SEMpdx is having our 5th Annual SearchFest event next February and for each event, I´ve been involved in helping program the sessions and choosing the speakers. Unlike SMX, SES & Pubcon, we (and likely all other similar organizations) don´t have any formal way to "pitch" for a speaking spot. We set the agenda, determine who we wish to speak, invite those folks, and invite different folks if our first choices aren´t able to attend. In fact, if you were to ask us directly whether pitches are accepted, the answer is "no". However, what inevitably happens is that when we implement our agenda, we´ll have some openings that need to get filled. So, if you happen to contact us at the right time and you have the necessary background, we might actually be receptive to your pitch. Having been one of the chief recipients of many of these pitches, I do have some advice to offer to increase your chances of being considered:
Don´t Have Your PR Person Pitch For You.
There are a few PR people that have developed relationships with me over time. If they were to pitch me a speaker, I would definitely give them consideration. However, anonymous PR people pitching people that I´ve never heard of for SearchFest speaking spots are as pretty to look at as this:
Practice Elsewhere First
Our first couple of years, we invited some people who we knew just from their online reputation. In most cases, it worked out well…people like Rebecca Kelley & Marty Weintraub had their first speaking gigs at SearchFest. However, as our conference matures, we aren´t taking chances with new speakers anymore. With few exceptions, everyone speaking at SearchFest has not only spoken at another search conference but was personally witnessed and graded favorably by one of the SEMpdx Board Members. We wish our attendees to see the best possible search marketing speakers and not feel any inclination to show their displeasure thusly:
Know A Decision Maker
You should already know how important it is to have strong, powerful relationships in the search marketing community. These relationships that our chosen speakers have with the various SEMpdx Board Members directly fill 80-90% of our speaking slots. SEMpdx Board Members actively want to invite the people we know and love to speak at our event so long as we feel they´ll do a good job. There is no way we would choose to put a stranger in a speaking slot no matter how credentialed they are.
Looking through some old SearchFest emails, I came across the following:
Hey Guys –
We've been working with the following individual who has expressed great
interest in presenting at SearchFest 08:
Founder and President
I´m not sure anyone else on the Board knew Ian back in late 07 but we used him just based upon that one trusted recommendation and now, Ian will be speaking at his 4th consecutive event.
If You´re Local And Don´t Attend Our Events, Don´t Bother Pitching Us
You´d think that would be obvious. However, I got a recent inquiry from someone who had made themselves very visible in our online space but has never attended any of our events (including our free / low cost networking parties). As an organization, we aim to put on reasonably priced events in Portland to spread the knowledge of Search Marketing to the business community (and to fund the aims of our organization). When a person doesn´t visibly support the aims of our organization but wishes to speak at SearchFest, they´re conveying a message of wanting to take a great benefit without giving anything back for the opportunity. That doesn´t come across well to us and we´d never use someone like that.
Hidden opportunities do exist for speaking spots at local / regional search conferences. However, in order to get one, you need to lay the proper groundwork with the individuals / groups involved well before the opportunity presents itself. Friends and colleagues will be given due consideration…strangers needn´t bother.