Follow the Call for Papers (CFP) Calendar. Religiously.

Top Tips for Maximizing Your Trade Show Presence — Part 4 of 10

© Jeanne-Elise M. Heydecker, 2012. All rights reserved.

Most calls for papers happen around six months in advance of the conference, so be sure to keep and maintain this schedule. The best shows will be the ones where you can leverage your exhibition space with a speaking engagement, but the timing of both is tough. Most shows enable you to renew or choose a new space for the next show during the show you’re currently doing and there is absolutely no connection between most exhibition space contacts and the conference planners. At least they like to tell you so. I’ve been able to negotiate panel sessions at the very least from shows notoriously guarded in maintaining that separation.

Be prepared by meeting with potential speakers in your office and understand what topics they would like to share. If you can get them on camera presenting, this is helpful, too. Beware the accent, however. Some presenters with strong accents, even if they ARE the CEO, would be better suited for one-on-one print interviews, with other experts in the company doing the speaking engagements. You could also engage a speech coach to work with all of your less than stellar speakers. It’s a win-win. You get better presenters and they become better, more confident and engaged employees. If you can find people in your organization that would be ideal, develop speaker packages: long and short biographies, topic descriptions, and high-resolution professional head shots, along with links to any previous speaking engagements, social media, etc. Put these dossiers in your marketing tool box and bring them out whenever a CFP date approaches.

Most conference planners would prefer presenters to do one of two things — 1) present a topic by an expert in the field on how they are solving a challenge others in the industry are facing as well, or 2) partner with a client and present a case study showcasing a challenge, how the challenge was addressed and the results. They really want the client more than you, so find the most high-profile organization who can also leverage the speech to their advantage as well. The people in Sales will be able to refer you to customers delighted with your product or service. They are your best brand ambassadors. Members of the press will be more willing to interview a client using your stuff than you directly.

Remember that most large shows have separate groups for exhibition sales and conference planning, just like print publications typically separate editorial from advertising. It’s there for a reason, so play nice. Conference goers pay good money to attend the program and they want value. Conference planners want to attract the best possible attendees, which in turn, drives exhibition sales. Keeping them separate makes good business sense. Trying to explain to a CEO that he can’t just have a speaking slot because we’re exhibiting is one of the hardest conversations to have, but well worth having. Focus on creating value for the conference planners by offering them speakers who can discuss on topics they prioritize. If you are exhibiting, you can contact your salesperson who will usually assist you in providing contact information on the conference planners. Most will be happy to tell you what they want; your job is to identify potential speakers within your company that can adequately present on those prioritized subjects. Working in partnership with conference planners will give them what you want, while providing you with speaking slots that give your company far more credibility than just your booth space. It positions you as a thought leader in your field and people will follow your speaker back to the booth to learn more. Journalists will want to talk to your speaker, more than your sales person, so make him (or her) available. It’s definitely worth all the planning and work to get on the agenda.

So what are your tips for securing speaking slots at major conferences? Please share below.

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