If your calendar looks even a little close to as crowded as mine, you probably already know that we’re officially into yet another “Conference Season.” And if you’re a recruiting or sourcing professional, there sure are a ton of options out there; so many, in fact, that there seems to be a seasonal shift as event planners ramp up into full recruitment mode.
Whether you’re a paid speaker (full disclosure: I’m not) or paying out of pocket for the privilege of presenting to your peers (full disclosure: that’s me), the rules of engagement for recruiting conference speakers should be pretty standard, simple and straightforward.
Look, I get it. The reality is that every conference is different, and every organizer has a different process and procedure for which speakers are “selected,” poked or prodded into appearing on their event agenda. Of course, the real agenda might be a little bit more complicated than who’s speaking on what, where.
How? Let’s just say that I’ve learned a thing or two over my four plus years on the recruiting and HR speaking circuit, so to speak.
I’ve spoken at pretty much every sort of event imaginable, from the biggest trade shows to the most intimate industry events, and have found there are some fairly universal truths in these planners’ big picture approach, even if there’s some drastic divergence in the details. And yes, they almost always sweat the small stuff.
That’s kind of what event planners get paid for.
3 Things To Consider Before Committing To A Recruiting Event.
I feel truly lucky to be slated for so many speaking opportunities, something that I’ll never take for granted. Of course, that would be pretty much impossible, considering that one of the questions I always get from people is “what do I need to do to start getting selected to speak?” The truth is, in about 90% of the conferences I’ve participated in, I’ve been directly approached by the organizers. In almost every one of these cases I did not submit a pitch nor speaking proposal; a lot of the times, these invitations were the first time I’d ever even heard of some of these shows.
While I first started speaking at webinars or as part of a panel discussion, I’ve branched out to breakouts and now, to keynotes. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned that no matter what the presentation style might be, the expectations and demands on speakers vary drastically between the various event organizers. Each speaking engagement requires a different level of commitment in terms of time, preparation and promotion.
The present proliferation of industry events has forced me to be much more particular about where I spend my time and energy than when I was first starting out and saying “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. I took what I could get.
Now, I have to make the choice to be a little bit choosier, because I’m not a professional public speaker. This means I’m unable to accommodate the approximately 5-10 speaker requests for events ranging from global to grassroots every single month. I wish I could, but I have a day job (and thus cannot gain financial compensation from these presentations, by policy).
This means I’ve been forced to create my own simple, three step guide that I’ve found to be an indispensable tool for deciding with whom – and where – to share my stories.
- The topic/outlet aligns with my brand and allows me to further my reach.
- The venue/conference mission must be in alignment with my current role and employer (presently Oracle).
- The audience should learn something from my story they can actualize almost immediately and for a relatively low cost.
I don’t go to conferences to stroke my ego or get in the spotlight. I want to talk to people directly who are directly impacted by the work I do. That’s really my main motivation. How often have you personally been to a conference and sat through a presentation that had nothing to do with your professional development or personal goals, and end up totally wasting your time? It’s happened to me way too many times.
For me, a speaking gig has to meet each of the three aforementioned criteria if it’s going to be worth considering leaving my children and job behind to participate.
Perfect Pitch: 4 Things To Remember Before Asking Someone To Speak At Your Recruiting Event or Conference.
Often, it feels like event planners think they’re doing me some sort of solid or favor as a ‘friend’ by issuing me a speaking invitation. The truth is, though, if it’s the right opportunity, then it’s going to benefit us both. And since there are a lot of events which potentially meet the above criteria, knowing which ones to pick really all come down to approach.
To that end, here are 4 things every event planner should keep in mind before pitching speakers or approaching potential presenters for their conference.
4. The Approach.
Let’s start by addressing how to reach out to potential speakers. Under no circumstances, should you engage me (or any speaker) as if we are already friends, unless we actually are – and I mean in real life, for real. If you’re using Facebook Messenger typing in half sentences–well, doing so will not win you any brownie points, suffice to say.
Go ahead and add Twitter and Instagram messages to that list as well. If you’re unable to find an email or phone number, then LinkedIn is a great way to initiate contact.
An even better way is to leverage your network and ask for an introduction if emailing or calling cold is not your thing. I am not suggesting a formal invitation sealed in wax by any means, but definitely start with a proper introduction in the initial outreach. If you take your event seriously, (and I am going to wager that you do given the ticket price is over $1K per person) then you should take how you engage your potential speakers seriously, too.
3. Connect the Dots.
In that very first email, you should include why you believe the speaker is a good fit for your conference. Making a match means you may have to do your research and figure out how you envision our experience and expertise fitting in with your overall event’s established focus and existing agenda. This doesn’t mean you should do all the thinking and create everything from session title and descriptions to deck templates for the speakers, but describing why you feel there’s a match shows that you at least have some sort of understanding of what potential speakers do and an idea of how to make working together work.
