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    Spotlight On: Taking Thought Leadership to a New Stage


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    Anyone who’s seen a TED Talk can speak to the impact of a well delivered address. Who doesn’t dream of delivering that perfect, quotable, YouTube record-setting talk that positions you leading the charge into the future? While most will never have the opportunity to stand in front of those big red block letters, speaking opportunities are a key piece of building thought leadership for any organization.

    Executives have limited time to prepare, travel, and give their talks, so as communication pros, it’s our job to make sure their time and effort is worth it. As you evaluate your speaking program, consider these points to ensure you’re maximizing the return on your executives’ investment.

    Step Into the (Industry-Relevant) Spotlight

    While the overuse of “thought leadership” as a term is up for debate (and may inspire an eye roll or two), it still remains an important building block for the credibility of a brand. Thought leaders share their ideas and inspire others to think differently about challenges. They share expertise couched in experience, and they do it by telling great stories. They just need to be in front of the right audiences.

    This is where PR pros can add real value — cultivating opportunities in the most strategic venues for leaders to tell their stories. For example, industries like healthcare, financial services, and technology are enormous. Each has distinct sub-industries, all with their own slates of events and influencers. Targeting the right industry events to best establish your brand’s presence and tell its story to your target audience and those who influence your audience is key.

    In order to choose the right venue, you really have to understand your brand message. Is it associated with the issues and challenges being discussed at the events you’re targeting? Is the audience at the right level and in the right roles to have your messaging resonate? If you’re a technology brand, you can surely pull lists of the top tech conferences that have been curated by the likes of CIO, but make sure to go a few steps further and dig into the data that these conferences can provide.

    For instance, if you’re focused on tackling the big challenges facing your respective industry today, whether that’s data science, content, autotech, or environmental sustainability, then perhaps Collison is a better venue for your brand than the CIO Forum, where the audience is focused on hearing more practical insights into everyday business challenges. By placing your thought leader in front of the perfect industry audience, you’ll make the most of their expertise and time.

    Fully Research Your Role

    Beyond audience details, it’s also important to know which competitors will be in attendance and speaking. This will allow you to make strategic decisions about your speaker’s talk track, and gauge how competitively aggressive it should be. Likewise, understanding how the media covers each event and what stories they tend to write about, will arm you with the knowledge of what it will likely take to differentiate your speaker from others, so their talk resonates with potential customers in the audience and rises above the raging sea of “newest, fastest, cheapest.” Finding this thought leadership white space for your speaker is critical, because true success comes not in securing the talk, but the deals that are made because of it.

    Stick to the Script

    Once you’ve identified your target events and subject matter, it’s time to pitch. Now is your time to convince the organizers you can make their lives easier by delivering a speaker who is smart and dynamic when it comes to staying on message. Get on the phone with show organizers and talk about what they need. Then determine how your speaker and messaging can deliver, and in what form it is best delivered (e.g. keynote, panel, workshop). Steer clear of overly promotional language or product details that may be interesting to some, but are over the head of the show organizers.

    Razzle Dazzle Them

    Standing out among the inundation of speaking submissions event organizers receive is no small task. Be different. Be creative (within the submission rules, of course). Perhaps your application includes a link to your speaker giving a thrilling talk on YouTube, or maybe your submission shares a compelling customer anecdote that demonstrates your speaker’s understanding of the problems her audience may be facing. Whatever you do, grab the the event organizers’ attention right away with — and don’t let it go.  

    Go Beyond the Podium

    Congratulations! Your subject matter expert was accepted as a speaker. Well done. But your job is only halfway completed. Speaking engagements deliver a treasure trove of new content long after they pass. So build a plan to promote your executive’s talk.

    Traditional Media: Conduct outreach to key media that has attended or covered the event in the past and issue an announcement about the speech.

    Social Media: Don’t forget to leverage all your social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to syndicate the talk. Enlisting your team to live tweet the talk will help extend the reach of your speaker’s words and expand your brand’s influence and notoriety beyond the event itself.

    Content: Speaking events offer a ton of content opportunities, from video (make sure to confirm the event’s video policy), to accompanying slides, and the aforementioned social media. You could also turn the talk into a blog post (or whole series) or contributed content on a third-party site.  

    Follow Up: Capturing feedback from both in-person and online audiences can help you tweak the talk for the future and to use in marketing and sales situations.


    Raising brand awareness is important for companies at every stage. Speaking opportunities are the perfect opportunity to let thought leaders establish your company’s presence and tell its story. With the right plan and prep in place, you’ll soon be ready to step into the spotlight.

    Derek Delano

    About Derek Delano

    What motivates me? Telling great stories, and connecting those stories with strategy to drive great business outcomes.

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