Value Of Speaking At Conferences

Last week I posted my wrap up of eBay DevCon and in the comments Gary R Hess commented:

Shoe, you and a lot of other guys go through a lot of trouble to give these speeches. However, at least to my limited knowledge, you aren’t getting much out of it besides being looked at as one of the leads in the industry.

Is there any other incentive to doing these types of events or do you just do it all for fun?

Conference BadgesI really think that is a good question. My conference experience for the most part for the last 3 years has been as an attendee. I think every conference since the first one I have brought another employee with. I always have paid for full conference passes so between Pubcons, SES’s, Affiliate Summits, Ad:Techs we have spent probably around …. geez.. I am estimating around $20,000.00 for conference passes alone. Keep in mind that is not hotel or flight or expenses that is just for the conference pass.

I have only been speaking since last December at SES Chicago. Since then I have spoken at about 6 other public events, not much compared to the normal speakers at conferences. When you speak at a conference the bare minimum you get is a full conference pass. Some conferences will comp you hotel rooms and even pay for some of your expenses (flight + spending allowance). Recently I have been asked to speak at a conference where my hotel and airfare were paid for PLUS a $4,000 speaking fee. I turned it down. The conferences I speak at I already am going to. Its not like I am going just because I was asked to speak. I had been a regular attendee of them and when I was asked to speak it was just icing on the cake. (score free pass + other)

So to me whats the value? Well I get to see all my friends in the industry. That is by far the biggest value. Also at conferences I can just relax and talk shop with them. Its not like when I am at home and they call and I have 9000 other things going on where I cant actually pay attention to what they say and give any sort of well thought out response.

Like AuctionAds for example. That all happened last year at PubCon in Las Vegas. There was a few US eBay Affiliate team members there that made the suggestion to me and Dave that we should build a sub affiliate ad network system that would pull items live from eBay. This was stemming from many eBay affiliates using the then ShoeMoneyAds system and having a lot of success with it.(RIP)

So basically for me the value is its a HUGE brain storming session to which the value is really something that I cant put a price on. Being able to speak at these conferences lets me put my little opinion and influence out there (agree with me or not) and get people thinking about what they are doing and what they could/should be doing.

I gotta tell you I love meeting and talking to people. I love hearing what they are doing and then firing off 5 suggestions. I think I have always been pretty good at seeing angles other people do not. People come up to me and show me what they are doing and instantly I can give them 10 new ideas (of which probably 2-3 are good) they can instantly implement on there site. Now I get a lot out of that just helping people.


blah blah blah enough about me. I taped the shoulders of friends who have many moons of experience speaking at conferences and were much more qualified to answer. Check out there responses:

Michael Gray:

There are a lot of different reasons why someone would choose to be a speaker at a conference. Depending on how you look at it each and every one of us is product or a brand. This is true for people who own their own company, are partners in a firm, or are high visibility employees. This is true for all industries, but especially in the small well connected microcosm that is the SEO world.

Being a speaker gives you the ability to showcase both your knowledge and expertise. Most panels consists of presentation followed by Q&A. IMHO the presentation is really the warm up. Basically you’ve prepared the material, and have had the ability to practice what you want to say (and hopefully you’re not just reading). The Q&A shows who can think on their feet and come up with intelligent and articulate responses, information, opinions or commentary. Most audience members assume the panelists are at the top of their game and have an expertise above the person they are sitting next to. For companies that are looking to hire consultants or service providers, selecting a panelist is usually a safe bet. So being a speaker gives you access to a bigger pool of potential customers. For people who aren’t consultants, there is still value, again by show casing your knowledge you are more likely to get business partnerships, collaborations or other beneficial offers. To sum it up being a speaker gets you exposure, builds your brand, and gets you more business.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to call out what I consider one of the worst things a speaker can do. There are lots of presenters who “recycle” presentations. They change the year or the title sheet from SES to Pubcon or Adtech or whatever venue they are speaking at. IMHO this shows a complete lack of respect for your audience. I’m not talking about reusing 1 or 2 slides, I’m talking about giving an identical or nearly identical presentation to the one you gave a few weeks ago. If as a speaker you don’t care enough about your audience to present original work, IMHO you don’t deserve to be on the stage.

