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Earning the right to wear a conference “Speaker” badge

Have you ever attended a conference, seen the name of someone from a competing  firm on the speaker’s list, and wondered, “Why isn’t one of our firm’s people listed there?”

Maybe their name should be on that program. But conference speaker slots don’t go to just anyone. They go to people who have earned the right to get into that schedule.

To understand how this works, think of the process from the viewpoint of a conference organizer. Is there enough evidence of your proposed speaker’s expertise and thought leadership available online, for the organizer to want to add your spokesperson to the list of speakers?

Let’s say one of your firm’s recent hires, named Rakesh, is a rising star in the field of bridge design. Your job is to “groom” Rakesh so that he’s able to speak at conferences on road construction.

But right now, for all his design brilliance, Rakesh is a “best-kept secret” in his field.

Do the necessary heavy lifting

For anyone to gain the stature in their field to be considered as a speaker, they need to have something to say, that audiences will want to hear. This means defining the topic -- the area on which Rakesh wants to be seen as an expert. “Bridge design” is too wide a topic -- Rakesh will need to tighten up his focus into an area like crossings of wide watercourses without impacting the environmentally-sensitive shorelines, the use of concrete with a high percentage of fly ash, or some other theme.

Then, he’ll need to build a body of knowledge. This can involve doing sufficient studying, researching, networking to understand the issues thoroughly, and then developing some solutions to the issues being faced by the people he wants to reach.

It helps if Rakesh can develop some unique methodologies, concepts -- and maybe coin a few phrases and new words.

Organize and record ideas

Encourage Rakesh to write down his ideas, record them, organize. Find new ways to express them. If he tends to think verbally, for example, he needs to find ways to express his ideas in diagrams and flowcharts. You may need to have Rakesh work with an artist who’s trained and experienced in expressing ideas in the form of images.

Organize his thought into long-form content as well as short bits. Think of analogies and stories that express the ideas. Take photographs.

This is important partly because in getting Rakesh to set down his ideas in a concrete form, you’re forcing him to think through those ideas. For example, let’s say you have determined that there is a strong demand for bridges that can survive more extreme storm events. Having Rakesh think through ways to design these structures so they can be built, and for not a lot of additional cost, will provide content that shows his ability to work with future realities.

It’s important to have this information in various formats. Partly, this is because different clients have different preferences regarding how they like to absorb information. But more to the point, it shows Rakesh’s flexibility. If he can come across well in a video in which he explains his ideas on a whiteboard, as effectively as he does in a journal article, it shows his ability to work with current information technology.

Make it known

After doing the heavy intellectual lifting and building a body of knowledge, Rakesh needs to get evidence of his thought leadership in front of people who have the capacity to book him as a speaker, and recommend him as being someone who should be booked.

There is a huge range of means he can use to do this. It includes:
An effective LinkedIn profile

  • Rakesh’s profile needs to list his academic and professional qualifications, to reassure event organizers that they cannot be criticized for choosing an unqualified speaker.
  • He should list under “Publications” his papers, articles and other content
  • He can upload PDFs of his articles, work samples, slide shows and other  evidence of thought leadership

Participation in LinkedIn groups

If Rakesh wants to reach certain specific audiences (and he should), he can help his cause by participating in LinkedIn groups where people like his audiences are active. These can be groups within his own profession, but if he wants to reach potential clients, it’s those groups where he should focus his time. This will include groups of people involved in highway construction, local governments, watercourse preservation and others.

Regular and frequent content production

Rakesh needs to produce content frequently in order to remind potential clients that he exists and may be able to help them deal with issues they are facing. Producing this content regularly shows them that he’s in it for the long haul. It’s particularly the case when it’s a big capital project such as a bridge -- the needs for that service only come along rarely, and Rakesh needs to keep reminding potential clients of his expertise, so he’s one of those called upon when there is a need.

Publication in client-facing media

Just as Rakesh needs to get his ideas into LinkedIn groups that have members who are potential clients, he needs to promote himself through other media that reach people with the capacity to select him as a speaker. This still involves printed trade and professional magazines -- I’ve been amazed at the staying power of this ‘legacy’ platform. But Rakesh also needs to guest-blog for influential online publications, and appear on audio podcasts that are on the playlists of the right people.

Becoming the ‘safe’ choice

The objective is to make Rakesh be seen as the “safe” choice when it comes to selecting speakers for a program. You want Rakesh to be demonstrably qualified both professionally and academically, with solid experience in his field.

You also want him to be a recognized name in his field, even if it’s through a long list of publications on his LinkedIn profile, and some PDFs that show his slide shows and published articles.

Once you’ve been able to get your firm’s spokesperson booked for a few public speaking events, he’ll soon have his choice of opportunities.

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