Episode 192

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Speaking engagements can be a great way for agency owners to connect with their sweet spot prospects and be immediately perceived as a subject matter expert. Wanting to book speaking gigs and being successful at making that happen are two very different things. Even if you have some speaking engagements under your belt, getting chosen by a conference planner is another challenge to navigate.

Even seasoned pros must keep their eyes on the prize. I have always used speaking as one of my primary biz dev strategies (for both my agency and AMI) but I learned early on that it’s easy to get discouraged, distracted, or dismissed if you don’t have a smart strategy in place.

How do you build a speaking strategy that serves your agency business development objectives?
In episode #192, I talk with Steve Markman, who offers some hard-earned, straightforward advice on preparing a speaker proposal and getting it noticed by decision-makers. We also talk about how to determine whether a particular speaking opportunity is the right strategic move. We even tackle the age-old question of “should I speak for free?”

We’ll dig into all the nitty-gritty details of how to take full advantage of the right speaking platforms and when to stay home.

Steve Markman started Markman Speaker Management, LLC in 1994. It’s a speaker’s bureau with access to an international network of speakers in all fields and industries. He also coaches business owners and professionals on how to best speak for the right reasons to the right audiences.

Steve has over 30 years of experience in the conference, event, and speaker business, working with groups like the Conference Board and Comdex. Having been a conference producer working with some of the world’s largest events, Steve understands the importance of quality speaking engagements from both the speaker and conference planner perspectives.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The key components of a speaker proposal
  • How to respond to a call for speakers
  • How to ensure the audience is your target market
  • How to establish a connection with the conference organizer
  • The difference between formal and informal speaker submissions
  • Best practices for organizing your conference presentation
  • How to measure the value of presenting, even if need to pay your own expenses
  • How many speaking engagements is too many
“It’s never too early to strike up a relationship with the person in charge of the conference you want to speak at.” – @markmanspeaker Click To Tweet “Don't worry about getting paid by the conference. You should think about getting paid by the future client that you're going to get as a result of speaking.” – @markmanspeaker Click To Tweet “Using your unique point of view and approach to problem-solving can help you stand out from other potential speakers vying for a spot at a conference.” – @markmanspeaker Click To Tweet “The key to a proposal for speaking is to follow up. Don’t just submit it and wait for them to get back to you.” – @markmanspeaker Click To Tweet “The quickest way to get your speaking proposal rejected is to present a sales pitch.” – @markmanspeaker Click To Tweet

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It doesn’t matter what kind of agency run. Traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR. Whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. That’s why Agency Management Institute started the Build A Better Agency podcast a few years ago. We help agencies just like yours grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Welcome back if this is not your first episode, thanks for joining us if this is. Today’s topic is one that I know is at least marginally top of mind for all of you, and I think should be more top of mind than perhaps it is. And it’s this whole idea of using speaking engagements to position yourself and your agency as subject matter experts. Not only in marketing, but typically in your niche, or your vertical, or your subject matter expertise around a particular deliverable, whether it’s SEO, or social, or whatever it may be.

But for many of you, you have either played around with the idea, or you’re quite intentional about the idea of trying to get on stages where the audience are all potential clients of yours.

So I think many of us enjoy speaking publicly. I think many of us find value in it from a networking point of view. But I think with a little more thought and precision, we can really have this be a key element of our business development efforts.

So what I’m going to suggest to you is A, that you be really, really, really judicious about where you speak and making sure that the audience is not a vanity audience. So I get asked to speak at conferences where basically my peers are going to be. And I love them and I love hanging out with them. And I love hearing them speak and I learn from them. But there’s no one in that audience or there are very few people in that audience who are going to hire my company to do anything.

So there’s nothing wrong with my accepting those speaking engagements. And sometimes I do, just because they’re fun. But it’s not a biz dev effort. So I think the first step is figuring out who it is that would be in that ideal audience, and then starting to find conferences where those folks gather.

