Education in events, starts with engaging teachers and industry leaders. From the countless conferences, think tanks and summits worldwide, it's the mind share of others that drives our industry forward. By 'mind share,' I mean that learning from others who have experienced what you havn't, will be the education we need in order to grow our 'own' careers. Today, we travel and we speak which is the new networking game. Like professors from our university days, speakers carry knowledge that we require, so how do planners choose speakers that will engage attendees to think, interact and change the game for.
As a company that designs creative summits and conferences from youth tech discussions to Canadian Mining Summits, it's important to first research the industry in full detail. As an example, understand how the mining industry works from safety standards to locations across the country where needed minerals exist. Understand the indigenous communities that are affected by digging and learn what the government is doing to protect their heritage and the environment. Ingrain yourself into the culture of your client, their needs and truly understand the message surrounding the conference/summit. Once you know all things, you can start to find the key players and educators who can engage conversation and BRING attendees in.
When beginning to solicit speakers, there are a few key factors to keep in mind:
1. Make sure you make a list of ideas you need covered throughout the variety of topics offered at your conference. This means, you must understand each topic and the end goal of each session (you may have over 30 sessions, you can't fake this in your pitch - RESEARCH, UNDERSTAND and BE CONFIDENT). Panel discussions are always an incredible tool, BUT you must ensure you have different angles and ideas covered by the panelists or the outcome will be stale and one sided. Summits are about collaboration, so if you have four panelists, make sure one covers policy, one covers creativity, one covers forecasting and possibly one that covers technology (all depends on the topics obviously). Lastly, panels need moderators. Moderators should be confident engaging personalities who understand the topic, but may be impartial to it. They must initiate conversation and understand how to shift when needed.
2. When choosing speakers, look through their past speaking engagements, research their topics and look for attendee engagement through social platforms to see what kind of response was had. This is done through searching through hashtags dedicated to the specific conference (yes, hashtags 'ARE' useful). It is beneficial to find potentials who have written books, articles or journals on the specific topic you are trying to cover. This also means their potential payment may be high, so highlight the KEY sessions first and locate a higher budget to them.
3. Put together a comprehensive package to send to your potential speakers highlighting the goals of the conference, the timeline of events, sessions breakdown and information on compensation and coverage for their travels. This will alleviate a long frustrating process of trying to prove the importance of your pitch. A structurally designed and informative package will give relevance and importance to your pitch and provide a clear process to the potential speaker to answer quickly.
4. A platform I have come to love and enjoy is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an incredible tool for searching for potential speakers. The premium subscription allows you to fully engage with high end potentials who I guarantee are on LinkedIn and who respond. It truly is a platform that is seen as a professional place to engage with fellow industry leaders, but also reach out to executives, CEO's and professional speakers. I have been successful in soliciting speakers from Youtube, Facebook, AMC, E Entertainment, TIFF and other major brands through the processes offered by LinkedIN. Once the connection is made through their internal direct messaging, you can offer your package, get on the phone and discuss the opportunity further.
5. Once you have chosen your speakers and have worked out the necessary payment, it's time to provide each speaker with a 'one pager' of key points attendees would like to learn on the specific topic. This is NOT to direct the speaker on your own philosophies, but it is to provide them with somewhat of a FAQ sheet that attendees are looking to have answered. If the topic is about data collection in television viewership and the metadata needed to find answers, your speaker obviously will direct the conversation on industry standards, policy and privacy, as an example. You've chosen that speaker for a reason, but just like you, they need to do research as well. Make it easier for them and provide as much information about the attendees and their needs. Provide detailed emails of flight information, accommodations, location, time arrival, check in and session check in.
6. Lastly, you are the gate keeper. You now have an understanding of the conference education more than the client - Trust me. No matter if you are a planner or producer, once you have begun soliciting and completed the process, you will have such an understanding of every topic, that you will become the gatekeeper for EVERYONE from the client, speaker and attendee. Play the part. Make everyone feel comfortable. Empower your speakers by making them feel special, important and appreciated. Welcome packages full of information, passes, maps and restaurants near by should be presented to every speaker upon arrival. They must sense the professionalism and organization of you and your team to feel the highest level of enthusiasm to be at YOUR conference/summit. The process does not end when they arrive and produce their session. Most conferences/summits are an annual thing and the success of it usually comes from the experience of your speakers just as much or if not, more than your attendees.
I hope this helps you in your process of soliciting speakers for your own initiatives. Of course so much more can be said, but I am sure you will find what works for you and use these little helpful tips to find your own way. Remember to be as strategic as possible. Research, research, RESEARCH!! Understand the topics of each session and find the key players, leaders and educators who will provide the end goals to your attendees. Most of all, be confident and become a gatekeeper. You will learn so much from the development of the program that you will gain new skills that will help you each and everytime you do the solicitation process.
Fifth Element Group