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August 22, 2007
How to Successfully Pitch Yourself As a Speaker

Getting the opportunity to showcase your expertise as a speaker at a trade show, conference, local association meeting or a bookstore can generate interest, great PR and even new business leads for your company. Further, being a speaker underscores your value and credibility as an industry professional, increasing your image and worth in the market. Once you get your first "speak op" confirmed, it often builds on itself as long as you create a reputation for delivering solid information. You'll start to get calls from conference chairs and programming specialists to ask you to come speak. For many professionals, public speaking is their main source of business opportunity.

To effectively pitch yourself you must:

  1. Select a conference where you can add value.
  2. Find out exactly who is responsible for the programming of the sessions.
  3. Understand clearly who the target and actual attendees are (many conferences get a certain clientele and are aspiring to add an additional segment of attendees to broaden their base).
  4. Determine a content angle that will differentiate this conference from its competitors and attract incremental attendees that the conference is targeting—this is the most important part of successful pitching. Conferences sell their admission fees and make their revenue based on the value of the agenda. Focus on them, not on yourself.
  5. Enter a submission into the conference's website or send in your information for its call for papers by the deadline - follow the requested rules for submission, as this is how the organizers keep track of all the content.
  6. Make sure your submission is not self-serving and is balanced, objective and would be something difficult to find online or in a magazine; make sure it includes not just facts but also experiential learning, tips, tricks, wisdom, analysis, examples, market overviews, etc. If you can present primary research that's exclusive to that conference, do it! That is a competitive opportunity for the show that's nearly irresistible.
  7. Submit a complete abstract that includes a suggested session title; session description (what attendees will learn), including market metrics; and others who might add to a discussion of this subject with name, title, company affiliation and contact information. If you have a good headshot, include it in the submission.
  8. Go beyond just pitching yourself—pitch a group of experts. The submissions that list other authorities are more likely to be chosen than those that just pitch a single person. Do a little work for your conference chair. Show that you are a specialist in this area by having a national or global perspective that you can bring to the show. Include a short, powerful bio and complete contact information.
  9. Follow up with an email to the programming decision-maker letting her know you "followed the rules" and submitted not just yourself but a panel of prospective speakers. Include links from important magazines or websites that cover your category, letting the conference planner know that your area is an important, topical and timely area of discussion in the industry.
  10. Ask the programming person if he needs any more assistance, leg work, connections or background material from you. Find out when he is making the final decisions. Call or email him with a check in between your submission deadline and his final decision to stay top of mind. Sending more news information about your subject area to remind him that you have a submission and are still interested in speaking will also increase your chances of being selected.
  11. If you're not selected, ask why so that you can learn from your past work and be more focused in the future.


Many companies hire a PR firm or publicist to help with this, and it's called a "speaker's bureau." You can do this yourself with the help of your administrative assistant, if you have one. You will do this better than any other person because you are pitching yourself and your knowledge. Who knows more about you than you?

First, research all the events at which you'd like to speak. Create a spreadsheet that lists all the events, their timing, their conference chair or programming decision-maker, and any deadlines for submission. Assume that all shows are organized and the agendas completed about 6 months ahead of time so they can be properly marketed. Then work backward, submitting yourself for each show. Get the deadlines on your calendar for submissions and follow up and keep yourself organized. You'll be amazed at what a little focus will do to create opportunity.

Finally, when you get on the stage, after much practice of your presentation beforehand, focus on your audience and its needs, never, ever pitch yourself or your company and be of service. You will be invited back again and again for delighting your audience, and your reputation will grow, along with your business.

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Susan Bratton is the CEO of Personal Life Media, Inc. a podcast and blog publishing company creating juicy lifestyle content. She's planned conferences for the IAB and MySpace and was Chair of ad:tech, programming 20 global conferences. Currently Chair Emeritus of ad:tech, Susan is a sought-after speaker and emcee at over 50 industry conferences.

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