And then, how do you construct a presentation in a way that demonstrates your expertise without feeling like a sales pitch? Because obviously if you do that once, you are not going to be invited back to the conference a second time. And it also is not effective with the audience. You want to show them how smart you are. And you hear me say this all the time, by asking the question, how can I help my audience be better at their job today? What can I teach them, or show them, or talk to them about that will allow them to be more effective at their work today and demonstrate that this is how we help clients every day?

So I have invited to speak with us today a guest who knows all about the speaking gigs. So early in his career, he was a research director, and he worked for The Society of Professional Consultants. He’s worked for the conference board. So he was COMDEX. He was the guy that booked speakers for many, many years. So understood sort of the ins and outs of that from the conferences perspective. And then he launched Markman Speaker Management.

So Steve Markman is his name. And Steve now works with speakers of all varieties. So keynote speakers, people like you and me who are speaking because we have a business objective to doing it. Authors, folks like that. And helping them get on the right stages to advance whatever it is their goal is around speaking. So I asked Steve to come talk to us about some best practices, some tricks and tips of the trade that will help us make sure that we are getting out there, that we are getting on the right stages. And once we are on that stage, that we present ourselves in a way that is super effective for our biz dev efforts. So that’s the plan for today. Let’s get right to it.

All right. Let’s welcome Steve to the podcast. Steve, welcome.

Steve Markman:

Thanks Drew. Happy to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Happy to have you. Hey. So as I was saying in the introduction, for many agencies, there’s a huge desire to be on the right stage as part of their dev program, as part of their positioning themselves as a subject matter experts not only in marketing, but probably in many cases in a specific niche or industry. But many agencies struggle with how to get on the radar screen of the people who are planning those events, how to identify the events, and then how to make sure that their presentation is next then the result that they want. I know that that’s all things that you teach and talk about. So that’s where I want to dig in. So let’s start with this idea of how should agencies go about identifying the right stages for them to appear on?

Steve Markman:

Sure. Well, the key thing is to match up the talks that you have with the right places to speak at. So it depends on what kind of an agency you are. So the audience should always reflect the people that you sell to. If you’re a general agency serving all industries, you could go to marketing conferences that serve all industries. If you’re an agency that serves the pharmaceutical industry, or something else in life sciences, or in some other sector, you want to research those events that reflect those customers and the clients of yours.

Drew McLellan:

Where would I go to research that? Is there a place that has a list of all the conferences and who the audiences are? How do I do that legwork?

Steve Markman:

Sure. So there are numerous places to look at it. You start obviously with the internet. So your best friend is of course Google. And you can simply type in marketing conferences.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So there’s no database out there that’s going to show me all the conferences and the audiences?

Steve Markman:

Yeah. So there are a couple of companies that you can buy databases from that have association specific conferences. Those are accessible. And there are also some databases online, like allconferences.com and some others. TSNN, Trade Show News Network that also lists conferences by geography and by topic. And those are also accessible online. And there IS no charge. The ones that charge a fee are the directories that you buy from private associations. National Publications sells a directory for example of conferences that are association based.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So once I’ve identified a couple of conferences that I think as an agency owner I should be on that stage, I know that you believe that there is some prep work that needs to be done. I need to have a proactive action plan, but I’m assuming I need to have some stuff that I can send them or show them. So what do I have to have in my toolbox before I reach out to these folks?

Steve Markman:

Sure. So every speaker proposal needs to have certain components. Those components consist of the speaker bio. Could be the agency owner. It could be someone else senior level at the agency. The bio needs to be focused on some of the speaking experience, as well as what they’ve done in the agency world.

You also need to have, the most important thing is a summary of the presentation or presentations. I always like to submit more than one. It could be two, or three, or 10. But you have to have a two to three paragraph what we call presentation abstract that describes what you’re going to talk about in some reform. And that presentation abstract can take a number of different formats. But typically, it’s two to three paragraphs with or without bullets. I prefer bullets because they’re easier to read a lot after the paragraphs. And some one or two facts that demonstrate knowledge and expertise in that area.

