It took me a bit to write and share this, not because I didn’t have enough to say or because I was ungrateful for the opportunity, but because I feared to speak publicly about my speech for a while for fears that people thought I did a bad job or it would somehow come across as me bragging.
But I feel like I have too much to say that I wanted to lay it out there in hope of inspiring others or opening a discussion.
For those of you that don’t know, I spoke as a community speaker at Mozcon 2017. Here’s a bit of background on being a community speaker. The gist is that it’s a guest pitch for 15 mins on one of the biggest stages in SEO.
Why I pitched
Mozcon has been on my radar since before I graduated college. I followed the hashtag, I read the slides, I asked my first boss to go (spoiler: I didn’t get to). I had finally gotten to go to my first SEO conference a few months prior and enjoyed it so much, but my agency wasn’t regularly sending people to conferences at this time.
One day I checked twitter over lunch and saw a tweet about community speaker pitches. They were due that week and I thought “why not?”. I had never pitched before or even considered pitching. I had mentioned to my boss multiple times that we would blog about a project I had been working on, but I hadn’t even thought about speaking.
I threw a pitch together based on the project I had been working on for the last 6-12 months and sent it in thinking I had no shot. After all, I was a no-name, no speaking experience random girl from Ohio!
My Biggest Fear Realized
I still remember getting the email that I had been selecting. It was surreal. I went through an “excited” stage, and then it quickly went into a “why the heck would they pick me, this literally makes no sense” stage. The second stage lasted up until…well I still feel it sometimes.
The entire time I went through preparation, the speech, and to this day I feel like my topic wasn’t useful because it felt simple to me. I had taken something complex and simplified it so much that speaking about it made it seem simple, and if its simple, why was I talking about it?
So many fears raced through my head over those months.
I needed to move past my fears to even hope of having a good presentation. These fears would debilitate me if I let them.
And you know what, I’m going to guess everyone feels that way. The important part is to learn from it, grow, and continue to improve. I just got to learn from it on one of the biggest stages and I’m eternally grateful for those that gave me the grace to do so.
If I was to do it over again, I would do it completely different from what I know now. But I wouldn’t change how it went the first time. I needed that experience to learn everything and I want to pass along my biggest lessons to help anyone thinking of speaking.
I can’t stress how important it is to prepare. Regardless of the conference make sure you go through each of these stages:
- Build an outline. Start with a skeleton outline or mind map and adjust as needed.
- Create (Multiple) Rough Drafts. Have different versions if you aren’t sure and run through it live to see where things don’t fit.
- Plan to get feedback from multiple sources.
- Practice by yourself or for people as many times needed.
- Treat the speech like a campaign. Document your supporting resources (slide deck, free templates, supporting blog posts, etc) and plan where you will publish and promote them.
Here are some resources that may be of help:
7 Dead-Simple Ways to Improve Slide Decks by Erica McGillivray
How to Become a Confident Public Speaker by Matthew Capala
9 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me I Started Speaking at Conference by Wil Reynolds (this was after my speech but had to be added!)
Road to Ted Podcast
My Biggest Lessons
I don’t want this to assume that I did everything perfectly, but there are some things I think would be of use for those that are going to speak for the first time.
- Tweet & share your resources beforehand
I had plenty of supporting content and was directing people to a landing page, but I didn’t tweet them out to be the top of my twitter feed beforehand and had planned on doing it after.I only had 15 mins, I should have made it as easy as possible for people. Luckily, twitter folks are smart and shared my links for me, but that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. I most likely lost some people by not having it easy to find on my feed.
- Provide a short URL code for Resources
This one kills me because I used a bit.ly URL at first, but changed it to be our companies tracking URL at the last minute. Our tracking URLs are easy but long. People didn’t know our brand or website so it was easy to miss a piece. make it easy for people to remember and type in. I should have used the URL shortener on the tracking URL.
- Put any URLs you are sharing on the TOP HALF of the slide
I put the URL for my resources at the bottom, but in photos, I can see people may not have been able to see it well. Put it at the top, just do it.
- Request feedback from outside parties
I met with multiple team members to get feedback from different perspectives. Each one told me the key takeaway from my presentation was something else (go figure!). I even presented to non-marketers.But I should have gotten more feedback from peers at a different organization. Fresh perspective from people similar to the audience.
- Spend more time on design
Use consistent fonts and colors. Keep it simple. Design is the one part you should keep improving to ensure it tells the right story on each slide. I kept mine consistent with my agencies brand, but I still would have changed my design about 15 times by now if I could.
- Talk to other Speakers
There are people that are well known and in the inner-circle of marketing conference speaking. Those people all know each other and are intimidating. Force yourself out of your comfort zone to talk to them. The ones I talked to I got great insights from and still communicate a bit with now. But I only did that with a few. The speaker’s dinner was the night before my talk and I was too nervous to even attempt to network hardcore on top of it. I wish I had.
- Communicate with Other Conference Goers beforehand
Join the Facebook group, follow the hashtag, get a feel for questions and people that would be there. Take it a step further and engage with them as you see fit on social media prior and after. Say thank you, respond to them, meet up with them. You are there to help them, so why not focus on communicating with them?
- Film Yourself in a Pressure Situation
I had done this beforehand and think it’s better to listen to yourself with the pressure of actually talking to a crowd. The way I carried myself and talked was completely different in front of the crowd than my bathroom mirror. I wish I could have benefitted from recording a smaller trial run in front of people prior so I could tweak things for the main stage.
- Look at other decks
I spent a lot of time on SlideShare finding previous speakers presentations to get ideas of slides and flow. I obviously didn’t have the full context but it was still helpful for ideation.Find the SlideShare profiles of speakers you respect and look through each one. Note how their decks may have changed over time and try to hypothesize why they changed things or made the decisions they made.
- Follow Other Conferences
Find the hashtags and follow them on Twitter. Read all the tweets to see what resonated and got people talking. Find wrap up reports from those that attended to get deeper insights into the audience response. There are plenty of people that live tweet conferences to follow as well such as Greg Gifford and Ruth Burr Ready to name a few.
Why Everyone Should Present (& Write)
For years I was quietly on the sideline reading articles and following industry leaders. I still am to an extent. I read about 100 times more articles than I share, from so many industry leaders I admire, but I was rarely in the conversation.
The first step is to start writing. Pick something from your experience you have a unique perspective on or something you think provides value you haven’t seen before and start.
Writing makes you take a step back and really think about what you are trying to say and why. You need to understand your audience and how to answer their unasked questions.
Find a blog or blogs that will let you publish. Learn how to promote it. Review performance. Tweak it. Improve it. Keep writing. This will all teach you a different perspective on your work.
The next stage is to transfer those lessons into a presentation.
Presentations take an idea and make it a verbal story. If you are going to present the same topic as your last blog post you have to learn how to grab the audience’s attention and convey what you are trying to say before they tune you out.
You will learn a lot about yourself if you challenge yourself to write and present. Getting off the sidelines will teach you to be a better marketing, manager, and coworker.
In the midst of this all, I owe massive amounts of thank you’s that I don’t think I will ever be able to repay. I really hope the Moz team got their handwritten thank you notes (you can never trust snail mail) but if not here’s a slightly delayed thank you to the team members I know had a role in this: Rand Fishkin, Ronell Smith, Trevor Klein, Danielle Launders, Dr Pete, and Charlene Ditch.
For those of you I missed, thank you as well!
And for the audience, thank you for listening to me, having grace, and letting me learn a lot. I’m excited to get back other there and give it another go in 2018!!!