How to Get Accepted to Speak at SMX

by on October 8, 2012 | posted in Content Strategy

I’ve had the good fortune of being selected to speak at SMX events three times now. While I’m no Vanessa Fox, who seems to appear 95 times speaking per event, I feel like I have a decent idea, now, of what it takes to get selected to speak at the conference.

Speaking at SMX is a great honor, and brings good benefits. It got me lots of new connections, job offers, client work, my girlfriend, subsequent speaking gigs, and other benefits that would not have been possible without it. I highly suggest doing your best, as a marketer, to speak at one of their events.

Last week while listening to some of my peers and some of the sessions, I had a bit of a breakthrough as it comes to getting accepted to speak there. If you opened this post thinking I’d write something like “be a trusted authority” and “have something compelling to pitch”, you’d be right – but I would not have written this article if that’s all I was going to offer as advice – as those parts are obvious, and basically amount to “build great content” in another form.

The real secret to getting accepted at SMX is understanding the format. When most people pitch the panel, they blindly pitch something they think might be good as it pertains to the session description. From there, the moderator has to choose three, sometimes four – sometimes five – people to speak on the panel.

What occurs here is very important. It is this moderator’s job to make sure the content on their panel is unique, and has little to no overlap. Matt McGee, frequent SMX moderator, told me that this – sometimes overlapping content – is one of the only complaints they get, and the moderators work extremely hard to prevent any of this occurring. Therefore, it is up to the person pitching to understand this constraint the moderator is under when choosing speakers.

Understanding Panel Story Structure

This is where some important strategy comes in. Moderators – good moderators – will creative a narrative with their session. It will have a beginning, middle and end – all informing different difficulties and strategies people might use for their businesses. For example, let’s look at a specific narrative that might occur for an authorship session.

  • Speaker 1: Intro to Authorship
  • Speaker 2: How to Implement Authorship
  • Speaker 3: Using Authorship to Your Promotional Advantage
  • Speaker 4: The Future of Authorship

The reality of what happens when most people pitch for a session like this, they will fit into a singular, overpitched speaker type. SMX will open a session to get pitched, and to the outside speaker, they might imagine that they are going up against 100 other people that pitch for those four spots.

Instead, they are commonly actually going against 90 other people for that one popular slot – perhaps, here, the “Using Authorship to Your Promotional Advantage”. Meanwhile, Bill Slawski pitches the Speaker 1 slot to talk about patents that inform authorship, and he goes against nobody. He is pretty much automatically accepted, because his pitch fills the need of the narrative, and he has no competition.

Of course, Bill has the reputation for patents, and trust. This is still important, and weighs in to the decision greatly. However, when pitching a session, it is very worth thinking about how people might commonly be pitching each need, and the potential thought process of the moderator. How will they create a narrative? How can I offer a compelling pitch that competes against the fewest other pitching marketers in the narrative story?

It is this kind of thought process that will dramatically improve your chances of getting accepted to speak at a panel – because you are helping the moderator create a better session through diversity. Of course, you’ll never know for sure what people are pitching, but you could probably make some good educated guesses based on common psychology and industry trends that might inform the pitches – such as recentness, sexiness, or lack of complexity.

If you can get in the smallest group possible, you can better improve your chances of getting all the great benefits speaking at SMX – or any other panel-based conference – can offer. You’ll also help make the conference sessions better – and that’s damn cool too.

Extra note: If interested, I posted my SMX East deck on Slideshare as well – “Content Strategy Post-Penguin“. It addresses a lot of what I talk about in my “Transitioning to a Content Strategy” post here, with a little spice thrown in at the end for good use. Also, you might notice it debuts my consulting business, Siege Media, the website of which is currently under development.

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