Speaker Inclusion: How Conferences Select Speakers
Who a conference puts on stage to speak is very important. I don’t think most events give this enough consideration.
One easy way I know this is that, somehow, I still see panels that are made completely of whites dudes.
Most conferences spend very little time inviting enough speakers, screening those speakers, or even broadly considering what total group of speakers will look like and communicate from their stage.
We’ve focused on diversity and inclusion at Social Fresh conferences since the first conference I hosted in 2008. I remember very clearly I had confirmed about a third of all the speakers we needed and I realized all but one of them was a white man.
Ever since then we’ve put a big focus on speaker inclusion.
Our success really took off when Social Fresh cofounder, Nicole D’Alonzo, helped setup our speaker diversity goals. Since 2013, every conference we’ve hosted has had 50% or more female speakers on stage.
I am not suggesting we deserve some type of credit for this. It should be the norm. But it’s not. One of our core Social Fresh values is diversity. And if your company has a core value, you need to put metrics around that whenever possible.
I am a keynote speaker and an event organizer. I work on both sides of the industry and I know both of these jobs are hard.
The most common email I get is the “how can I speak?” ask.
At Social Fresh we are typically looking for very specific speakers to talk about very specific topics. We cannot say yes to most folks.
I think it’s really helpful to understand how a conference makes decisions about who they invite to speak on stage. How they decide could help or hurt your chances.
In the points below I’m going to break down details of what we do at Social Fresh for our speaker selection process. Then I’ll share some general speaker booking advice that has helped me get more speaking gigs and can help you get on the stage at any event.
How do we decide who speaks at each conference? There is more to this than I could explain in one blog post, but here’s a quick overview.
These are the key things we consider:
- Speaker experience/stage presence
- Unique opinion
- Topic expertise
- Brand name (and match for content themes)
- Diversity (gender, race, industry, business size)
- History (past speakers with rave reviews)
- Misc. (each person is uniquely considered, so this is not an exhaustive list)
For every Social Fresh conference we form a content committee that reviews a large pool of potential speakers for these considerations and more. We typically review 5-10 times the number of speakers that we will ultimately invite on to our stage.
2. No Nominations
As a policy, Social Fresh does not accept speaker nominations. This does not mean that you should never reach out to us.
It is more of a logistical challenge. We get hundreds of pitches each year and cannot review them all.
We do not have an open call for speakers. We do not have a form for submitting yourself to our content committee. We research the industry and curate a list of invites to send out.
Here are a few ways we might discover new speakers:
- We attend other industry conferences
- We get recommendations from our own past speakers
- We keep an eye out for unique thought pieces on industry blogs
- We watch the Social Fresh community. Our past attendees, blog contributors, volunteers, conference affiliates, and sponsors are a huge source of talent.
3. We Research A Lot
We take research seriously. We attend other conferences online and in person. We attend events with an eye on speakers we are impressed by.
We ask past Social Fresh speakers who they think is a rising star or a great speaker that we have not featured yet.
We listen to podcasts and consider our own Social Toolkit podcast guests.
We make sure we are constantly connecting with and speaking with social media pros online and in person. LinkedIn is a great resource for this.
4. We Look For Big Brand Names
Attendees come to Social Fresh to hear from recognizable brands doing innovative things. Attendees need case studies and stories to bring back to their team. They need to be able to share these new learnings from a brand their boss will recognize. If you ran a great campaign for Whole Foods or Disney or Starbucks, you have the case studies attendees want.
Also, this is not the only deciding factor by any means, but it is an important piece of the puzzle. Attendees look for brand names. And Social Fresh is a business. So we have to consider these things.
We also include topic experts, agency/vendor speakers, and small to medium brand representatives.
That’s a really transparent and high level look at our speaker process.
Now, if you want to speak at more conference, Social Fresh or others, here’s a few recommendations to give yourself a better chance of getting on stage.
You don’t HAVE to do these things. But if you really want to increase your chances, and you believe in your ability, read on.
1. Have A Personal Blog and Speaker Page
You don’t have to blog every week or every month. But you need a professional website that has information about you and links to your content around the web.
Have a specific page on your blog that is your “speaking page” for pitching yourself as a speaker.
That page should have a video of you speaking on stage. It should list your speaking experience, what topics you cover, testimonials, and photos of you at events.
You would not believe how many people are promoting themselves to speak but have no we presence with more info to make their case.
2. Have A Speaker Video or Reel
This does not have to be a highly produced reel of you speaking at 10 conferences. It should be a video excerpt of you speaking from at least one conference, on stage, about a relevant topic.
The video quality should be good, not shaky. The audio should be good. And it should give conference organizers a good idea of your stage presence.
90% of people that pitch Social Fresh to speak do not have this. So just think about the advantage it will give you.
3. Sell Yourself to Conferences
If you can demonstrate how your brand, audience, or topic will help generate ticket sales or offer a different take from their typical content, you increase your chances of getting on stage.
Some conferences are looking for very specific topics to be covered. Many corporations want someone with an exciting or inspiring stage presence. Other events want to hear about the future — predictions, thought leadership, etc.
Consider what the decision makers are looking for, what’s trending, and review last year’s content line-up to better understand how you can help.
Consider how you can stand out and offer unique value for that event.
4. Attend and Promote The Conference You Are Targeting
If you attend Social Fresh, if you write for our blog, if you tweet us and promote our content and our events, we will notice.
If you ask how you can help, we will notice.
Again, you do not HAVE to do this. But volunteering your time, your support, and getting to know the decision makers is one of the biggest things you can do, long-term, to get a leg up for any conference or event (or anything really).
This might sound self serving, but it is the truth. And I genuinely believe it will help you.
It is not a guarantee to get you on stage for any event, but again, relationships matter in most things.
I still do this for my peers and fellow conference planners – whether it’s jumping in, at the very last minute, to present on stage or helping to promote an upcoming event.
“It takes a village” really applies to conferences.
And even if this tactic does not get you on stage, it will still be a huge plus for your professional network and contacts. Trust me.
5. Have Something To Say
Personally, this is the tactic that has gotten me the most speaking opportunities.
I’ve written hundreds of articles about social media and creativity.
Conference organizers will commonly ask me to speak because I wrote a certain article about a specific topic that fits their event/content goals.
Years ago, I got flown out to speak at a huge conference is Budapest, Hungary because of a blog post resource I published on how brands were using Foursquare.
Writing a book is a great way to show people what you have to say. Have a unique opinion and put it out there.
A quality blog post can help get the attention of an event organizer, as well. I read way more blog posts than I do books.
Write about what you want to speak about. Make it unique. And put it out there in a lot of places.
6. Let People Know You Want to Speak
Ahhh, here we are. Full circle.
If you have done 1 through 4. You have a blog, a video, you are going to conferences and supporting conferences, and getting to know the organizers. Then you are ready to put the word out.
Email your friends. Share your speaking page.
Let people know what type of speaking you want to do. Let them know what topics you want to speak on and have a (unique) POV.
Email conferences. Link them to your speaker page, your video, your signature blog posts.
You can even advertise your speaker video to conference organizers on social networks.
You will not get what you do not ask for.