Hacking Conferences for Fun and Profit

Speaking at conferences is the fastest way I’ve found to kickstart yourself as a trusted authority in your target market. Unfortunately, it can be hard to break into the speaker circuit when you’re just starting out.

In this article I’ll share a few tips I’ve picked up over the years for landing your first speaking gig, and some back up plans for what to do if it doesn’t work the first time.

Let’s say there’s this conference that your audience will surely attend. Should you buy a ticket? I wouldn’t. I’d try to speak at it.

Would I apply through the “call for speakers” form on the conference website? No. I’d look through the list of past speakers for someone I know and try to get them to intro me to the organizers.

What if that didn’t work? Would I apply through the normal channels? Maybe, but probably not. For the sake of argument, let’s say I did apply and got rejected.

Should I buy a ticket to attend now? I wouldn’t. I’d just go hang out at the hotel. Most of the good stuff happens in the bar after the sessions anyway. And if you’re in the area during the event, there are three things you can do to capitalize on your physical location:

  1. Schedule a live IRL workshop in the same city the day before or day after the conference. Do it at the conference hotel, or walking distance at least. I’ve even seen people drop bank on a baller suite and present in their room.
  2. The week or two before the conference, ping the organizer and say, “FYI - I’m going to be in town during the conference. If anyone drops out at the last minute, I’d be available to fill in.” Speakers drop out last minute all the time... Sickness, flight delays, etc.
  3. If you’re going to be at the hotel, contact all the heavy hitter speakers and ask if you could interview them for your podcast, vlog, video series, or whatever. Lots will say yes; they’re there to promote themselves, after all. They get extra marketing juice for free, and you end up with great content and personal contact with heavy hitters. (And the following year, you can ask them to recommend you to the conference organizers.)

Don’t want to travel?

But what if you don’t want to travel a long way to hang around at a conference that you’re not speaking at or attending? Another thing you can do is hashbomb.

What is hashbombing, you ask?

It’s a word I just made up to describe this:

Most conferences encourage attendees to tweet with a special hashtag. Attendees will watch the feed for that hashtag closely during the conference for announcements. During the conference, you can follow feed to get a really good feel for what’s happening and what’s getting traction with the audience. At appropriate times, you drop helpful links to your stuff into that feed.

Even if you just lurk on the feed, you can get a lot of great info about your audience. Just remember to do it while the conference is in progress - the feed will die soon after the closing keynote.


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