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Thought Leadership Strategy: 3 Steps to the Speaker’s Podium

thought leadership strategyPublic speaking is a powerful way to get your organization’s message across, positioning the speaker as a subject-matter expert. Anyone who has spoken at a conference knows the power of wearing that speaker’s badge — a presenter’s words, even in a conversation in the lobby over a coffee and croissant, just seem to have more weight. 

An effective content marketing strategy can help put your organization on that podium.

To see how good content can generate speaking opportunities, imagine that you’re the managing partner of a boutique urban planning firm and you’ve just made a key hire (“Alice”) who is a virtual rock star in the field of high-rise residential design. One of your key objectives for Alice is to get her onto the podium at urban planning conferences. How do you make sure that Alice will get noticed by conference organizers, and then convince them that she can be an asset to the conference lineup?

In a word: content.

What conference planners are looking for

To see how this works, think of the kinds of online searches in which Alice will need to appear prominently.

This would start with a topic search, in which conference organizers look for the names of people associated with topics they want to see covered at their events. This means that the content that Alice produces — articles, white papers, podcasts, videos and so on — must be tailored to the keywords organizers are likely to use. These might include “urban planning,” but also the topics about which Alice is knowledgeable — “intensification,” “brownfields,” and “mixed use,” among them.

If Alice is able to get onto “long” lists of possible speakers, she next needs to survive the “shortening” process, in which conference organizers narrow down the range of prospects. They’ll research her background, her work experiences, her particular areas of industry expertise, and the topics that seem to interest her most strongly — to get a clearer idea of whether she’s a “hot” industry commodity or not.

Alice is more likely to get onto the short list, and ultimately onto the podium, if conference organizers find positive answers to three questions:

1. Is she knowledgeable in the field?

First, organizers want to know if Alice knows her stuff. How much has she written — either as part of your firm or for her previous employers? Has she created a constant flow of content over the years? These details will indicate if Alice has an ongoing commitment to sharing her knowledge and experience with others in her industry.

The best medium for demonstrating knowledge is still text, whether it is in a feature article, blog post, white paper, eBook, or printed book. Words on a screen or page demonstrate Alice’s ability to think through concepts and explain them in laypersons’ terms.

While the firm should have some of this content posted on its website, it is also important to have content available through Alice’s LinkedIn profile, because her profile will likely be toward (or at) the top of any search using her name. New content Alice has developed should be listed under her “Updates” at the top of her profile, later archived further down in “Publications” along with other work she’s done. Slide shows and eBooks posted to SlideShare can easily be posted on Alice’s LinkedIn profile.

In developing content to demonstrate thought leadership, it is important to work with Alice to determine what keywords and phrases are particularly pertinent in her work — and be sure that those keywords are worked into the content as part of the SEO strategy. This may seem obvious, but in many cases it doesn’t get done.

2. Will this speaker be a draw for the event?

Conference organizers will also want to know if Alice has what it takes to draw registrants to their events. This is particularly important in the case of plenary or keynote presenters, but it also helps if concurrent session presenters are well-known “names” in their fields.

To demonstrate Alice’s abilities as a registration “magnet,” it is important to have her content acknowledged by her peers and others with whom she works. This is done, in part, by having that content distributed through prominent, respected venues. If her articles are published in industry and trade magazines (and their associated online publications), on the websites of professional associations, and perhaps in academic and professional journals, they will earn a “seal of approval” from editors that will certainly be noted by conference planners.

To find the best venues for this content, your best source of information may be Alice, herself — who should know what organizations her clients belong to and which publications they read.

For showcasing Alice’s abilities as a thought-leader, it is best if she is positioned as someone with big-picture understanding — through articles about trends affecting her clients’ worlds.  Conference organizers may also look for evidence that Alice may be just a bit controversial — that she has strong opinions and can express them well.

Organizers may also look at her number of followers on Twitter, and whether her ideas tend to get forwarded — all evidence of Alice’s stature as a thought leader.

3. Can this speaker deliver an effective presentation?

If conference organizers are convinced Alice is knowledgeable and her name would add sparkle to their lineup of speakers, they’ll then want to know if Alice is an effective public speaker. This is a vital point in plenary and keynote presentations — having an engaging speaking style is essential on the big stage. (Some might say that style is more important than substance at some conferences.)

For smaller, or more technical conferences, speaking style, even in keynotes, is less important than having something significant to say. In most professional or business conferences, having dazzling public speaking skills is less important than having dazzling information to convey.

This calls for a speaker demonstration video. In the days of film and videotape, a demo was something only high-end professional speakers could make available. Now, a smartphone or consumer-level camera can shoot a video adequate for the purpose. Easy-to-use computer-based tools (I use a Mac, so iMovie is my program of choice) can be used to edit a presentation, adding music, transitions, and titles. The results can be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo. The video should be about 3 minutes — enough to show Alice’s ability to communicate, without exhausting viewers’ attention spans.

Amazing cinematography isn’t necessary. Conference organizers just want to see if Alice can communicate her ideas and connect with her audience. The demo video should show her ability to use analogies, stories, diagrams, and animation to make these issues understandable to laypeople. There’s a good chance that she already uses these tools in her presentations to clients — so have her think of how she conveys her ideas in meetings, and then incorporate those into the presentation that is recorded for the demo video.

As with all of content marketing, leverage is key. The speaker-demonstration video, for example, should be on a topic Alice wants to be known for, so that the video also serves to demonstrate her subject-matter expertise. The articles that demonstrate her thought leadership to conference organizers also demonstrate her value to potential clients.

Good content strategy can get Alice wearing that “speaker” badge at conferences, engaging in her own coffee-and-croissant conversations with potential clients.

For more advice on creating content with a strategic goal in mind, read, CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook.

Image courtesy of Carl Friesen