Danny Sullivan:

I enjoy the direct interaction with people that you simply don’t get from email or phone. I also like the buzz and excitement you get when many people interested in a particular area are all together. Those are applicable, I suppose, to just going to a conference. When I first started out, exposure was also important. But more than that — and still to this day — I just like to teach and help.

Aaron Wall:

First and foremost it is a free pass to go to the conference and
socialize with friends in the same business, which is great for an SEO
geek. Beyond that, I think it is another sign of credibility, another
chance at media exposure, and another way to meet bright people in
related fields outside of our own. I also met my largest client at a

Darren Rowse:

I think something very powerful happens when you physically meet another person. While I’m a big believer in the power of the web to communicate and build community between people – I’ve found that it is the ‘real’ face to face interactions that I’ve been fortunate enough to have with readers, business partners and other bloggers that have been most fruitful.

Speaking at a conference gives this ‘real’ or physical interaction – it has the ability to cement a relationship in a way that you just can’t do on a blog.

I also find that being a speaker at a conference gives you some level of credibility or perceived expertise. I only started doing some speaking in the US in the last 12 months and since that time have noticed the number of press inquiries, speaking requests and other opportunities have increased.

Cameron Olthuis:

Great question! When I take a step back to really think about the value in speaking at industry conferences there are a number of things that jump out to me. First, it’s great for getting a lot of leads if you’re a service provider. Second, it establishes you as an expert within your industry and thus raises your value. Third would be credibility, if you speak at a conference you instantly establish credibility for yourself and its now your job not to lose it. Fourth, the connections that you make, both from other speakers and audience members. Last but not least, free pass to the conference you’re speaking at.

Andy Beal:

I’ve always found speaking at conferences to be more valuable as a promotional tool, than the actually benefits from speaking. While I’ve walked away from a presentation with many client leads, the long-term benefits of being a repeated industry speaker are much more valuable. I don’t think speakers do enough to promote their speaking engagements. You should mention it on your site, your blog, in your proposals and every prospective client conversation. Aside from name-dropping a large client, there’s nothing as valuable as telling a prospective client that you’ve just returned from speaking at SES/SMX/PubCon.

I’d also add that speakers are not going far enough in giving away information to attendees. You need to wow them with your expertise. You once said that “if you teach a man to fish, he’ll steal all your fish” (very funny), but I believe if you teach a man to fish, that man will think to himself, “wow, he’s taught me so much, maybe if I hired him on a regular basis, I could catch Moby Dick!’ 😉

Niall Kennedy:

First some background on my conference and speaker experience if you’re not already aware. I run the Widgets Live conference, a 250 person one-day event last year. I’ve also run SF Tech Sessions, a monthly event in San Francisco. I was a member of the Web 2.0 Expo Technical Tracks Committee. I’ve previously spoken at SES, PubCon, WebGuild, the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, Web 2.0 Expo, Bar Camp, and Foo Camp among others.

Are you interested in attending this conference? If so, you just scored a free conference pass with perks. You’ll usually have access to a special speakers’ room with dependable WiFi, power, and someone to watch your bags while you wander the conference. Some conferences also include a speakers’ goodie bags and access to VIP parties you might not normally get to attend.

The best parts of a conference usually take place over conversations in a hallway or bar, so how can you optimize those interactions? You will have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a crowd of a few hundred people already pre-filtered by interest (especially in a multi-track conference environment) to kick off new conversations, leads, and knowledge sharing. Over the next few days you’ll be wearing a speaker badge, which lets other attendees know you passed some gatekeeper’s interestingness threshold and anyone who doesn’t know you can at least kick off a conversation with “when is your talk? what are you covering?”

