Sofia Troutman is the Senior Digital Marketing and Product Innovation Manager for Skyline Exhibits. Sofia heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in new product development and management, lead generation, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research.
Why You Should Speak at Conferences & How to Overcome the Barriers
Companies spend a lot of money and time creating a unique and compelling exhibit or event presence that will make them stand out and connect with potential and existing clients. There is another way to stand out and to garner attention for your company and for your brand, and that is to have someone in the company speak at the event.
Speaking at an event can seem daunting and, depending on the size and quality of the audience, some question if it is worthwhile. While you may have reasons not to speak, I would argue that there are also many benefits to your company and to you. As with exhibiting or participating in any live event, it is important that you compare the demographics of your clients with those of the attendees for the event to determine if this is the right audience for you.
Here are some of the benefits you should consider when deciding whether to speak:
Conference Attendees Are More Likely to Visit Your Exhibit If You Aare a Speaker
When you take the time to present at an event, you are signaling to attendees that you know your topic and that you are willing to share it with them. Attendees are more likely to recognize your company and want to talk to your staffers when they walk the trade show floor or attend an event you are sponsoring. You will be developing what is called “Brand Affinity” bias. Clients will recognize you or your brand and therefore are more likely to want to get to know you.
Free Advertising From the Show Organizer
Event organizers will promote your presentation, and by doing so, will promote you and indirectly your company. Your information will be featured on their website, printed materials and social media. Also, you will have the opportunity to share this information on your own social media channels, which will improve your clout with potential clients.
Learn As a Result of Participating
Anytime I have given a talk at a conference or event, I have learned from the experience. Getting up in front of a larger group of people is an incredible motivator for me to review and research material. Also, since I make my sessions interactive, I always learn new tips and tricks from people attending the class. I also learn what my client base cares about and often get an idea of new trends that may be surfacing in the marketplace.
Often, event organizers will have a speaker reception or networking opportunity to help speakers get to know one another. This type of event will host press or other key event organizers. This is a great opportunity to meet the people who are well known in your industry or who are likely to be more knowledgeable about new technologies, concepts or trends in your field.
Interact and Learn from Potential Clients
Beyond the learning that happens when preparing for a talk or a class, you will also learn by observing who attends your talk. This is a good opportunity to see if your customer personas (the types of people you have identified as representing your customers based on demographic and psychographic characteristics) are reflected in this audience or not. Some of this demographic information you may be able to get from the show organizer ahead of time to help you prepare for your talk as well.
In some settings, you may get the opportunity to have lunch or dinner with some of your audience. Again, this is a great opportunity to find out what they struggle with, who they are and how you can help people in this demographic with your products or services in the future. Additionally, you can send, or get from the event organizer, surveys about your session that will help inform you about who they are and what they care about.
Share Your Message
A great reason to speak at a business conference is that you will get a platform to share things you have learned or believe in. Have you ever attended a session at a conference and thought that you would like to share your own perspective on the topic? Kristen Sgroi shares this in her article, The Only 5 Reasons to Attend a Conference. By speaking at a business conference, you get an opportunity to share your perspective regarding your experience on a particular topic, how you think things should be and, hopefully, help others learn from your experience. This in and of itself can be very rewarding.
So Now That I Have Convinced You of the Benefits, How Do You Overcome Your Objections or Fears?
Here are some common objections to speaking at a conference and suggestions of how you can overcome them:
Lack of Time
First of all, you should plan to speak about a topic that is familiar to you and that is related somewhat to your current job so preparing is not as cumbersome and any needed preparation will benefit your current job. Also, it is helpful to plan ahead. Work backward from the date of the presentation and set regular deadlines for yourself so you are forced to complete different portions of your preparation on a periodic basis and therefore lessen the burden.
Get help in preparing. Either assign part of the research to a subordinate or ask a college to help you review your presentation or sit in on your practice preview. It will help them learn about what you are presenting and help you in the preparation process.
Public Speaking Fear
Not every speaking opportunity is one where you speak to a group of over 100 people. In fact, many breakout sessions are set up to be interactive and only require you to present to 40 people or less. This is much more manageable. Also, there may be opportunities for you to co-present. This can be a much less intimidating opportunity as not all the attention is placed on you and you can divide up the preparation tasks as well.
A good way to get over this fear is to start slowly. Initially, present to smaller groups or co-present to a larger or more familiar group. Once you are able to do that successfully you will be more comfortable going up alone in front of a larger crowd. Also, Simon Sinek gives great advice he learned from Olympic Athletes in an Entrepreneur Magazine article. Channel your nervous energy to generate excitement for your topic and audience.
Lack of Company Support
You would be surprised at the number of companies that, if given a chance, will recognize the value of having their employees speak on their behalf. Make sure you make a business case of why it benefits the company, what you will be speaking about and prove to them that you will do a good job. A good way of making your case is to present what you will be presenting to your boss ahead of time and to share the reviews you get afterward.
Protecting Confidential Information
You don’t have to give away your company secrets to have a meaningful presentation. In fact, you should be sure not to. However, there are probably a number of skills or experiences that you have gained in the course of your work that can be helpful to your potential client base, vendors or other business people that have nothing to do with your proprietary information. What do you do well that others in your industry or job function can learn from? Are you great at organizing, public speaking, promotions, something else?