Let’s be clear – there are some insanely talented public speakers in the SEO Industry. But there are also some absolute disasters. If you apply to speak at a Brighton SEO or a Pubcon and get accepted, that can be where the easy part ends.
I know I am not perfect, but I am what you might call a serial SEO Speaker having over 20 years of experience. Some good, some bad. So my tips come from personal experience as well as from the heart. I hope they will help you find speaking slots, enjoy the talk, and benefit from it. Most importantly, I hope it will mean your audience goes away enriched in some small way.
Getting chosen to pitch
Don’t wait to be asked!
It may surprise you that after 20+ years, even most of the well-seasoned SEO speakers have to pitch. Most conferences have a web form, way ahead of time, where prospects are asked to pitch their idea. If you don’t go out of your way to find these pages, though, then by the time you see a conference happening, the speakers are locked, and the agenda is published! That means you missed the boat. I tend to know, these days, what conferences I should be aiming for, but we all have different knowledge to share, and we are seeking out different types of audiences. So you can use Fili’s comprehensive list of Internet Marketing events worldwide to find a few that will be right for you.
If you are young or unusual, I cannot recommend Brighton SEO (in the UK) enough as a place that encourages new talent and diversity. They have two events a year, which are HUGE for this industry. They do all they can to support new speakers, including coaching sessions, tips on your slides and a speaker tour of the venue the night before. Pubcon Vegas is a good bet if you are in the USA, but the support is much less.
Not all Speakers are Chosen on merit (shock, horror!)
Don’t be discouraged by this, but different conferences have different business models. Some focus on getting the best speakers at any cost (to themselves) and then charge attendees handsomely. On the other extreme, some conferences will charge the speaker! to speak and still charge the attendees an arm and a fist. I mean leg. These annoy me the most – I accept that all conferences need to make money, but not by charging the speaker AND the guest for the same presentation. So most conferences find a way to blend “sponsored” sessions with non-sponsored ones. It makes sense, before pitching, to understand the model for the conference you are looking at. The best way to do this is to look at last year’s schedule (Or the one before Covid made them all virtual). See if you can see them being open about sponsored sessions vs other speakers. Also – check the speaker list… if you see some names you know, then there is at least SOME way to get in without paying to be a speaker.
On the other hand, I would not expect many people to get paid to speak at conferences unless they Keynote (or are paid by someone other than the organizer). Travel and Board, though, is often forthcoming…. but that very much depends on the conference. Oddly, the smaller the conference, the more you will likely be subsidized. You might think it is vice-versa, but for most speakers, the value is the elevated status you get as a speaker. Being a speaker in front of 20 people does not elevate you very far. My favourite audience size is probably 80 or so (as long as the room is not set up to seat 500).
Have some videos online
You can use your PC to record a presentation even if you have not spoken at a conference. So do one and put it on Youtube. Make it a blog post, perhaps. That way, when the organizers ask to see an example of your work, you have something ready to share.
Your Social Influence counts
Don’t be an idiot on your social profiles. Certainly not while the organizers are selecting their speakers. The organizers will not only look for good speakers but ones that will come with their own audience and credibility. Whilst you may not have a huge following when starting out, you can still portray an image that aligns well with the conference circuit. Act professional online.
Here are some tips I have learnt along the way to try to be a better speaker.
Always record yourself in practice. Practising in front of a friend is all very well, but let’s be honest… they don’t want to hear the content and might not even understand it. Worse… they will ALWAYS say it was “great”. You are your own worst critic, so record yourself and notice your ticks and errors. A second benefit is that you then have a video version of your talk, which you can use as a blog post after the event and even refer to it during the talk.
Before you start, make eye contact with the whole room. As I get up and look at the audience, I try to start by gazing out at the crowd (big or small) with my eyes following an “M” shape across the floor. This helps me to make eye contact with the whole room – including the much-neglected people in the corners and will therefore make for a more engaging presentation for the audience and you. A bonus is that you get time to think and settle before you speak.
Never start with an apology. I cannot tell you how often I have heard a speaker start with “Sorry, I have a cold” or worse “, Sorry, I am really nervous”. This does not set you up for success! Ideally, start with a joke or at least an exciting fact. Never start with “sorry”.
Do not read the text on your slides. The best presentations are often the ones with almost no words on their slides at all. But certainly, the worst is where the presenter entirely uses the text on the slides to help them know what to say. We can all read the text! Two other ways to remember what you need to say are to use the “speaker notes” facility on Powerpoint or use cue cards. My way is to mentally relate each slide image to what you plan to say. There are multiple memory techniques to help do this. I use rhyming imagery… If slide three is about “some impressive analytics from a case study”, I might go “Three… rhymes with a tree…” and have an image of an oak tree with numbers hanging down, surfing on a graph that resembles a wave… (You have to be in my head – so just make up your own).
Have an Objective. Know what the audience should get out of the session and what YOU will get out of the session. It probably won’t be money… (at least not from the organizer). It might be:
- Simply a feeling of awesomeness
- Avoiding paying for a conference ticket
- People following up, leading to leads
- Improved reputation
- Sales (Don’t sell on stage, though… you will not get invited back!)
- Get people talking about what you said
Whatever it is… have the objective(s) in mind. It makes a difference.
Have a feedback loop for yourself. This is one tip nobody else tells you. Everything has a KPI, and you should know how well you did and whether your talks are improving or not. If you want to know MY KPI method, I invite you to email “talk – at – Dixonjones.com” with “KPI Tip” in the subject line. I’m not putting that tip online, but I’ll share it with some people individually.
A Final Thought
I came back to this blog post after a free event last week in London, where a group ran a networking event where speakers were sharing tips on how to speak at SEO conferences. It was free. It was after work. There were free drinks and snacks. But almost EVERYONE in the room was already a speaker. Honestly – if you cannot get off your arse to network with speakers, you probably shouldn’t speak publicly anyway.