Last Thursday, I spent the day at my first event of 2008 called the Social Networking Conference (SNC) in Miami to present a session called "Secrets of Creating Talkability."  The event kicks of a string of speaking appearances I will be making over the next few months as I start to get ready for my book launch in March.  The SNC event was far more vendor-friendly than many others I have been to … allowing vendors to do full 30 minute presentations about their products and even running these sessions at the same time as the educational sessions.  With all these competing sessions, it got me thinking about the necessity of standing out as a speaker to get the most value out of participating at these events.  So I thought this Monday I would share a few tips on what I have found works when it comes to standing out as a speaker at a tradeshow, conference or other industry event.

  1. Have a simple theme – Speaking is not that much different from messaging a product or brand.  You need to go in having a theme for what you will be talking about and a central message you want to leave people with.  Focusing on what this message should be to best help you get value out of your appearance (without overtly pitching or being too "salesy") is a necessity
  2. Fly solo – You can be part of a panel, moderate a panel, or have your own session.  If you can pull it off, I highly recommend trying to get your own session.  If you can create something memorable and engaging, the value of that appearance can go straight to you without being shared.  In perception also, speakers who have their own sessions tend to be looked at by other attendees as the biggest experts.
  3. Ditch the bullets, go visual – Before my presentation at SNC, I reread Garr Reynolds great book on presentations called Presentation Zen.  I highly recommend picking it up as it has many wonderful lessons on how to create a stronger presentation.  Chief among them is to use strong visuals and as little text as possible.  And definitely ditch the bullet points.
  4. Make your point quickly – Whether you have your own session or are part of a panel, this point is important to remember.  Much of the "conversation" on these panels consists of repetition.  The less you fall into this trap, the more people will respect and listen to you when you do speak.
  5. Ask and take questions – Taking questions while you talk is a great way to involve the audience, and even better is to ask questions to help tailor your presentation.  When I started my presentation about talkability at SNC, I asked who already had a social network and who was considering starting one to get a sense of the room.  It helped me to tailor my examples and discussion to what would be more useful for the audience.
  6. Talk last – Timing is another important element in standing out as a speaker, particularly when you are in a session with others.  Speaking last about a point gives you the chance to offer a unique and considered point of view, and also gives you the benefit of hearing other’s points of view first.  This is not about having the last word, but about having a chance to distill other’s voices and your own into a short point of view people will remember.
  7. Offer to connect – Adding a URL to the end of your presentation or mentioning one in a presentation is one way of offering to connect, but it is self serving.  Instead of doing that, I mentioned during my presentation that I love to try out new social networks and would be willing to try any new ones from people in the audience if they sent me an invite.  That alone resulted in more than a few follow up emails from people, invites to Linked In, followers on Twitter and several Facebook friend requests. 
  8. Stick around – The biggest mistake many speakers make is to run out of an event right after they present.  We are all busy, and it’s tough to afford to take an entire day out to speak and attend an event.  If you need to skip the event, my advice is to skip the part before you speak.  Sticking around after you speak is invaluable to give people a chance to connect with you.  And if you don’t do it, what’s the point of being at the event anyway?
  9. Stay real – The last point on my list of tips for standing out as a speaker has to do with ego.  I’ve got one just like most bloggers and speakers out there.  The challenge is not to let it get in the way of dealing authentically with people.  Everyone has something to offer and whether they are trying to sell you something or are in a position to help you, staying real will pay off in the long term.  By the way, related to point #8, nothing helps you stay more real than actually staying to watch another session beside the one you spoke at. 

Hopefully these tips help you to get more out of your speaking appearances.  As always, I’m interested to see if they work for you and what your experience has been.  And for any others doing the speaking rounds, any other tips you would share?