Speaking at conferences as an expert is a proven means of introducing yourself to new prospects. These engagements must yield business; otherwise, they are merely costly marketing efforts—considering the real and opportunity costs of preparation, travel and out-of-office time.
Here are 10 tips for how to maximize the business results from your next conference speaking engagement.
1. Stick to the topic
Conference planners carefully develop and advertise their sessions with the expectation that speakers will actually speak on the assigned topic. Being an expert in the field does not entitle you to arbitrarily change the conference program. Attendees choose to attend sessions from a list of options and expect to hear you present on the chosen topic.
If you are unsure of what you are expected to deliver, read the promotional material and, if need be, check back with the conference organizers. Even if you are delivering a relatively stock presentation, tailor it for your audience.
2. Speak within the allocated time
If you are speaking on a panel of industry experts, stay within the allotted time. If you are told that you have 20 minutes, don't give a 10-minute or a 25-minute speech. Members of the audience, your target market, may perceive a very short presentation as unprepared and may feel cheated. If you speak too long, you will be perceived as grabbing the limelight. This is particularly dangerous if you are on a panel with competitors who may later use this against you.
3. Check the audio-visual equipment
Most conferences are well equipped with microphones and projectors, but even this equipment does not perform uniformly well. Have your presentation slides ready on several media besides your own laptop: burn them on a CD or save them on a USB memory stick, or even a floppy disk. Then, before the session begins, do a brief AV check with the session moderator to make sure that you can smoothly transition without wasting any precious time.
4. Be available to answer questions later
As a speaker, you are a designated expert. Use this luster to your advantage, even after your session ends. Attendees should be able to come up to you during the remainder of the conference and pose additional questions beyond the Q&A. These questions often lead to in-depth discussions and business opportunities.
5. Keep your speaker badge visible
Speakers who hide their badges, or don't bother to pick them up, make the erroneous assumption that everybody knows who they are. Unless you are a true celebrity (not just a legend in your own mind), your badge with its speaker designation is an open invitation to a dialogue with attendees. Those who heard you speak, eager to bask in your temporary celebrity, will often eagerly introduce you to other attendees.
6. Offer an informative and low-key handout
Prepare a handout for your session. Place it on attendee chairs prior to the session. Don't just leave it on a table or chair in the back of the room. Resist the temptation of giving your entire presentation or even an outline as the handout. This only encourages the attendee to pick it up… and leave to attend another concurrent session. Don't use marketing materials for handouts. These often clutter the room and create litter rather than engagement.
The optimal handout is an enticing single-page tip sheet or fact sheet that can be snapped up and kept by attendees. It should be visually engaging and informative and should include a short paragraph about you, your business and how to contact you. Key your handout to the conference and the session. It is neither a profound treatise nor pure marketing fluff. Handouts should be staples in your marketing arsenal, freshened up and revised as appropriate to complement your speaking.
7. Make your slides available
Many conference organizers request your slides in advance. Regrettably, publishing all your slides in the conference notebook does not give listeners an incentive to come hear you. A few slides covering the outline of your treatment of the topic can satisfy the conference organizers and entice attendees to come hear the voiceover on the slides.
State early on during your presentation that you will email copies to any attendee providing you a business card with “slides” marked on the back (This helps you separate all the cards you'll gather during the conference). Cards in hand, you get valuable marketing contacts; and your audience can concentrate on what you are saying, not on taking notes. Your presentation, of course, should be so content-rich that attendees want your slides.
8. Offer attendees a premium
If company policy or competitive pressure mandates not making your presentation available, offer a premium instead. White papers provide an excellent means of displaying your expertise and message. Your strategic goal is to get every member of the audience to give you a business card so that you can contact them after the event.
Bringing copies of the premium is inconvenient. Participants don't really want to lug tons of paper back from the conference. The premium should have value, and it should open a dialogue—not just provide interesting tidbits of information. Do not label or even casually refer to your premium as a “white paper” or, even worse, a premium. When you refer to “the report” in your talk, you prompt the audience to ask for it. The premium is your first sales call and gives you a direct connection to the audience.
9. Follow up immediately with audience members
Whether sending copies of your slide presentation or a premium, you cannot tarry. Once conference attendees are back in their offices, you will quickly fade from memory. Your materials, if sent with any delay, are likely to be deleted as spam. Cards picked up following a conference presentation should be treated as soft leads.
10. Thank the organizers
Even if the conference provided fewer leads than expected, be sure to thank the conference organizers for inviting you to speak. At the same time, request information on how you might apply to speak at the next scheduled conference. Speakers who score well on evaluations and work well with the organizers often get additional opportunities.
Conference speaking is outstanding source of new business, particularly for consultants. It is up to the presenter to get all the marketing punch possible from them.