Getting invited to speak at a conference can be a great way to help your career flourish as you demonstrate your knowledge on a particular topic and show your ability to communicate persuasively.
However, if you haven’t yet reached the point when conference invitations are steadily arriving in your inbox, how do you go about getting noticed?
Katherine Reggler, a UK-based conference producer at Informa, a multinational events and publishing company, said that for management accountants seeking to gain visibility, LinkedIn is the main social media platform. “[For LinkedIn] you don’t need to be an active poster. It’s more about having your profile up to date and making sure the keywords are there,” she said. In contrast, for other industry conferences, such as in the fashion or luxury goods sectors, an event for entrepreneurs, or an influencer-themed event, Instagram might be more relevant. Twitter is another option for getting noticed, especially in the tech, gaming, privacy, politics, media, or journalism areas, she said.
Showcasing your experience
Producing your own content is important, such as writing for industry publications or a blog, Reggler said. “It is also [about] posting on LinkedIn in a way that shows you to be engaged with key upcoming issues.”
Articles are more important than soundbites, Reggler said. “You can speak confidently in a 30-second clip on almost anything,” she said. “But if you can show your depth of knowledge in a few articles on your LinkedIn profile, that’s really valuable.”
Kate Roberts, a UK-based conference content and strategy consultant, said that traditional media is still very important. “If we are looking for people who can comment on a specific [topic], for example, new regulation or something that has happened in the industry, we will look for press articles in the specialist press but also the general press as well,” she said.
She said: “We invite people that we identify or have been identified for us as specific experts on very specific topics.”
Roberts and Reggler suggest the following basic ways to get noticed and be invited to speak at a conference:
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and use relevant keywords, such as “speaker”, and if you want to speak at a finance transformation event or women’s leadership conference, for example, those terms need to be in your profile.
- Research the conference companies that produce the best events in your sector so that you can develop a relationship with them. Be aware that some conference providers are more reputable than others.
- When you attend a conference, find out from the events team the name of the producer, and offer to provide advice on content for future conferences.
- Be willing to take a call from a conference producer who is looking for advice when developing a conference.
- Take a speaking opportunity offered at short notice if you are able to do so.
- Materials from past speaking engagements on your website or LinkedIn are helpful. You can also encourage a conference producer or delegate to leave a recommendation.
- If using a video clip to promote yourself, make sure it is good quality and relevant to the conference at which you are aiming to speak.
Jenny Okonkwo, FCMA, CGMA, CPA (Canada), president of Transform Consulting in Toronto, Canada, and co-chair of the AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit Europe in London in September, said that to become visible to conference organisers, building a personal brand is key. This can be done, she said, through a variety of ways, such as “community building, championing a cause, thought leadership, [and] establishing yourself as a subject-matter expert in a particular area”.
There are other ways of getting noticed, Roberts said. “Make it known within your organisation that you are up for conference speaking opportunities, because often an invitation might go to your colleague or your boss,” she said. “They might just get back and say, ‘Oh no, I am not available’, and wouldn’t think about … recommending you as a possible alternative speaker.”
Speaking can raise the profile of your company at the event, so try to sell the idea internally that you could be a good person to go and represent your team and the firm, she suggested.
In the past five or six years there has been a real move to increase the diversity of conference speakers, Roberts said. “We are looking for people who are a little more under the radar and who are brilliant at what they do but who are maybe not the first people the contacted organisation would put forward to speak.”
Reggler suggested there can be a barrier to securing a speaking opportunity if your organisation is seen by the conference company as a potential “partner” — if you approach a producer to speak at a conference, you may be expected to provide sponsorship.
If you are not a “seller” at the conference — or there is no sell or buy side — you are fine, she explained. In these cases, approaching the producer and saying, “I would like to speak,” is more straightforward. However, she warned: “Don’t be upset when the team behind the event turn around and [say] … ‘It is going to cost you x amount.’”
Conference producers are often more attracted to people from FTSE 100 or Nasdaq companies, Reggler said. If, on the other hand, you work for an SME, you will have to prove your value, she suggested. Either you will need to show a large-company background and can explain the relevance of your content to a wider audience, or you need to work out your key selling points.
“There are lots of local conferences. If you build a reputation in those spaces, you can push yourself forward. Sometimes it’s not about going for the big flagship event first, it’s about showing your record within the speaking circuit and pushing your way up,” Reggler said.
When not to speak
“If you are not sure what [the conference producers] want when you receive an invitation email, give them a call. Talk through the content with them,” Roberts suggested.
While people generally overestimate their lack of knowledge, Roberts advised not to accept an invitation if you’re not confident talking about the subject matter. But it is a good idea to keep in contact with the producer, she said, as they will likely be working on other events, so they may have a future event that fits your expertise perfectly.
— Oliver Rowe (Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com) is an FM magazine senior editor.