Drew McLellan:

And in that abstract or summary, if we are thinking about the takeaways from the audience, is that where we would include that as well?

Steve Markman:

Yes, absolutely. So the second half of that abstract will say attendees will learn bullet, bullet, bullet, or key takeaways are. So absolutely that’s crucial.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. All right. So I’ve got my bio. I have basically my description of the presentation. What else do I need?

Steve Markman:

So you need to be able to have at the ready some demonstration of your conference experience. So if you have a list of some key places that you’ve spoken at already, that’s helpful. That could be in the body of the email. Typically, you’ll send an email along with the description or the proposal. But if you’re submitting to a formal call for speakers, it’s typically an online application, if you will. And sometimes, they’ll ask for previous engagements, and sometimes they won’t, but it’s good to have it at the ready.

The other thing that you’ll also want to have is some references from people who have heard you speak in the past. That’s always helpful. And the other thing that I like to be able to send is a little bit of name dropping. So if the agency has done work for recognizable companies or clients, it’s good to mention those regardless of their size. But the key thing is a recognizable name so people that are evaluating the proposal will say, “This person has done work with so-and-so and so-and-so.” Even if it has nothing to do with speaking. Just the fact that you as an agency owner or your agency has done work. Or if you’ve done work even in a prior job, just to establish some credibility.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And what about a speaker’s video? Do I have to have a video that shows how I appear and how I present myself on stage?

Steve Markman:

Right. So 20 years ago, no one ever asked for video of a non-paid speaker. And we’re talking largely here this morning about non paid speaking engagements. There are speaking engagements for as you said business development, marketing, thought leadership. They’re typically not going to be for speaker pay.

So in the past, no one really asked for that because they weren’t paying you. Now because it’s so easy to get a video made by your phone at a pretty good quality, that even for non-paid engagements, I would say 25% of the time, people will ask for video. My feeling is if they’re not asking you for the video, don’t send it. Because you don’t know what the reaction is going to be on the part of the evaluator. And even if you think it’s a good video, they may be looking for something else. But because 25% of the time they’re going to ask for it, it’s good to have one ready.

Drew McLellan:

And I’m assuming that that should be in air quotes professionally produced, like some cuts of different presentations. And maybe you’re weaving in some testimonials. But I’m sure it has a length requirement. How long should that speaker’s demo video be?

Steve Markman:

Yeah. It should be probably no more than three to six minutes. That’s about the amount of time that people have to look at those. The main purpose of it is not necessarily what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. They just want to see that you’re coming across in a way that’s interesting, and that you’re a pretty good speaker. And to have the video show actually on the stage speaking as opposed to just the talking head is always better. But if you don’t have that and they ask for a video, let’s say you’ve never spoken to anywhere before and you don’t have any videos of live action. It’s okay to speak into even a good iPhone and talk about some of the concepts that you’re going to talk about in your presentation.

Drew McLellan:

Early on, this was early, early in my career when I was starting to speak more. And at that point when I was putting together my speakers reel, I didn’t have any big stage experience. So I belong to a big super church that has this huge stage with great audio equipment and all of that. So I actually asked them if I could go and shoot some segments on that big stage just to show me working a stage and moving along on a stage. So I think you can also sometimes fake it till you make it and create video that shows how you would come across on a stage, even if you don’t have video clips yet. Right?

Steve Markman:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, okay. So I’ve got my bio, I’ve got my abstract, I have my references. I have my name dropping, I have my video. Do I need anything else?

Steve Markman:

Those are the main things that you need. The key here is to follow up. So many events are being looked at and proposed. Typically, there’s three or four proposals being sent for each speaking slot on average. So you want to just stay on top of things. And even if you send it a call for presenters, what they a call for papers. It’s a holdover from the old academic days when speaking got started in a public way. You want to be able to know who’s on the other end of that funnel that’s receiving it. You want to be able to identify who those people are. So the key thing here is always follow up with the conference decision maker. And that’s really a key thing, because it’ll show that you’re really interested.

