The Best (Worst) Practices For NOT Being Invited To Speak At SMX
September 28, 2011 by Chris Sherman
Want some surefire ideas on how to fail at getting invited to speak at SMX? And why are we posting “best worst practices” rather than just suggested best practices? Excellent questions. After you read our speaker guidelines, read on below for why we’re taking this approach. (Did I mention you should read our speaker guidelines first? :-)
Unlike some other industry conferences, our primary goal in programming SMX is to make sure our attendees get the maximum possible value from the time and resources they spend to experience the show. Of course, we’re also happy when our speakers and their companies get valuable exposure, leads or even business as a result of their participation. But we find that some people who ask to speak either mix up our priorities, or don’t fully realize that our prime directive is to invite speakers who put attendees first.
This leads some potential speakers—even people we know to be knowledgeable, experienced and well-known—to submit proposals that for various reasons just aren’t acceptable. They then wonder why we reject their pitches in favor of other speakers. Even though we’ve written detailed SMX speaker guidelines, these people seem to have either ignored them or worse, decided to go against our guidelines in the mistaken idea that we’ll be impressed.
In the interest of helping people prepare the strongest pitches possible—ones that have the best chances of being selected—we’ve come up with some “best worst practices” that invariably result in speakers not being selected to participate at SMX. It’s a bit snarky, but addresses some of the things we see from people who didn’t read or don’t follow our guidelines, and we thought this approach might get through to those folks.
Best Worst Practice #1: Ignore our detailed speaker guidelines. We spell out clearly and explicitly what we’re looking for. After having read literally thousands of pitches, we know immediately whether someone has read the guidelines or not. Speakers who ultimately get invited have clearly read and understood the guidelines, and tailor their proposals to meet (and often exceed) our guidelines. Speakers who have not read the guidelines are almost instantly rejected. Bonus #fail points: Read the guidelines, and then submit a proposal that ignores them, or attempts to circumvent them for some reason.
Best Worst Practice #2: Ignore the fact that our single most important priority is to serve the needs of attendees. If your pitch is focused mostly or exclusively on you, your product or service, that’s a very strong signal that you haven’t understood our priorities. Bonus #fail points: Don’t even mention the benefits, tactical tips or other takeaways our attendees will gain from your presentation. Keep it totally focused on you.
Best Worst Practice #3: Start your speaking pitch by talking about yourself, your company, your products/services, clients, awards… Our speaking pitch form is simple, and has two very different, explicitly labeled parts: What you want to speak about, and who you are. Keep them separate. When we’re asking what you want to speak about, we don’t care who you are. We often don’t even look at bios/credentials until a the content of a pitch has impressed us. Keep biographical details in the very explicitly marked “Bio” section of the pitch form. Bonus #fail points: Don’t even discuss what you’ll talk about. Assume we know you or your reputation and you’ll just pull something together and everyone will be happy.
Best Worst Practice #4: Write your pitch like a press release. Make it as promotional, vacuous and boring as possible. Bonus #fail points: Don’t write your pitch yourself, but instead have a junior marketing or PR person who hasn’t read our speaker guidelines write the pitch on your behalf. Double Bonus #fail points: Don’t even bother to read what that junior person has written on your behalf.
Best Worst Practice #5: Assume nobody else is pitching for the session you are, or that your reputation will push you ahead of all others. As said, we value speakers who are articulate, knowledgeable and well known. We also value speakers who have done well at past SMX events. But the industry has matured, and new people with interesting ideas and valuable information or tactics they are willing to share with our attendees (and who have obviously read our speaker guidelines) are emerging all the time. It’s not uncommon for 20 to 30 (or more) people to pitch for panels where typically only two or three openings are available. As much as we’d like to accommodate everyone who submits a good pitch, simple math allows us to invite only roughly 1 in 10 people who pitch for a given session.
If you want to stand out, make sure you stand out, because you can be certain others will. Also realize that this means that as much as we’d prefer not to, we’re forced to reject a lot of really good pitches, so don’t necessarily take that rejection personally. Bonus #fail points: Assume your reputation is all you need to stand out above all else. We certainly pay attention to reputation, but we pay more attention to outstanding pitches that reflect a genuine desire to really offer significant value to our attendees.
Best Worst Practice #6: Submit a pitch that’s kinda/sorta/not really related to a session topic. Once an agenda has been finalized, there are no openings for presentations on topics that aren’t explicitly described in the agenda. If you don’t carefully read and understand what a session is about and then tailor your pitch to match the topic, others will. Bonus #fail points: Submit the same kinda/sorta/not really pitch to multiple sessions.
Best Worst Practice #7: Submit a pitch that you created for a conference or workshop where you’ve presented in the past, without tailoring it to fit the SMX description. We aren’t interested in how well this session was received at any other show. We want to know how and why it will be kickass for SMX attendees. Bonus #fail points: Don’t bother (or fail to remember) to change the name of the previous conference in the pitch itself.
Best Worst Practice #8: Neglect to provide all details necessary for a session coordinator to fully evaluate your pitch as it compares to others for the session. Include just a few vague bullet points, or generalizations. Bonus #fail points:Don’t write anything in the form – just provide links to blog posts or Slideshare presentations that require the session coordinator to leave our system and take extra time and effort to understand what you’re proposing.
Best Worst Practice #9: Devote most of your pitch to industry stats or trends that support why this is such an important topic. It’s painful to state the obvious, but we run an industry news site and we know the stats and why they are important—that’s the reason we decided to put the session on the agenda in the first place. Bonus #fail points: Don’t describe what you plan to talk about other than “I plan to talk about why this is so important.”
As a final note: we sincerely appreciate all of the excellent pitches we’ve received over the years. A big thank you to everyone who has worked (and continues to work) hard to bring high quality content to SMX and our attendees. We know we couldn’t do it without you!