1. Conferences and Events

12 Tips for Pitching Speakers for a Conference or Event

I’ve been helping program the search marketing sessions for MediaPost’s upcoming OMMA event in September, and the first stage of it is reviewing dozens of conference pitches. Overall, it’s a promising bunch of proposals, and my biggest regret is that there are only six sessions I’m responsible for; I could easily have picked ten great ones, and I’ll still try to pawn some of the rejected panels to other programming chairs if they can be adapted. I’ll also mine this list for ideas when I plan MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit (which also has a Facebook group).

I’ve also seen some horrible pitches. My favorite bad pitch was from someone who didn’t clarify the company of the speaker, and then I went to the PR agency’s website and it was touting how it won some award for Agency of the Year. While I didn’t use that exact pitch, the speaker will likely be added to a related panel as her perspective and company are a perfect fit. That takes us right into the tips:

1. Market a good product or brand. I’ll at least try to find a way to work in a speaker I’ve heard of (in a positive context) or have seen and enjoyed. Even if I don’t know the speaker by name and he or she is from a great company, that’ll often do the trick. It’s not foolproof, but it can help.

2. Make yourself a strong brand when pitching. There’s one speaker who will make it in on the coattails of his PR agency. I’ve heard the speaker before, but they could have put anyone in his place with a similar proposal and I’d have likely found some way to get him in.

3. Be original. I love the pitches that take a very stale topic, like search engine optimization, and give a completely fresh angle on it. One of those pitches in particular made it in easily. In fact, when I asked someone for their take on any sessions I should include, that was the only one she mentioned.

4. Be unoriginal. Don’t you love points that totally contradict each other? If you can’t be totally original, then do a solid job pitching something that a lot of others are pitching. There were three themes that kept emerging in a number of pitches, so I grouped those proposals together. All three of those themes made it to my ‘must include’ list, generally just taking one session title and description from the best proposal, but sometimes mashing them up and creating this hybrid that I hope makes sense. When I took elements from multiple sessions, I’d include all of the proposed speakers for those sessions, and then I’d sometimes include speakers from sessions that were related. I knew these other speakers could fill out the panel, even though the pitches themselves didn’t make the cut. It’s still a win for the speaker (and, if applicable, the marketer or firm doing the pitch).

5. Be timely. With all the buzz about video these days, how come not a single pitch was focused on video search? I had to create one from scratch since it’s too big a topic to ignore. I’ll also find my own speakers for it, since hardly anyone seemed to be a great fit for that topic. Another topic was especially timely and also original, and it will likely make the cut (if it doesn’t, it’s a lock for the Search Insider Summit).

6. Follow directions. Make it clear who the speaker is and who the PR firm or in-house marketer is. Check the right boxes. It goes a long way in preventing the event organizer from thinking you’re an idiot.

7. Fill in the optional fields. For this event’s forms, you didn’t have to fill in the speaker’s bio, but it helped for some speakers who had it. I especially liked knowing if some marketers were seasoned speakers. Granted, I’ve heard enough CEOs speak who should never be on a stage but wind up with lengthy resumes. Still, credibility helps. I don’t think a single proposal mentioned whether that speaker or company had been part of the conference before, and that information might have made me take a second look at some proposals. 

8. Recommend others. When two proposals are similar, I’ll give priority to the one who names some great panelists. One in particular listed all the company’s competitors to be helpful. There’s a big difference between a proposal that mentions the speaker will provide case studies and a proposal that lists other speakers who may be available to speak.

9. Avoid cliches, especially in the titles. It just saves the event organizer time from rewriting the pitch later.

10. Don’t pass off corporate collateral as a speaker proposal. Some proposals reflected the same copy that’s used on their companies’ websites. One speaker probably would have been in the running for a related session, but I’m not sure if he could talk to anything besides his own company. Write about a topic, an idea, a trend – anything besides the company itself.

11. Know the event. This is another given, but come on. A number of proposals were acting like they were pitching keynote speakers for an event that even turns most of its keynotes into panels. There was no chance that any of these sessions would have fewer than three speakers and a moderator.

12. Show excitement. While most proposals felt like this was the same pitch over and over again, a few showed genuine excitement for the subject. It’s contagious.

When I help with these events, I ultimately want to be enthusiastic about it. I want to be able to tell others, "You can come to any of these sessions and will be grateful you were there. You’ll learn something, you’ll hear a great speaker, you’ll meet interesting people." The agenda for the last Search Insider Summit was like that, and the tracks I helped with for OMMA Hollywood earlier this year were close (it was my first time helping select proposals for that event, so I had to learn a few lessons as to what panels worked best for it). I’d love to know that I don’t have room for some amazing sessions and proposals because there are too many great ones to choose from.

It’s still early, but I have that great feeling about the event. That’s entirely thanks to the proposals that followed these guidelines and inspired them.

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Comments to: 12 Tips for Pitching Speakers for a Conference or Event
  • Avatar
    August 1, 2007

    Great post. I liked your ideas on how to pitch speakers. My favorite one is Number 7. Cheers.

  • Avatar
    August 2, 2007

    Thanks David. Good advice, especially #s 3 and 4. Perhaps you could add another one, “follow your gut,” to go with those two. All the best from Mexico.

  • Avatar
    August 3, 2007

    These are great tips. I wish every conference programmer was as thoughtful and careful as you!


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