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Influencer marketing: Why speakers are authoritative influencers and how to become one
July 18, 2022
As discussed in a previous segment regarding influencer use at conferences, there are multiple areas at a conference where the concept of influence comes into play. While the previous piece is centered more on sponsorships and paid speaking slots as a function of sponsorships, the role of speakers as an influencer channel needs to be explored deeper, which we will do here.
What use case personas exist at a conference?
For the sake of brevity, the focus won't be on specific buyer personas, but rather segmenting everyone you might encounter at a conference into use case personas.
No conference is a success without people bringing their attention. Attendees are the group of people being influenced, by and large. While guerilla marketers as a subgroup of attendees are both influence targets while actively attempting to influence, we'll set that aside for now.
Handing out swag, acting as physical advertisers throughout the conference space, and providing demos, sponsors are the other critical revenue component of a conference besides attendees. As explained in the previous piece, sponsors are attempting to influence attendees through a variety of mechanisms.
Specifically "who" do the various attendees come to learn from in addition to the networking opportunities? Speakers. Speakers are at conferences for a variety of reasons, from learning (i.e. being influenced) to indirectly selling their services, and establishment or reinforcement of their status.
The staff that put the entire show together. The role of organizers in the use case personas depends largely on the type of conference it is and whether it is run for profit. Industry shows provide an opportunity for organizers to act as hosts, which we'll discuss in our next piece, while also having direct access to influence all other use cases at the conference due to their unique role.
Speakers are de facto expertise proxies
Recall that among the multiple influencer types which include aspirational celebrities, likeminded peers, and authoritative experts, each influencer type will fit differently for each conference use case.
At a conference, we can assess that attendees most often fall into the peer influencer category based on their non-speaking and advertising status. The products they purchase and use can influence others, but that's generally the limitation.
Depending on the type of sponsorship, sponsors will vary between compensated peer influence and authoritative influence contingent upon their perceived expertise.
Organizers, by virtue of their glue role in running the conference, cross multiple influence types. They act can act as peers to others at the industry event through their own product and service usage, they can act as experts by virtue of having selected the actual experts that are speaking, and in some cases can provide an aspirational or celebrity-like presence of having reached a pinnacle of ownership status within the industry.
Alluded to in the title, speakers are the desired authoritative influencers whom each of the other use cases view as the niche topical experts. Therefore, speaking at a conference can be construed as a proxy for expertise.
One does not simply walk into a speaking slot
According to Cvent, there are several actionable items someone looking to speak can undertake when encountering their first speaking role. While I largely agree with the advice of knowing the audience, engaging the audience, setting oneself apart, and selling oneself as the expert versus selling a specific product, it's worth exploring one point a bit deeper in terms of letting event organizers know of your availability.
Becoming a regular industry speaker is a process
Breaking into a speaking circuit can be difficult for some. There is often an expectation with those newer to an industry that it's just a matter of "being discovered" by hard working conference organizers, but as someone that has held every role in the conference world as an owner, organizer, sponsor, speaker, and attendee, I have found there are several actionable items you can undertake to improve your chances drastically.
1.) Similar to becoming an authoritative writer, the first step is to start. Commit to the process. It will absolutely be a process and not a singular action.
2.) Research and plan around the topics you want to speak on that will have the most impact on your goals.
3.) Be productive. Write that blog post, do the podcast interview, interview other experts. This is a critical element as the only way to establish oneself as a topical expert is to prove by contextually showing it off in some sort of media format that conference organizers can reference.
4.) Be everywhere. If you create your material in a vacuum, it may as well not exist. Promote your content everywhere you have a voice across social. It is easier if you can analogize your goal in becoming a speaker to be that of becoming a top industry influencer and take the required steps to get there.
5.) Pitch. Pitch. Pitch. This is often and will almost certainly continue to be a hot topic in every industry in terms of speaker selection. However, especially when you are new to a field or have never spoken at an industry event before, it is exceptionally difficult to be chosen to be a speaker at that next great industry event if you don't actually pitch the event.
Organizers are often inundated by pitches and while attempts are often made to ensure a diversity of voices by trying to find those voices beyond the pitches, your odds of being selected increase significantly when you simply go through the effort of pitching the event. Don’t let the outcome of your success as a speaker be wholly dependent upon the reduced odds of being pulled into an event by external forces. Pitching is the single most critical element in becoming a speaker. Do the work. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Pitching events to establish oneself as an authoritative expert is so important, it's worth discussing why.
Being a speaker is like being a salesperson
To best explain, we can look at a parallel in the business world: sales. A salesperson, when faced with inbound leads drying up, still has the responsibility to manage their pipeline. Within sales roles, if the inbound leads are light, it will fall to you to fill it via outbound prospecting and pitching when necessary.
Demand generation in the speaking world requires establishing yourself unequivocally as an expert and putting yourself into as many near speaking opportunities as possible, such as the blog posts and podcast interviews mentioned previously in order to drive those inbound speaking requests. However, it is incumbent to the aspiration speaker to pitch events if one wants to be considered.
Once one has overcome pitch exhaustion and received decent audience scores, other events will seek you out. This is the authority transfer, where a conference that is perceived as the authoritative source on a subject transfer that authority, by proxy, to the speaker.
After a new speaker masters the stage through the 60 minutes of terror, he or she receives that authoritative boost, the information conveyed comes off as more credible and the opportunities will come.
Similar to the sales analogy, when the inbound requests to join the speaker circuit are light, it's your job to pitch the events you want to be at.