I was recently approached with a speaking opportunity at a conference geared toward HR technology executives. This ask came with a very particular request for my presentation topic and theme, one that didn’t really interest me. So, I passed and moved on. on. They, in the other hand, did not and emailed me numerous times to reconsider and submit a pitch. With each email, I became more and more turned off by the whole thing. I will not be speaking at that event this year and likely never will consider doing so again.
Remember: no means no. Take it for an answer, already.
2. The Perks.
Often, event planners have no idea how to connect speakers or get them actively involved or engaged with their event. That’s understandable – presenters are generally pretty busy people, which means that getting a speaker’s interest involves creating some sort of reason for why your event is better than all the other options out there, and all the things that make that one-of-a-kind conference of yours distinctly and totally unique.
Sure, the carrots commonly dangled, like a big name band headlining a private concert or a comped resort stay sound nice. But what these solicitations are almost always missing is supporting evidence – I mean real data!
Nothing impresses me quite like numbers, and I’m sure many potential speakers feel the same. We all want the biggest audience and reach possible for our message, and to do so with other credible speakers and industry experts.
That’s why it’s totally cool to wow would be speakers with your headlining keynoters and the topics they’ll be talking about, but nothing looks worse than unnecessary name dropping whether that’s a colleague or company. The only brand that matters is your event’s – and the one sure way to make sure no one accepts that speaking invitation is to promote the open bar, cocktail parties or social stuff over the actual conference content.
I can stay home and drink, too. That’s not why I do this, and I know I’m not alone on that particular point. Truth is, most of the time, I’d rather stay home. That there’s the real competition keeping speakers away. You’ve got to remember to make it worthwhile for us, too.
1. The Bond.
Ideally, you’ll want to speak with me in person, in real time, so that we can bond and have more meaningful interactions than just going over logistics, planning and event prep. If you really want to get the best out of me, and the most out of my time at a conference, make sure I’m involved in every step from idea conception and iteration until the moment I hit your stage (and, hopefully, even after I walk off of it). Do you want to build a relationship or just check us off your list?
Even if your email doesn’t deliver the substance and insight most speakers need to make an informed decision; at least ask for a quick call so you can connect the dots. You would be surprised to know how often event planners, want to coordinate things all over email or social media instead of simply picking up the damn phone. The constant online back and forth is exhausting, draining and takes up the time I could be spending preparing for or promoting an event by adding an unnecessary layer of bullcrap. If you can’t connect with me as a person, there’s a 100% chance you’re not going to be getting me as a presenter, either.
I want to work with people I like – which is why before asking me out you really need to get to know me, first. For real.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
The four key points listed above aren’t a whole lot to ask, particularly if your conference isn’t as well known or simply needs fresh speakers, different topics or new ideas. When pitching presenters impersonally, there’s a good chance the person you’re inviting to speak won’t think it’s all that much of an “honor” to be asked, no matter how you position your proposition. It’s like inviting someone to a house party and making them clean up their own mess before you let them leave – really? Uh, thanks, but I’m probably OK staying at home instead.
Keep in mind that we’re no longer living in an age where presenters will automatically say yes if offered the chance to take the stage at a big name conference. While there are many practitioners and industry insiders who continue to act star struck by the big name conferences and biggest brands on the event calendar, those days are dying.
I blame the fact that what was once a conference “season” has now come to extend to pretty much the entire year, year after year, in perpetuity, pretty much. Some months have really popular, well attended and highly anticipated conferences competing back-to-back or even overlapping; it’s not unusual for there to be 3-5 big ticket shows crammed over the course of just a couple of weeks.
Unless you’re a professional speaker, blogger or some sort of conference VIP, the proliferation of possible OOTO opportunities has made it all but impossible for an in-house practitioner to attend any more than one or two a quarter, at the very best. Most don’t go to any, actually, not ever, which I’ll admit sounds pretty tempting to me once in awhile, too.
But since I am trying to reconcile the demands of public speaking on the road with those of my full time job back at home, I’ve got to make sure I’m as selective as possible. Because while there always seems to be another option out there for a recruiting event or HR conference, there’s only one of me.
So, the next time you’re getting ready to pitch me or any other would be presenter on the chance to speak at your conference, take the extra time it takes to help us understand the “why” so that we can make sure that we’re both on the same agenda before agreeing to invest the time and energy into appearing on yours. When it comes to conferences, there are a ton of choices.
If you can’t do the bare minimum before asking me to speak, chances are, I’m choosing someone else’s. Sorry, not sorry.
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