Lately, I have the pleasure to connect with Anders Hjorth, he is a recognised expert in all things SEO and public speaking. In this interview Anders talks about the difficulty of building a personal brand through conferences (and how to fix it) and the challenges of pitching for them ( and how to fix them).
Anders, do you think public speaking is the best way to build your personal brand?
I think public speaking is an excellent way of building your personal brand but it is not a stand-alone element. I would only consider it a channel for expressing that brand but you need to have the brand to express it. Simply speaking on a conference doesn’t go a long way.
You need to think about what audience will be there, you need to research your topic, tell a compelling story, give value away, spend time on your presentation, work on your presentation style, provoke, entertain and persuade your audience.
Preparing to speak at a conference is hard work.
What other ways to build a public image do you recommend and why?
To be fair, I originally didn’t start speaking for personal reasons, rather for building the visibility of my agency and also for having a good reason to spend several days on a conference learning from others. It was a good way to showcase what we did and a very cost-efficient communication channel and over time, we built that into the communication strategy so that speaking on a conference would be just one element of a communications strategy. So, essentially, the personal branding that came out of it was an additional value, one I am really happy for and which I try to enhance and push further.
Since the sale of my last agency, my business is pretty much about my person so I build that brand in whichever way I can. It is all about reach and engagement, isn’t it? You need to reach you audience and you need to engage with it. Your first stop for personal branding is social networks – if you don’t have a compelling personal brand on social media, conference organizers will be less likely to sign you up to speak. For me, this can be summarized into LinkedIn and Twitter and to (a lot) lesser extent Facebook where I have a mixture of personal and professional friends.
It is also something I work on permanently as I don’t feel I have enough reach.
How would you find a good topic to talk about?
My recommendation is to research the audience and the programme in detail for the conference you would like to speak on and then think about what additional value you could bring to the table. If you have a strong personal brand then it may be easier to be selected because the conference organizer will feel that just having your name on the programme will attract more audience. But for most of us it is a question of finding a compelling topic, of bringing insight and value into the logic of the programme the organizer set up.
Research the audience and the programme in detail
What worked really well for you?
What worked really well for me in the past was to suggest case studies. Everybody has an opinion, but that doesn’t make your opinion interesting. Case studies show what businesses are doing in real life and therefore bring value to a conference. If the client name in the case study is compelling, that might be a good reason to bring you on as well (remember to invite your client and get their permission).
And if you really want to hack the process then you need to reach the one person who is in charge of selecting speakers and suggest an entirely new category for the programme. This has to be very early in the process 6-9 months before a conference and of course the proposed topic or category has to be very compelling and attractive!
If you were a company looking for SEO services, would you attend a conference to find a consultant?
I would call some friends. I hope those looking for SEO services go to conferences to understand more about the subject before they sign up with anybody. I also think a conference can be a good place to find a provider, but in reality, I think what happens most at conferences is that you realize that you need to do something that you aren’t doing and that someone you just heard speak would be able to do that.
My rule of thumb as a speaker has always been that you shouldn’t expect direct clients from a conference. They are more likely to come to you three years later because you made a good impression “back then”. It is a long term ROI and goes against today’s “fast and measurable ROI” principles which I think are a negative trend in digital marketing.
You shouldn’t expect direct clients from a conference. They are more likely to come to you three years later because you made a good impression “back then”
What is the biggest mistake speakers make?
There are a lot of pit holes to avoid ; having too many slides is definitely number one, not having checked the format or the sound or video for the presentation, not being sufficiently prepared, not being comfortable speaking in the that language or in that setting, considering the audience as prospects rather than people, not getting the mic set up correctly 😉 I think I have done them all at some point… my worst experience ever was turning up to a conference with a presentation from the year before which they didn’t have on the computer and which I hadn’t brought and on top of that, didn’t really remember.
I think I had a printed version I was telling from but up until this day I am sorry that people paid to be at that conference even though I wasn’t paid in any way…
What is the part I enjoy the most about conferences?
I enjoy 2 things very much. The first thing is actually being on stage and speaking. I think it gets my adrenaline worked up and I find it very gratifying to be able to feel that I am engaging with an audience – doesn’t always work that way, of course, but when it does it is a unique experience.
The second thing is attending other speakers’ sessions – good speakers on topics I am not fully on top of – I often try to be active on Twitter while I am attending other people’s session (requires decent wifi and enough space around you – and battery time) and I also try to ask (at least) one question at the end. I know speakers love questions and I always have tons of them.