Have you ever attended a breakout session at a conference and thought, “I could totally do this”? You have ideas and experiences to share, but how do you figure out the best way to package and deliver your expertise?
Becoming a speaker at leading industry events is competitive by nature and requires advanced planning, as many of the agendas are solidified 6-9 months before the actual event. As a member of Personify’s event planning team and the program curator for PersoniFest 2020, I’ve evaluated hundreds of speaking proposals over the years and I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to make it to the podium:
1. Know Your Audience
It’s easy to write in a voice that would appeal to you as a conference attendee, but it’s important to consider the range of professions and various needs of your intended audience when drafting a speaker proposal. Consider these questions before you start writing:
- Who attends the conference?
- What are the key demographics for attendees?
- What do the attendees care about?
- What kinds of problems are they hoping to solve by attending the event?
- What unique perspective or expertise can I provide to the audience?
Most large conferences will provide this information on their website to potential sponsors or attendees. If not, ask around to others who have attended the conference in the past. It’s helpful to consider the many buyer personas that will be in attendance at the event. The basics of a buyer persona includes:
- Demographics: Gender, age, education, socioeconomic status, stage of life and/or career.
- Priorities: Why are they engaging with your organization? What do they hope to achieve?
- Typical Behaviors: What does a day in their life look like? Where do they get their information? Are they heavy social media users? Are they introverted and prefer online communities or events?
2. Know The Conference
Beyond knowing your audience, it’s important to understand the larger goals of the conference and how your proposal fits into those goals. Questions to consider may include:
- What is the primary intent of the conference? Are you seeking to educate, to build advocacy, or to encourage professional development?
- Will the content by heavily focused on technology, thought leadership or hands-on learning?
Consider that there’s often a panel of conference hosts and others familiar with the program that evaluate and “grade” each submission.
For Personify’s annual user conference, we assemble a Program Committee of Personify subject matter experts and former attendees to help build an agenda that will appeal to our diverse audience. While many conferences will have very specific guidelines for submitting a proposal, following those guidelines won’t guarantee that your proposal will be accepted. The selection committee is looking for topics and ideas that are fresh and innovative or provide a new perspective.
Additionally, if the conference has publicly-available “tracks” or themes published on the website, it’s helpful to clearly align your proposal to one of these tracks. This not only helps takes the guesswork out of where your content would fit into the overall program but ensures the selection committee that you have done your homework and tailored your concept to that specific conference.
3. Craft Your Content
You do not need to have the content of your presentation built out at the time of submission, but you should be able to envision the finished product. Follow the instructions outlined in the Call for Proposals but find a way to make your submission stand out. Use a buzz-worthy title and craft a session description that could easily be used in the conference program guide.
Traditional presentations are always welcome but consider a unique format for your presentation and clearly state the intended format in your proposal. What kind of format will be best suited for your audience? This could be a workshop, a panel or a hands-on activity…or a combination of them.
Will you interact with the audience? Do you plan to bring in a guest? Be specific in your proposal so that you can help bring the session to life for the judges.
4. Submit Your Speaking Proposal
You’ve thought through the audience, the conference and what makes your content unique. You’re ready to go!
Here’s a final checklist to keep in mind when you’re ready to submit:
- Clear learning objectives and takeaways- Make sure that your proposal clearly identifies what attendees will come away with from the presentation and why this is a must-have for the conference.
- Engaging title and description- Both the selection panel and the judges are reviewing a ton of options when it comes speaking sessions. Choose a title that is intriguing, thought provoking and/or clearly identifies what the content is about. It’s never good for attendees to attend a presentation that they thought would be about one topic and come out of it thinking that it was something else entirely.
- Details about the format of your presentation- Note the structure of your session, especially if there are multiple speakers. Will it be a panel format? Will speakers take turns presenting? Will there be an activity to apply the learnings at the end of the session?
- Guest speakers, if any, and their credentials- Your lineup of speakers helps communicate the value of your proposal. Make sure to include information about your speakers’ expertise, backgrounds and their professional credentials.
- How your content applies to the overall themes of the conference- Again, remember to connect your session with a specific learning track and/or the overall theme of the conference. Your goal is to do this so effectively that the selection committee cannot pass up on having your proposal as part of the agenda.
Want to Speak at PersoniFest?
Now that you’re an expert on submitting a speaking proposal, we have a great opportunity for you. We just opened the call for speakers for PersoniFest 2020, which will take place at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs on April 5-8, 2020.
I strongly encourage any of our clients, partners, sponsors and Personify friends to submit a proposal for this year’s conference. We’re looking for success stories, best practices and tips and tricks for how organizations can leverage technology to better achieve their missions and drive innovation in their industry.
The Call for Proposals will be open through Sept. 30.