As we edge tentatively out of remote work and back-to-back Zoom calls, company marketers are once again looking to in-person events as a way to build visibility and raise profiles. The big “get”: snaring a speaking slot for C-level executives. If your event-pitching skills are a bit rusty, Marlene Saritzky and Amy Richards recently shared their speaker-placement words of wisdom with our community of portfolio companies.
Between them, Saritzky (principal of event consulting firm MSS Associates and the event organizer of Fortune Brainstorm TECH) and Richards (vice president of events at The Information) have over 20 years of experience in event design and conference programming. For newish founders and other executives, their high-level advice is to get out and attend some events.
“If you want to use events to get your brand or company visibility, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about getting a headlining slot for the C-suite — and this is especially true for those new to the space,” Saritzky says. “There are many ways to plug into events, starting with simply attending some.”
From there, the next steps for a startup founder might be participating in a breakout session or becoming an event sponsor. “It would be helpful to get exposure in these other ways before going all the way and staging your own event,” Saritzky adds.
Both Saritzky and Richards spend a lot of time listening to pitches from companies that want to get their leaders booked for prime speaking slots like keynote addresses, which offer more time to share thought leadership. In addition, high-profile speaking slots get more space on promotional materials.
Do your homework. “Know the themes and trends for that year, what the event offered the previous year, and what other events already scheduled might be covering,” Saritzky says.
The Information, which has just recently started offering in-person events again, holds events that focus on the same content seen in their reporting. “For example, we don’t report a lot on health tech,” Richards says. “But the creator economy, the metaverse, and AR/VR? Those are big topics.”
Show off your track record. Prove your speakers’ ability to engage audiences with video and past presentations. “This is why it can be good to start with smaller or more-focused events, rather than aiming for the biggest event or audience,” says Saritzky. “Having video from that event can really help a pitch.”
And even if you don’t get selected right away, “sometimes a pitch that doesn’t make the cut will stick in my head and I find it’s a better fit the next year,” Richards says. “It helps to maintain relationships with us over time.”
Seek out diverse speakers. “I’m constantly looking to make sure we have a diverse speaker lineup, including people from different backgrounds, different demographics, and just different perspectives within an industry,” says Richards.
Pitch a partner. Consider a tandem presentation, with a stakeholder, customer, or partner on hand to flesh out the story. “We have a spot on our pitch form asking, ‘What companies or brands could you bring to join you for this presentation?’” explains Richards. The goal is to support the main speaker with another voice. Attendees often want to know how the technology or product helped a user, so having these examples or case studies is very helpful for the pitch.
Once you have secured a slot for a speaker, it’s time to start prep work.
Preparation is everything. “Twenty minutes is the typical duration for a speaking engagement,” Saritzky says. “That can seem like a tiny amount of time — or a huge amount of time if you haven’t practiced and fine-tuned your presentation.”
Get feedback. Rehearse your presentation for colleagues who will provide honest advice. It can help to record a speaker’s presentation since the camera can reveal things that might not be apparent live. In fact, video of a presentation may provide more value over time than the live event, so you want to make sure the presentation is translating well.
Encourage community-building. Today’s event planners want speakers who’ll not only present but also engage with attendees. That means adding time for Q&A sessions or simply mingling with people. “If the event planners think that your speaker wants to fly in, present, and quickly fly home, it may work against you,” Richards says.
In our next post, Marlene and Amy will share ideas for creating a successful event of your own.