The goal of this post is to give a behind the scenes understanding of what the process looks like to present at a conference. I'll share a specific conference story as an example but know there is nuance depending on the conference sponsor and the type of speaking engagement.
I was asked in March of this year to be a repeat speaker for the Association of Talent Development's SELL Conference on Sales Enablement. Having my CPTD and speaking at prior conferences, the request was very casual in nature from someone I'm in regular communication with in my professional network. Something along the lines of "mind if we share snippets of your last presentation in promotional materials - and any interest in doing it all again LIVE in Vegas?!" This extrovert had been locked away for far too long - the opportunity to speak on stage with a microphone in front of a large audience of people who love enablement?
👏SIGN 👏ME 👏UP!
Next up was to sign a speaker agreement and send a headshot and brief bio for the team to build the website and promotional materials.
Speaker Agreement: This articulates the commitment for preparation (turning materials in on time) and day of the event. It will state if there is compensation involved. Some conferences cover expenses (flight, conference registration, hotel, meals, etc) and others simply provide a flat fee and you and your company are responsible for standard expenses.
Headshot: I use the same headshot for everything for brand awareness - my website, LinkedIn bio, speaking engagements, etc.
Bio: I do have variations of my bio depending on the desired purpose (sentence, paragraph, multi-paragraph, formal, casual/personal interests, etc.) Here's the bio I used:
Whitney is an accomplished enablement leader with extensive experience in learning gap analysis, curriculum design and implementation, professional development consulting, project management and process improvement initiatives. Her passion has been working with revenue teams to develop skills in pipeline opportunity (identifying, qualifying & managing) and relationship building. She believes there is nothing more gratifying than seeing tangible business results impacted by enablement initiatives. She currently serves as Senior Director of Enablement at Outreach.io and runs a site dedicated to the enablement community called Enablement Enthusiast.
In May, I needed to turn in my topic - meaning a session title and a brief summary used for the conference program and website content. For this conference, here's what I submitted:
Session Title: Life isn't linear; learning isn't either: how just-in-time enablement helps meet reps in their moment of need!
Session Description: The pandemic has proven life doesn't always go as planned. With theories like Ebinghaus' Forgetting Curve and Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory, Enablement is at a crossroads of knowing we need to reinforce training initiatives but we also need to give space to manage a variety of external forces pulling on our revenue teams. How do we find the right balance? By being thrust into a virtual environment, it's allowed Enablement to optimize our tech stacks and navigate alternative modalities for getting information to the field. Just-in-time learning leveraging AI and conversational intelligence creates a "choose your own adventure" experience to accommodate rep tenure, segment and learning preference.
After that's submitted, you typically receive promotional materials for social media. Here's a sample of what I received:
They often provide text sample as well for inspiration for social posts. Here are two examples:
I’m excited to announce that I will be speaking at ATD SELL, taking place October 12-13. Join me in Las Vegas for this leading sales enablement conference that brings together practitioners from around the industry. Register before July 30 and receive 10% off! Register here: https://content.td.org/r/98234
Join me at the ATD SELL Conference in Las Vegas! I will be speaking at this event alongside many thought leaders in the sales enablement industry. You receive 10% off during the ATD Summer Sale through July 30. Register here: https://content.td.org/r/98234
In August, the Digital Toolkit session summary was due. This includes key takeaways from your presentation, links to resources and actionable advice to implement those takeaways in participants companies after they return from the conference.
In September, my presentation content/slides were due. And then came October... if I'm honest - this is when "ATD SELL" was the top line item on my to-do list but was the thing I procrastinated the most. Candidly the day job is always busy, I was dealing with personal loss, I had four new hires start, you name it - everything else was taking priority over properly preparing. Luckily, my company offers a monthly "Refresh Day" and it landed the Friday before the conference - so that's when the talk track really started taking shape.
I like to practice by repetition. I drafted what could almost be a movie script, read through it multiple times out loud and then recorded myself presenting. I listened back to that recording and altered the "script" based on ideas for clarity, transitions or opportunities for storytelling. I then listened to the recording on my commute, on the plane, as I relaxed - etc. It started to absorb into my memory.
So I got to Vegas on a red eye at the crack of dawn Monday morning. I pulled a diva card with the reception who tried to tell me I couldn't check in until 4pm and entered my room around 9AM. 💁🏻♀️
My representative at ATD SELL knew about some of my recent personal loss and offered their conference stipend for an all-expense paid spa day while they were setting up. Literally nothing could have been better. I leveraged the relaxation lounge for tea and reading, used the hot and cold plunge pools for improved circulation, had a 75 minute deep tissue massage, showered with top spa amenities and lived in a robe using their hot tools to get ready for dinner with other speakers later that night. (Seriously, THANK YOU, ATD!)
Morning of - I was the first participant to check in at the conference. And for those who know me, this is no surprise - I'm early everywhere. But I wanted to scope out the space and get a sense of how I could block my presentation for optimal audience engagement.
I got to watch multiple presentations from the day and I'll share my key takeaways in a future post. It was a mix of sales training/technology vendors and enablement practioners. A bonus of being a practitioner presenter at an enablement conference is that that I could literally speak about the topic for hours.
I got mic'd up, tested the tech and I wish I could tell you more about how my presentation went - but I sort of blacked out in auto-pilot mode as I do at many live speaking engagements. (What, just me?! 🤷🏻♀️) Unfortunately the session was not recorded - so I plan to record a virtual version of it soon and will likely alter this post to include a link once its ready!
After the presentation, I had many conference participants come up and kindly introduce themselves, congratulate me and ask questions for further discussion. We had sponsored happy hours and dinners later that night where we were able to socialize and network and really build deeper connection with the attendees. I'll share a future post on benefits of attending these types of events but - spoiler alert - the people are incredible and those connections are so helpful for brainstorming, problem solving and just being incredible sounding boards as they have similar experiences to share based on their journey.
If you get the opportunity to speak at an industry event, I 100% recommend you jump at the opportunity to challenge yourself in a new way and give back to a community that craves best practices.