating to potential future employers that you are at the cutting edge of your industry. Likewise, it can be a good way of demonstrating to your current employer how highly regarded you are outside the company. Then there’s always the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit to think about after retirement – better get practicing now!
It’s good for the industry
Yes, commercial conferences exist to make a profit – but we wouldn’t last long if we didn’t do a good service for the industries we work in. Conferences are way for an industry to come together and find solutions to common challenges that benefit the industry as a whole. The networking and exchange of ideas that conferences facilitate help to move companies and industries forwards – and speakers have a critical role to play in that.
Speaking comes with perks
Speakers get to enjoy all the benefits of the entire conference without paying any portion of the delegate fee – which is often several thousand pounds. Not bad for a few hours work preparing and delivering a presentation on a topic you already know.
A few days out of the office in a 5 star hotel is an attractive prospect for most people, and if we as organisers can’t cover the airfare and accommodation there is a fair chance that a speaker’s company will. There is always an arrangement that can be reached, and I think it is almost unheard of for a speaker to have to put their hand in their own pocket to cover their costs.
In my time as a conference producer I have seen the very real benefits of speaking and chairing events. On one occasion I had an email shortly after a conference from one of the speakers who, after getting down from the podium, had done several $mm deals with new investors from the audience. I know another chap who landed a fantastic role as Executive Director of a new business unit after his presentation brought him to the attention of his new employer. Just a couple of examples of tangible pay-offs from speaking, but I am sure that most conference producers could add one or two of their own – use the comments box below to share your stories.
Speaker bureaus would have us believe that the best speakers are only available for a high fee. I disagree - the best speakers are those that have a vested interest in the industry and in the event, and who can see the real value of being there. The way to get them is simply to show them that value.
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