Crash the Keynote!

And other advice on how to maximize thought leadership when it comes to speaking opportunities.

This blog post is the second installment in a 4-part series that will cover multiple steps on the path to becoming a thought leader. Read our first piece, which focused on writing for thought leadership, here.

Hit me with your best shot.
I mean it! Go ahead, name your dream speaking slot for 2019. Ready, set (here are my favorite responses to…) GO:

Client: The CEO is dying to snag the keynote at MWC Barcelona.
Me: We can do it!  Let’s check out how your latest case studies align with this year’s tracks.
Client: We need to get started on the HIMSS 2019 call for proposals (aka call for dissertations).
Me: Awesome, good thing you’ve already got some killer  white papers/case studies to pull from.
Client (my personal favorite): The team seems all about the three letters C-E-S, yet we’re an entirely B2B business, help!
Me: It’s not (always) out of the question. Let’s find an approach that still adds value.

Landing thought leadership-enabling speaking opportunities might be one of the most challenging  aspects of my job, but somehow it’s also one of my favorite parts. In all fairness, this may be partially because I have a competitive – and still very journalistic – spirit. The concept of good content winning is not only “alive” when it comes to thought leadership – it’s critical.  I love that!

But, I think the part that I really love is that the challenge is one that makes us all better marketers and PR practitioners. In an industry that’s often criticized for jargon and “marketing speak,” the boilerplate approach will never win. It’s refreshing, right?

Plus, let’s be real: When David – the truly groundbreaking innovator – takes on the “Goliath” of the industry and has an opportunity to disseminate that knowledge to the masses, not only do we all win; we all want front row seats. In the agency world, securing that speaking slot is considered a good day!

(Quick plug: if you’re looking to learn more about how to actually land a thought leadership speaking opportunity – vs. how to gain thought leadership via speaking opportunities – check out my colleague,  Kathleen See’s blog post that features five things you should know about securing a speaking opportunity).

The fact of the matter is, challenges exist. It doesn’t matter what industry your brand is in, how big/small the company is; whether the company is an early stage startup, or a heritage brand in the space, the reality is that brand recognition doesn’t buy thought leadership, the speaker earns it.

You can slice and dice this a million ways, but here are four factors I see as fundamental, if you’re trying to achieve thought leadership through speaking opportunities:

Crash the Keynote
If you have any interest in speaking at next year’s event, you better not miss this year’s keynote. Don’t just take note of his/her on-stage presence, note the content; what got them up there? Was it unique research that they published with an analyst partner? Did they let the spokesperson from a partner company take most of the airtime? Whatever it is, identify the structure and their storyline and remember it, as it will help to remember what success looks like.

Pick the Right Pursuits
Yes, you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. The idea of wasting time writing an abstract for an event you don’t want to attend is painful; the idea of you speaking at an event you don’t see value in is excruciating. So, let’s pick the right pursuits.

Does this mean that you should only take gigs at the biggest and most expensive events? No way. Does it mean you need a Rolodex of sales leads after every speaking engagement? Sounds great but good luck! That can’t be the expectation when you’re pursuing thought leadership.

In fact, you’d be lucky if you accomplished one of those goals – for every event – within the same year, and doing so without paying a hefty price tag to be a part of them is next to impossible, but if you find a way to nail it all, please do let us know. However, in the meantime, you can identify what events will add value – not just to your company and salesforce, but to you as a thought leader.

This is as simple as looking at your job description.

Are you the CMO of a company that uses analytics software to help retail companies with franchise networks better understand and improve the online reputation of their business by improving customer service? NRF is a great long term goal (and a good one!), but in the meantime, get your feet wet at all of the marketing events you can find.

What about the CIO? Does your company help improve some aspect of corporate infrastructure and therefore target IT professionals? Engaging with the IT audience in some capacity – even if you simply host a meetup – should definitely be on your to-do list long before you even dream about taking on a proposal to secure the keynote slot at Interop, Spiceworld or RSA.

Practice not only makes perfect, it makes perfect sense. However, practicing to an empty room, or a room of professionals that don’t help you grow, doesn’t make sense. So, when attempting to pick the right pursuits, evaluate the opportunity based on this simple rubric which requires you to check all of the boxes that align with accurate statements about the event you’re considering:
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 More than 45 percent of the event attendees will gain value from what I plan to discuss
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There’s a 65 percent chance that I will meet at least two people who I have networks I could benefit from, if I pursue and secure this opportunity
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 
At least 10 percent of the audience could be characterized as early adopters of my target customer segments, or channel partners who influence the early adopters of that audience

If you can check at least two of the above “boxes,” pursue it. If you don’t, take a pass.

Know when you’re the right fit for the opportunity (and know how to fit into the opportunity when you know the right fit)
If you’re looking to be perceived as a thought leader, you know that there are some stories that are best told by your customer or partner. In those situations, let them lead the charge. And if you want some tips on how to get their buy-in, check out this blog for tips on how to make that happen.

Another consideration: an organization that issues a “call for papers/proposals” often allows for some creativity as it relates to “format of proposed presentation.” Don’t gloss over this question, seriously.

Here are two examples of how you might leverage that opportunity to build your thought leadership even when you know you aren’t the right fit, but you know someone who is:
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 If you’ve been effective in building strong analyst relationships in your industry, consider having him/her moderate a panel of 2-3 customers + you (or a member of your exec team); while s/he interviews the group, your customers can speak to how they’ve leveraged a specific technology to improve their business/services/bottom line, etc., while you weigh-in on the information they brought to the table that enabled the success. It’s a win/win.
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If your company leverages a partner network – whether it’s a group of technology partners, channel partners, or otherwise – submit on behalf of their appropriate spokesperson, while also helping to shape their content. For example, you might introduce them, and note that they’ve provided excellent customer service to your audience, by leveraging key educational and case study materials before they get up and speak about how your technology is enabling business opportunities for your (shared) customers

Start Pumping Up Your Profile, Yesterday.
There are a handful of associations tied to the best, brightest and biggest events in the business and technology space(s) that recently did something smart, but not necessarily groundbreaking (sorry, CEA), but somehow it still surprised applicants: they started requiring that speakers – who are interested in speaking at their top-notch and highly respected event – provide more than just a speaker history/bio (gasp!).

They’ve also asked for personal Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles and more. They’ve even asked for submitters to confirm post frequency, and to share links to the speaker’s blog and/or links to the last few articles s/he has written for mainstream media publications. We’ve also seen an increasing number of requests for video clips from past speaking engagements that we’ve recommended our clients create a speaking “reel” for, or at least keep a living list of links that they can pull up and copy over as needed. Again, smart (and completely warranted), but not groundbreaking.

This is exciting and scary all at the same time because suddenly, thought leadership comes down to the “leader” not just the company’s leadership, and it’s no coincidence that in the weeks leading up to these deadlines we see a sudden influx in inbound client prospects who are hoping we can help them establish the “leader” part. While this is absolutely something we can do, it takes at least a little bit of time to do it effectively.
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 T
he exciting part: it no longer takes the MWC/HIMSS/CES gig to gain thought leadership status in today’s world, the thought leader controls his/her own destiny. In fact, David can win that keynote spot, despite competing with Goliath.
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 
The scary part: if you’re staring at the submission form and thinking “I don’t even know if this executive has a Twitter account,” it’s too late (for that specific event, that is).

The good news is that all thought leader prospects face an even playing field, and with the right content strategy, it’s absolutely possible, and if you take a pragmatic approach to thought leadership brand building, it’s even predictable.

Stay tuned for our next installment, and in the meantime, make sure to subscribe and check out our other blogs!

By Meghan Brown