Last week at XNode, Kevin and I brainstormed on how to build a stronger profile as public speakers. For work and fun, we need to get in front of people and share ideas. We often end up hosting two to three workshops a week with different groups or delegations. That gives us a regular practice and an excellent opportunity to build a community.
A few levels of mastery above is the chance to talk at international conferences – where the audience might be in the hundreds, compared to dozens we often host.
With international conferences, there are different outcomes for main stage speakers vs. the rest. Seating at a panel and hosting workshop have helped me a lot fine-tuning my message and get comfortable in public. But nothing beats the visibility associated with being on the main stage, the morning of the first day!
From there, you get access to sponsors, high profile speakers, and have a chance to close more bookings. Plus, you might get paid for the effort.
Is it worth the fight? In specific fields – including community building, critical roles at fast-growing organizations – getting on the main stage will help to create leads and close a few deals. It has always been a great chance to build meaningful relationships without the hustle to display when you aren’t VIP.
From conversations and observations at top conferences in APAC, I found that most main-stage talks had a strong legitimacy in one of these traits:
The #Reference might be a top title (founders, CxO, Head of Expansion), high profile past clients, or meaningful work/hobby experiences. It’s the shortest way to get invited, but it doesn’t make your talk any more interesting. Marketing this trait mostly works a posteriori, once you’ve accomplished a lot in your field.
Collecting, analyzing, and/or making sense of data. That gives an edge to the presentation, something that hosts/sponsors find attractive. The goal is often to create meaningful conversations around the research and discovery. The downside is with the speaker’s importance, which becomes secondary.
Sharing a message based on arguments, experiences, or observations. In practice, one of the most competitive traits to develop but the one that can get nurtured early on in a career. The additional challenge is in communicating this opinion towards hosts/sponsors. It’s often undervalued as it might seem less impactful to their respective audience.
Previously the highest ranking officer for Techstars in Greater China, I got away with the #Reference trait at many regional conferences (thank you for your support!).
However and moving forward, #Opinion is the one I’ll be working on developing. I have observed and experienced a lot, helping me rationalize a set of strong messages. Enough to avoid the ugly reality of repackaging content, so rampant at many events.
But in itself, #Opinion only won’t get me on the main stage. I have started different projects around accumulating and processing #Data. Developing #Data would be the secondary trait, and importantly, a chance to top that conference agenda!