Conference websites usually include at least two links back to your website from the speaker page as well as the individual session(s) page. You could receive both a boost in visitors and in search ranks based on these new links from trusted sources with many inlinks (attendees, event promotion, etc.).

If you’re hiring conferences are a great way to recruit and strong active and passive candidates. Speaking on stage increases your visibility and helps someone understand your philosophy and message. If you’re looking for a job you’ve just increased your visibility as an industry expert.

What are some signs you might not get any value from speaking at a conference?

* The audience are a at the newbie stage and you want to have advanced discussions on the state of the industry with other like-minded folk.

* You’re on a panel and you don’t know the moderator. Divide the total length of the session by the total number of panelists for an estimation of how many words you actually might get to speak. Will you get to cover topics of interest? Perhaps the Q&A could make it worthwhile?

* You’re surrounded on the schedule by conference sponsors. Did you just land the token “independent” role amongst a sea of sponsors? Will your message lose its voice?

* The conference isn’t selling well, and you’re worried you might be speaking to an empty room.

Jim Boykin:

Value of being a speaker at a conference:

  • Free conference pass
  • Great excuse to travel (I’ve got to go, I’m speaking)
  • Also a great excuse to wife on why I have to travel (I have to go, I’m speaking)
  • I get to add a logo to my site saying “I speak at X conferences” which adds credibility to me and to my company
  • Wearing a name tag that has a speaker ribbon on it is a great conversation piece at the conferences. People always ask “so what are you speaking on?” which provides an opportunity to talk about my specialties…and I think people might listen a bit more closely if you’re a speaker.
  • Fulfills a dream I had…the first conference I went to I said “one day I want to be such an expert that I’m asked to be on a panel”…and it’d be a great excuse to travel.

It’s also a big help in picking up clients. There’s nothing better than getting home and finding emails from people who say “I heard you speak on the panel, and I’d like to hire you.”

Rand Fishkin:

I see a tremendous amount of benefit from speaking at conferences of nearly all shapes and sizes. I’ve done private venture capital conferences, conferences organized by non-profits (like Stanford University and NPR/PBS) and tons of marketing conferences worldwide (Pubcon, SES, SMX, etc.). Each time I speak at one of these, SEOmoz sees considerable benefits including:

  • Greater brand awareness (of both the “Rand Fishkin” and SEOmoz brands)
  • Personal connections – emails, names, handshakes, friendships – with well-connected folks in industries of all kinds
  • More clients and client inquiries for consulting work
  • More readers of the SEOmoz blog
  • More subscribers to SEOmoz premium content
  • Viral spread of SEOmoz content, particularly if I show research or articles like the Beginner’s Guide, Ranking Factors, Web 2.0 Awards, etc.

Let me give two specific examples. The first comes from my experience speaking at the Public Media conference in Boston, where I was tapped by a senior exec at NPR to come and train their staff on Search Engine Optimization, SEO Guides, SEO Marketing”>Search Engine Optimization. Not only was it a terrific gig, but a fantastic client to work with and be able to share publicly.

The second example comes from speaking at SES Toronto in 2005, where I met Joe Morin, who would later help me propose to my fianceè through a television advertisement. That’s one of the best connections I’ve ever made in the industry and Joe’s become a great friend, too.

I’d put the value of speaking at conferences just above the value of SEO (and probably just below the value of blogging) – at least, for us personally at SEOmoz.

Brian Mark:

One of the main things I get out of speaking is the ability to start conversations with the other speakers easier. It’s certainly easier for me to get a conversation started when they ask, “So, what are you speaking about?” That opens up the conversation, getting contact info exchanged and having some ideas bounced back and forth in between conferences.

Speaking also gets attendees bouncing ideas off of me (some very good, thankfully), and many of those I end up implementing in my own fashion on one of the sites I work on.

