Surefire Ways to Limit Your Speaking Engagements

conference audienceAn important technique for building your profile and credibility is to speak at events. Speaking at conferences that target your peers can lead to new business referrals, and events that target your prospective clients can yield a nice stack of interested executive business cards.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on programming for a number of events lately, and while the vast majority of speakers are professional and gracious, there is a minority that tends to make the same mistakes. Conference planners usually work for more than one event and they talk to each other – you can easily find yourself blacklisted and not even know it.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to be a good speaker, but what are the behaviors to avoid so you can be sure you’ll get asked back?

Act like you’re doing the event a huge favor

Guess what? There are more people who want to speak at events than there are slots available. Unless you’re Oprah Winfrey, chances are you’re getting more out of the speaking opportunity than the organizer – keeping that in mind during your interactions will help you use the appropriate tone.

Cancel without finding your own replacement

Life happens and conflicts that can’t be helped come up – conference organizers understand this. But unless you have a last-minute family emergency, if you must back out of a commitment, find someone you can suggest to replace you. A note that just says “I’m sorry, it turns out I’m not going to be able to speak at your event” can mean many hours of unforeseen work for the program developers. That’s something they’re unlikely to forget.

Be a diva

If you’re speaking at an event, good organizers will make you feel appreciated. However, that doesn’t give you the right to be a prima donna and ask for only the red M&Ms. Chances are, you’re just one of many speakers at a given event (or who will appear before the group that year), so try to know your place. I’ve found that many keynote speakers have very laid-back and go-with-the-flow personalities – perhaps that’s one way they reached the keynoter ranks?

Treat your contact like a secretary

The people choosing speakers for an event are usually experienced, well-connected pros. Often, they’re the ones responsible for notifying those selected (and, depending on the kind of event, they can sometimes be volunteers). A good way to make sure event organizers remember you – in a bad way – is to pester them with inane questions.

Yes, you’d like to know how far it is from the airport to the hotel, but couldn’t you find that out yourself using Mapquest? Sending multiple emails requesting information that can be found on the website is a good way to get a reputation for being a nag.

Wait until the last minute to show

Unless you’re speaking at a huge event, chances are the conference organizers are looking for you the day of. They’ll want to briefly check-in with you on the setup of your room and A/V, and make sure you’re all set. Breezing in just minutes before your session is scheduled is a good way to give them a heart attack. Plan to arrive at least an hour ahead of time (more if you can) and if you’re traveling, make sure you take the inevitable travel delays into account (coming in the night before is best).

Give a sales pitch

Saved the best for last. Nothing will tick off conference attendees more than being forced to listen to a presentation that’s a thinly disguised sales pitch. And ticked off attendees translate into a conference organizer that will never forget how you let them down.

The best speakers don’t talk about themselves or their business at all during the presentation itself – they just include an information slide at the end (you’re showcasing your expertise and know-how throughout, which is the best way to attract new business). In years past, audiences would tolerate 2-3 slides at the beginning of a presentation about you and your business, but in today’s fast-paced world, even that is a good way to see everyone’s eyes glaze over (at best) or have attendees live tweeting your lameness (at worst).

What additional advice would you offer would-be conference speakers? Have you developed any best practices yourself?

  • Abbie S. Fink

    Know your audience.  I know those that are on the speaker circuit generlly have one or two prepared speeches. But take 10 minutes to find out what you can about who will be listening to you present.  It is not that we expect you to customize a presentation each and everytime, but one or two tweaks or a story or two that is relevant to the audience will go along way . 

  • This is really excellent advice. I’ve noticed that many people don’t stay on the “speaker circuit” for long – and those are usually the folks who give the same “book talk” over and over again everywhere they go. As a result, people only want to see them once. Customization is not only considerate, but will help with longevity.