Speaking Gigs. It’s big-time biz dev
It builds character.
Getting your executives on stage in front of audiences — ideally full of leads, prospects, and future partners — is a huge business development play for you, but there’s a bunch of different things you need to keep in mind to make it work properly.
The first step (the first thought)
This is business development.
Getting your CEO, CMO, CTO, etc. in front of an audience is a big deal. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations make this some type of outsourced PR initiative; they ask their agency to research conferences and submit pitches.
Often these pitches are just trumped-up LinkedIn bios of the executives, and unless the organization is a huge name or one of the executives is, a lot of conferences will pass on it. You can still outsource this work to an agency, but it needs to be more strategic if you do that.
It can’t just be a PR-type one-sheeter. Whoever handles your biz dev — whoever owns it — should have executive speaking gigs as a top-5, top-10 priority for a given year.
Abstracts / ideas
Frame this less in terms of executive accomplishments to date and more in terms of ideas. Come up with three unique ideas each year.
Think of them as abstracts.
These ideas should not be about your product, necessarily. They should tie to your end product/service, yes.
But the idea should not be “This year we added a mobile functionality and Todd wants to speak about that!” Dozens of other companies (hundreds?) added more mobile functionality this year, so what’s the angle on yours? If you talk about where mobile might evolve to by 2030, that’s different.
That’s a future-leaning topic of potential interest to attendees, and it’s more like an abstract, as opposed to ostensibly a blog post about a product launch. Try to create big ideas that could work at various conferences, whether the focus is local SHRM, broader disruption, tech ideas, etc. Universal ideas can be pitched far and wide, which gets you both feedback and rejections. Both are valuable.
The Ego Lesson (Topeka)
Try to lessen executive ego and realize that just because someone is a CTO doesn’t mean they will start out speaking as a keynote. You need “pelts on the wall” in order to build up credibility as a speaker.
When I first started speaking gigs, I told my wife, “If 42 practitioners in Topeka want to hear me, I’m going to Topeka.”
People need to think like that. The biggest keynote names out there — people doing Dreamforce and Amazon conferences — started out in front of small crowds. So did most bands that sell out global arenas; they started at dive bars. It’s just how it works.
Build a Book
This is your longer-term idea.
It might take about a year to play out. What you want to do is think of your annual editorial calendar as a book. The inputs to the book are webinars, white papers/eBooks, blog posts, infographics, and all the normal content assets.
But across the year, the “book” you’re creating should be telling a story — the big story is about your company and the problems it solves for people, but again, this is not shoved-down-throat PR.
This is about abstracts and ideas related to what you do and how you help people be better, told out over a year.
If someone looks at your January 15th content and your October 27th content, they should see a logical flow of ideas and concepts and story from A to B, just like a book would.
When you organize your content in this way, the stories that executives can tell on a stage become much easier to sell to people, because now you have an asset that both sales can use daily/weekly and biz dev can use to position speaking gigs.
The bottom line
None of this is easy. Executives are busy people. They want to speak about their products instead of big ideas that would resonate more with audiences.
They don’t want to speak to 12 people in Des Moines, necessarily. It takes time and you need to build out a repeatable strategy of good content, stories that flow, and treating the whole thing as business development.
But it’s doable.