The bloggers covering the sessions also give some link love, which is a nice bonus.

It’s also nice to know that I’ll be going to the next conference, so I don’t have to try to sell the idea again each time to the owners of the company. That really helps keep all the latest trends top of mind as I work on any of the sites, and it’s certainly contributed to the continual growth we’ve been experiencing.

Kris Jones:

Speaking at national conferences provides you with an expert voice to help shape your industry. Speaking at conferences has its additional perks like getting invited to VIP parties and getting an opportunity to meet and network with other industry pros. Also, journalists tend to see speakers as experts and will often look to them for stories. For instance, speaking at top conferences for several years, along with being CEO of the fastest growing privately-held internet marketing agency in the United States, has not only led to me being viewed as an online marketing expert, but I’ve also had the opportunity to appear in magazines like Forbes, Business 2.0, and Inc., among others. In short, speaking at conferences opens up doors if you are one of the few offered the opportunity.

Lee Odden:

This is a great question and one that resonates with me because public speaking was one of my greatest fears as recent as 4-5 years ago. However, I saw the kind of business growth and brand reputation others gained from speaking and decided to suck it up and make it work.

I think the core of the opportunity from speaking at conferences comes from the fact that search marketing is such a moving target in the eyes of most web site owners and conflicting messages from self described “SEO experts” abound. So the need to find credible and talented resources is high in demand.

Reputable conferences are attractive venues for web site owners and company marketers because there is the perception that those speaking at conferences represent the most knowledgeable and credible resources on their respective topics. Plus you get to see how the “experts” present themselves and their knowledge in person.

As such, speaking at conferences provides those in the search marketing consulting business a great opportunity to promote services via demonstration of subject matter expertise and it also helps to build thought leadership for their company’s brand or their own personal brand.

For me, speaking and subsequently attending, industry conferences serves a variety of functions:
– Creation of content for our blog, which has been a successful marketing tool
– Networking with potential marketing partners, employees and outsourcing resources
– Lead generation
– Build credibility for our company brand
– A time to “talk geek SEO” with others and catch up with friends in the biz

Once you achieve a certain level of credibility and “brand value”, conferences will pay you to speak, which can be icing on the cake. This can also prepare you to market yourself as a “train the trainer” speaker for private company events which pay substantially more in the form of speaker fees and opportunity to provide ongoing consulting services.

However, speaking at too many conferences can be detrimental in the form of distracting you from your company/business responsibilities, burnout from too much travel and diluting the appeal to see you speak by appearing too often.

For someone like you Jeremy, who doesn’t do SEO consulting, I would think speaking at events would benefit you mostly in the form of building your ShoeMoney and AuctionAds brands, promoting your ventures and for networking. And have a bit of fun doing it of course.

Frank Watson

I see the value in speaking as a way of gaining valuable contacts. I give a more hands on presentation sharing my experiences and knowledge with new people in the industry and experts in other areas who help me learn what they know. The exchange is a win-win situation.

Neil Patel:

The main value you get from being a speaker at a conference is that
you become branded as an expert. This opens many doors for you such as
better job opportunities or consulting gigs.

Dax Herrera

It’s important to me that someone is in a position to make that critical penis joke during a session if the time calls for it. Too many fell through the cracks during the Index Size Battle of `05. If I can do this in an orange robe, that’s even more valuable.

When you’re selling consulting, speaking is all about brand management.

Todd D. Malicoat

The value for me to date has been mainly in the experience. Public speaking is tough, and for me it was a fear to conquer. It’s also a great opportunity to get out and meet different people in a given field as well. There’s certainly value in passively attracting good clients if you’re a consultant or company, and demonstrating your value through your knowledge of something. The biggest thing is to set goals of what you want the value from speaking to be – perhaps travelling, meeting new friends, or attracting new business. The ultimate value is going to be determined by having realistic expectations of what to get out of it.

Thank you to everyone who contributed!

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