[Stefanie Marrone and Kara McKenna distill their experience as co-programming chairs for the 2018 LMA Tech Midwest conference into ten tips for prospective speakers:]
Speaking at a conference has many benefits – it helps you build your brand, establish yourself as a subject-matter expert, increase your professional network, and open doors that can lead to new connections, jobs, referrals and so much more.
We recently had the good fortune of serving as co-programming chairs of the 2018 LMATech Midwest Conference. We learned about innovations taking place within our industry and those legal marketers who are leading them. We also picked up some helpful skills on what makes a compelling speaking submission and the reverse of that – what does not.
After reading through more submissions than we can count at this point, we feel like we are in a position to give advice on how potential speakers can make themselves stand out from the pack. We hope you find these tips helpful:
Follow the instructions. This one should be pretty self-explanatory, yet you’d be surprised. The conference organizers put together instructions and guidelines for a reason. To be considered for a speaking role, you should follow the instructions – all of them. If they say submit learning objectives, do that. If they ask for references, offer those. If they ask for your headshot or social media handle, provide them. Make it easy for those who are reviewing your submission or you may be disqualified right off the bat just for cutting corners.
...adjust your topic to fit the conference’s theme.
In addition, adjust your topic to fit the conference’s theme. This will demonstrate that you’re listening to the conference’s organizers who often have taken the time to develop a specific, tailored concept in mind.
Submit multiple sessions. There’s usually nothing in the fine print that says you have to limit yourself to submit one proposal per person, and putting forth more than one session on a different topic will only increase your chances of being selected. One of those topics may resonate more with the conference organizers or be a better fit with the current programming mix.
So come up with two really strong program topics and submit them (note, don’t go overboard and submit 10 – that has happened, and it is always clear that many of those topics were afterthoughts, which dilutes the strength of the other topics).
Check your grammar and spelling. You’d be surprised how many submissions we received with typos in them (gasp!) or that were written in incomplete sentences. This is a huge red flag to a conference committee reviewing submissions. Why should you be selected as a speaker if you didn’t take the time to proofread your work?
We are all striving to choose the best of the best to be authorities on legal marketing topics to attendees, and if you can’t take the time to proofread your work, how do we know you’d be a compelling speaker with error-free materials? There is no room for sloppiness when you are positioning yourself as an expert, period.
Build your brand. In many ways it’s easier to get a speaking slot if you have prior speaking experience or at least a strong personal brand in the legal marketing industry, or really any industry.
So, write articles, start a blog, be active on Twitter and LinkedIn, speak at local LMA events, volunteer to help out at LMA conferences, join an LMA committee, write for an LMA newsletter, or write a JD Supra article just like we’re doing here! With a limited number of speaker slots and pressure to ensure that the attendees have the best possible programming experience, the conference committee does not want to take too many risks with unknown speakers, so being known will help alleviate some of those fears.
Don’t sell, rather tell. There’s a big difference between selling your services and establishing yourself as a thought leader as a result of the content you present. If you are a service provider, do not use a conference as a way to sneakily try and sell your products. Attendees will see right through it, and you will wind up hurting your brand in the process.
...demonstrate that you are the very best at what you do and that you have subject-matter expertise
Also, don’t submit a program that is clearly an ad for your product under the guise of a case study with your in-house clients who are touting your greatness (we’re on to you!). Just be genuine, demonstrate that you are the very best at what you do and that you have subject-matter expertise and then you will always be on the right path.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. When preparing your program submission, carefully read the description of the conference and think about your audience at all times. What do they want to hear about? What will most resonate with them? What haven’t they heard/seen before? Draft the submission with them in mind and you will increase your chances of being selected. Also, come up with a clever, descriptive title for your submission, but don’t be too clever or cute. It must get to the point and draw in your audience.
Be flexible. We took a different approach to how we assembled some programs this year, which was something that Stefanie had successfully done working on LMATech West. We didn’t always take the programs as received, instead, we edited some of them, partnered certain speakers together where we had similar submissions and where we thought the programs would be stronger.
Be the person who is happily willing to go along with change.
Some speakers were super excited about the opportunity to work with someone new. We also asked some speakers to adjust their presentations to be shorter and some to be longer, and we asked others to switch timeslots. Be the person who is happily willing to go along with change.
Engage audiences before, during, and after a conference. Once you are selected as a conference speaker, it’s your job to promote your program and to keep your audience engaged. It’s up to you how you maximize this (or not). You can leverage every single speaking opportunity and use it to build your brand.
For example, start engaging with your audience before the event through content that highlights key legal marketing influencers who will be there or write an article and a series of social media posts about your conference topic. You could also use Facebook Live, a podcast, or a video clip to change up the delivery of the message.
While at the conference, use social media (follow the conference’s hashtag to be in the loop – in this case, it’s #LMATech) to like, share and create your own content related to the conference – and don’t forget to live tweet while you are there! When the conference is over, your work isn’t. Engage on social media using the conference hashtag. Even better, write an article yourself on your session or the other sessions that resonated most with you and send it right here for JD Supra to publish! Take a look at Stefanie’s post-conference tips article for more tips on how to do this.
Think outside of the box. Putting your best foot forward often requires you to think outside of the box. Do you have a colleague who has a different, valuable perspective? Do you know someone outside the industry who can bring another view or new ideas to bring into the legal industry? Seek them out.
Use this as an opportunity to learn from someone while building a well-rounded program proposal...
Use this as an opportunity to learn from someone while building a well-rounded program proposal. The best panels (in our humble opinion) have a range of people with different experience levels and perspectives. Looking at other professional service firms or parallel industries might just help you break through a current challenge or opportunity. Plus, conference organizers love this kind of thinking.
Don’t be silent. One of the most valuable things you can do after attending a conference is to provide your honest feedback. After every conference, you will receive a follow-up survey – so be sure to answer it. In addition, LMA is always happy to receive direct feedback from its members by email, regular mail, in person, carrier pigeon, you name it.
Your honest feedback will help to enhance the LMA experience...
As a speaker, your feedback is especially helpful to the conference organizers as they begin to plan next year’s conference, so please reach out and provide your helpful feedback - and don’t forget to say thank you, because a lot goes into planning these conferences, especially since everyone is a volunteer. Your honest feedback will help to enhance the LMA experience for you and your fellow attendees and speakers next year.
Becoming a conference speaker can provide many opportunities to build a strong professional brand, but getting your foot in the door takes real work. So follow the instructions, go above and beyond, and always put yourself in the shoes of your fellow attendees.
...think about taking baby steps and starting with speaking at a local LMA lunch or webinar
If the thought of speaking at a conference overwhelms you but is something you eventually want to do, think about taking baby steps and starting with speaking at a local LMA lunch or webinar. Not only will this help build your confidence but it will also add to your resume when you decide to take the plunge and submit on a broader platform. A step right before this is to try writing, which is a great way to build your brand and establish yourself as a thought leader (which Stefanie and Rich Bracken will talk a lot about at the upcoming #LMATech conference from the comfort of behind your screen). A “walk before you run” approach, if you will.
We welcome all tips or ideas from our readers, so bring them on. And, if you have not already, please DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO ATTEND THE LMATECH MIDWEST CONFERENCE NEXT WEEK OCTOBER 2ND AND 3RD IN CHICAGO. REGISTER HERE.
[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 16 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Learn more. Kara McKenna is a Business Development Director at JD Supra. Connect with her on LinkedIn.]