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How to Apply to Speak at Events

You have to be able to submit compelling speaking proposals to prove you can offer more value to event attendees than another potential speaker. The pool of speaking talent is growing faster than the number of speaking opportunities available. You used to be able to ask event planners what they wanted you to speak about. You don’t have that luxury anymore.

Most event planners have their own process for evaluating and selecting the speakers for their event. Some choose the topics they want covered and find speakers who fit the bill. Some allow speakers to submit ideas and then choose the ones they think attendees will like the best. Others will take all ideas submitted and put them to a vote, allowing attendees to decide the topics for the event.

This is why it’s important to look at each event individually and familiarize yourself with all the factors that will influence selection criteria, such as these:

  • The typical experience level of the event’s attendees

  • The kind of topics the event has covered in the past

  • The experience level of the event’s current and past speakers

  • The diversity represented in the event’s speaker lineup

  • The feedback the event planners received on previous sessions and speakers

When you are hunting down speaking opportunities, you want to find the events where you can add the most value in relation to the other speakers who will be considered.

When putting together a speaking proposal, first look on the event website to understand the selection process and criteria well. Your main goal is simply this: Give the event’s planners what they ask for, plus a little more. Treat it as though you are applying for a job, because that’s very much how they will evaluate your proposal.

It’s perfectly appropriate to e-mail the event planners and ask for any specific guidance on what they are looking for in speaking proposals, but the bigger the event, the less likely they’ll have time to respond. Ask questions like these:

  • Are there any topics that attendees have requested more information about?

  • Are there any holes in the speaker lineup where the planners are having a hard time finding a speaker for a particular topic?

  • (If you know the event planners personally, ask this one.) Do the planners have any specific topic they would like you to propose speaking about?

After you’ve done your research, put together your proposal, following their submission format. Many times, the event planners will have a submission form for speakers; you can fill it out to ensure they have all the information they need to make a decision.

Because each application process is different, there is no one formula that you can follow that works for all. Instead, you have to tailor each proposal to the event planners’ and attendees’ needs. But here are a few things you can do to help your proposal stand out from the crowd:

  • Most important: Write an extremely compelling session title: If you can’t impress the event planners with your title, they won’t be convinced you will impress their attendees. You can get ideas by looking at sessions that were held in past events.

  • Know your audience: Propose ideas that you know the event attendees will want to learn about. For example, don’t propose a basic-skill-level session when the attendees will already be past that level of knowledge.

  • Be specific: Tailor your session to a specific topic — don’t offer a session on Advanced Blog Monetization when that means something very different to many different bloggers. Instead, offer a session on Advanced Advertising Strategies for Low-Traffic Blogs.

  • State attendee takeaways: This shows that you have specific goals for what you want attendees to get out of coming to your session. It helps the event planners to quickly evaluate whether your session idea will give attendees what they want.

  • Keep it brief: If it takes you four paragraphs to get your session point across, then you need to clarify your idea better. Conference attendees will be choosing which sessions to attend based on your title and brief summary in the printed event program, so you have to sell the session idea in one paragraph or less.

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