Amtower's rules of speaker engagement

Getting a spot on the stage at a government contractor event is a valuable opportunity. Here are several rules to follow so you deliver value with your speaker gig.

We’ve all been part of the audience when the speaker

  • Thinks way too much of himself and wants to tell you that you should too;
  • Is so boring you long for the professor who put you to sleep;
  • Has a monotone that causes a downturn in the economy.

If you want to get on the podium, don’t be one of those people.

Speaking engagements in our market seem to be available frequently, but only a very small percentage of those in GovCon will get the opportunity to present at industry events.

Why? First, many speaking slots are tied directly to a sponsorship of the event. Others require filling out the necessary forms even to be considered. Usually this is some sort of “call for papers” type of thing, where the event web site will have a tab that asks for potential speakers to suggest a germane topic, then fill out the required paperwork to be considered. Hint: Monitor association sites for upcoming conferences and look for those “Call for paper” announcements. At AFCEA, one way the Small Business Committee identifies speakers and topics is to ask members to suggest names for the events committee.

Some event producers will invite the known SMEs when their topics are part of the program.

I have been extremely fortunate over the years to get many GovCon speaking gigs, and many of those are return engagements for annual events.

Why me? To get the full answer you’d have to ask the event producers, but in part it involves my ability to stay within the parameters of what that producer wants. If it is a moderating role, I moderate, not act as a panelist. If I have a fifteen minute window to speak, I stay within the time limit. And I always try to stay on the assigned topic.

I also work hard to earn the right to speak.

If you want to get speaking gigs in this market, here are some things to consider.

First and foremost, know your subject matter inside out. Be prepared for questions both related to your topic and tangential to the topic. If you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it. Tell the person you will research and get back to them.

Rehearse your presentation out loud to yourself. If you have slides, go through them several times to get your timing and segues down. Join a local Toastmasters.

Do NOT read your slides verbatim. We’ve all had to sit through those presentations and they are simply boring. If you use notes, refer to them but don’t read them.

No cheap shots or off-color humor. Audience sensitivities vary widely so it is best to play it safe and avoid areas of controversy. Along those same lines avoid politics or religion totally.

Always add value. I often hear back from producers, the audience surveys and attenders that I gave them things they could do that day. You can add value in many ways.

As I mentioned above, stay within your time allotment. I have been slotted behind people who go over their time by as much as 15-20 minutes, a couple of times even longer. There is a schedule and you have a slot, Stay within that time slot.

If it is a public event, help with the promotion. Post it in LinkedIn, Facebook and Tweet it. I include my speaking gigs as part of my email signature, and I invite people individually.

Show enthusiasm for your topic. Have a point of view and let it come out when you are on stage. People don’t want to hear the same platitudes over and over. They want something that causes them to think or act.

Do NOT pitch from the podium – this is not the time of place to sell yourself or your company. You may mention what you do once, as long as it is germane. Once is plenty. Twice is annoying.

Know who the audience is, address their concerns and respect them. They are giving their time to you and they deserve your best effort.

Never act disappointed if the audience is not as big as you hoped. I've been invited to speak only to show up to and an audience of five people. In that instance I turned it around and made it more of a group conversation rather that a presentation and we all got more out of it.

These tips should help you if you want one of the coveted speaking gigs and the exposure that comes with them.