And the key thing is to follow up not with just a simple email, but have you made a decision? Because you should assume that no decision has been made yet. But to give them some reason to still evaluate you in a positive way.

So some agency CEO might be interviewed by a magazine or be quoted by Bloomberg in some way, or the Wall Street Journal. Sending an email to the conference director with that fact is good, because it shows that there’s some credibility, and you’re somebody that people want to know and hear about.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So you mentioned when we were talking about the video, that most of these speaking gigs are unpaid. And I think a lot of agency owners struggle with that whole notion of giving away their expertise. Even though they literally are being put on a stage, with all of that implied expertise attached to that. They struggle with the idea of not getting paid. So can you just address that a little bit?

Steve Markman:

Yeah. And I think you’re right. And I think there’s too much of an emphasis on the payment thing. Because even if somebody got paid, if they think they’re giving away some secret sauce, they’re still going to be giving it away. They may be getting paid, but they’re still doing something that they feel reluctant about doing. the pay doesn’t change that.

So what I say to people is don’t worry about getting paid by the conference. You should think about getting paid by the future client that you’re going to get as a result of speaking. So this is an investment in time, like any other business development or marketing effort, except that it’s in front of an audience of potential hirers. People who are going to bring you in for an agency.

Drew McLellan:

And what I say to agency owners is if somebody picked up the phone in your niche and said, “We’re kind of thinking about hiring an agency. We’d love to spend some time with you.” These owners would pay to buy a plane ticket and go see these people. So I think it’s funny and a little ironic that they get their undies in a bunch about not getting paid to speak. When in essence, it’s 200 people in their industry who are saying, “Hey, I’d like to learn more about you, and your agency, and your expertise.” Of course pay for the plane ticket if you have to, although in most cases, a lot of conferences will at least cover your travel expenses. Right?

Steve Markman:

Exactly. And the other thing Drew is that what agencies need to keep in mind is that they need to spend some time before they even submit a proposal, before they even say, “Okay, this sounds like a good place for me to speak.” Make sure that the people in the audience are your potential prospects and clients. It doesn’t have to be everyone. Because clearly, agencies go to conferences to sit in the audience and schmooze the network during the breaks and that sort of thing. But if the majority of the attendees are not your competitors, which you don’t want to do, but they are people who could potentially bring you in when they’re looking for an agency or at least start that conversation, then you know you’re on the right track. And that’s a key thing. So audience analysis is very important.

Drew McLellan:

So let’s talk a little bit about that. So what are some ways that I as an agency owner can research and evaluate the right speaking opportunities and make sure that the right people are in the audience?

Steve Markman:

Sure. So when you get to know what a conference is, let’s say it’s the American Marketing Association national annual conference. It’s typically held in the fall. So what you want to do is you want to see what they’re saying on the website. Who is is it that’s coming? And typically, the real nitty gritty demographic analysis of who attends a conference is typically found in the section on the conference website that is geared toward exhibitors. Because the exhibitors and the sponsors want to make sure that the traffic in front of their booths, or if they’re spending 30 or $40,000 to sponsor for some headline coverage, that their target audience is really their target audience. So you’ll get some of that data there.

Oftentimes, I have to send an email or make a phone call to the conference director and ask them for the more detailed demographic data. I want to know who’s coming by title. I want to know who’s coming by type of company. And I want to know who’s coming by size of company and their industry. So whichever way they dice it and slice it, I’d like to have that data.

Now, will they always give it to you? No. But by asking for it and saying that in order for you to invest the time to even speak, even if you don’t want to be an exhibitor or a sponsor, it’s really a good idea for you to have that information.

And sometimes they’ll say, “Well, all we have is the list of attendees.” They’ll say, “I can’t send that list.” So then you say, “Well, how about if you send me a redacted list? I don’t care about the names of the people. I just want to see their titles, and I want to see their compa