I’ve been to quite a few conferences lately and the trend seems to be to give the major sponsors a sponsored keynote speaking slot. While I don’t necessarily agree with this practice, I certainly understand why it happens – it’s a great way to attract some big brands to sponsor your event and thereby boost your revenue and/or keep costs down for attendees.

Of the last four of five sponsored keynote speakers I’ve heard, only one has captivated my attention. The rest have been a complete yawn-fest as all they did was talk about how wonderful they are before trying to flog me their product. Zzzzz.

So my advice for you, as a brand with with a keynote speaking slot, is this:

  1. Make sure you add value with your presentation. PLEASE. Work with the program committee and find out what they want you to talk about. Find out who the other speakers will be, what their topics are, and try and fill in a content gap.
  2. Don’t just flog your product. No one wants to sit through a 45 minute sales pitch. Share a case study, talk about a topic relevant to the audience, show us (rather than telling us) why we should be doing business with you.
  3. Use the opportunity to show your company’s expertise and position yourself as experts in your field by sharing examples of how you have helped your clients. Maybe even tag-team with a client on stage. Become known as an influencer, not as just another boring sales guy.
  4. Make sure the person representing your brand is a good speaker who is confident on stage. This is not a natural skill for most people, so make sure the necessary training is provided!
  5. Answer the hard questions – show vulnerability and be honest. If you are asked to share examples of when something went pear shaped, please do. Otherwise it looks like you are being evasive and hiding something. People aren’t stupid and it may make you look dodgy.
  6. Provide a strong bio that talks about your brand with a reference to the individual speaking. This should be the only time you (or the moderator) plugs your brand in a salesy way.
  7. Look for other ways to promote your brand at the conference – can you put sales materials on the delegates’ chairs for example? Can you bring a few colleagues to network during the breaks (however don’t make it All. About. You.)?
  8. Stick around for the whole event and use the breaks to network. Listen to what people need rather than just talk talk talk about yourself or your brand.
  9. Help promote the event via the event Twitter feed/hashtag and contribute in a meaningful way via social media – share what you have learned with your followers. Not on twitter? Why the hell not?? You’re missing a chance to listen to your customers.
  10. Stick to time. I’m sick of speakers saying “oh I know I’m over time…” and then continuing to rabbit on for another 20 minutes. ARGH! So rude – to the audience AND the speakers following them. This lack of respect for my time suggests you may not keep appointments, do what you say you will when you say you will etc etc etc.

Oh, and that 10+ minute corporate video you want to show? No one cares. Seriously.

Have you been to a conference where the major sponsor gave a sponsored keynote address? Did it add value or was it a total yawn fest?

P.S. Huge thanks to the massively boring and self-absorbed speaker who inspired this post. I’m sure you don’t know who you are…

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