A guide to pitching from an international speaker
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to be a great public speaker, from articles, to podcasts, to conference talks about how to deliver a conference talk, but there are many challenges to navigate before you even get on stage.
How to pitch
Whatever industry you’re in, there’s likely to be a number of different events you can pitch to speak at. Start by researching the event and the people behind it and find an event that suits your expertise as well as one you’d be proud to put your name to. Pitching can be a time-consuming process and although you can use a pitch more than once, it’s likely you’ll need to edit and adapt based on the audience the conference aims to attract.
As someone who looks through hundreds of speaker pitches for each event we host, it’s important to be as detailed as possible. Not only is the pitch on some occasions a first impression to the organiser, it’s also a place to mention your experience within the topic you’ve chosen.
When writing your first pitch to speak, you’re likely going to rely on the talk proposal alone. Without prior public speaking experience, ensure that your pitch is as detailed as possible including the key takeaways for the audience. Whilst it can be daunting, don’t let a lack of experience put you off. Myself and other event organisers are always keen to have brand new speakers on the line-up.
Even though I now have a lot of public speaking experience, I still write extremely detailed pitches, not only to help organisers understand what my talk will be about, but because I realised that it made prepping for my talk much easier.
Every time I start working on a new talk, the stress of staring at a blank slide deck begins. So, what I do is go back to my pitch and start adding every single bullet point of it in my deck. One bullet point per deck. Just like that - my talk skeleton is ready and I’m no longer staring at a blank Google Slides page. It puts me at ease, and it gives me structure.
Having the skeleton of your talk ready gets you almost to the halfway point, that’s the difficult part. So if you spend time and effort in ensuring a detailed pitch, you’ll not only have a better chance of being accepted to speak but you’ll also have your talk structure ready to go when you start working on your deck.
When researching the event you’d love to speak at, take a look at previous events. What styles of talks have they accepted previously? What topics seem to be popular? For smaller events with a lineup of under 10 speakers, the organiser is likely to want a diverse mixture of topics, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get picked the first time, it certainly doesn’t mean your pitch was bad!
If you have a few different ideas for topics, you can apply multiple times. In my experience as an organiser, it’s much easier if you create multiple different pitches rather than including several into one pitch form.
Making sure the opportunity is right for you
There’s no doubt that speaking at events and conferences can do wonders for your personal brand and career, but it’s also incredibly time consuming because you’ll want to do your absolute best.
As the founder of Women in Tech SEO, I’m passionate about paying speaker fees and have done since our first workshops back in 2020. When I started WTS, this was a core value I wanted to uphold.
If you’re invited to speak at an event after pitching, you’re likely to get a huge excitement buzz but please remember to value your own time and knowledge and ensure you’re not going to be out of pocket for providing your time and experience.
When it comes to speaker fees, there are exceptions such as free events and local meet ups that are free to attend and help connect smaller communities. But for those larger events with paying attendees and sponsorship budget, how do you go about asking if there’s a fee?
The way I start this conversation is by asking one simple question:
“What is the speaker package?”
As a speaker, you can normally expect some level of reimbursement for accommodation, travel expenses and potentially a speaker dinner or something similar, but it’s important to define this before you agree to speak. There’s a huge range and difference between events so make sure you know upfront what to expect.
I also put myself forward to speak in events where I haven't asked for a speaker fee in because one was a local meetup and the other was a popular industry conference that gave me my first speaking opportunity and is free for everyone to attend.
Making sure you’re speaking on a diverse panel
Whilst it’s the job of the event organisers to ensure their panel is diverse, as speakers, we can have an impact on equality and diversity within our own industries.
It’s no secret that there’s an issue with representation across multiple industries when it comes to public speaking and as an organiser and a speaker, it’s something I consider very carefully.
You can often do some research prior to pitching and take a look at the previous events to find out if diversity is a factor to the organisers, but I’d always encourage that you ask the question outright. As a speaker, when my pitch is accepted, I’ll ask the organiser to give me an understanding of the mix of people speaking at the event. This isn’t just advice for marginalised groups. If you're within a demographic who are often very visible at events, it’s also important to make sure you’re not part of the problem.
In the past, I’ve turned down opportunities to speak because the panel wasn’t diverse at all, but it’s also important to look out for situations where you could become the ‘token diverse member’. For example, if you’re the only non-white person, or the only women on a panel, consider whether the organisation is actually working towards improving diversity within the space or whether it's a performative act.
It’s always best to ask if the speaker lineup is diverse in advance and if they’re unclear on the lineup at this stage, I’ll provide them with a resource to help, for example the WTS Speakers Hub to make sure there really is no reason why the panel can’t be diverse.
7 TOP TIPS FOR AFTER YOU’VE BEEN ACCEPTED
Once you’ve been accepted to pitch and you’ve established it’s the right opportunity, the fun of creating your talk and practicing begins. Here are some quick-fire tips to remember:
Just get started
Write something, anything, whether it’s putting together a template, starting a script or just writing notes, any form of action will motivate you to take that next step and start building out your presentation.
A little everyday goes a long way
Instead of overwhelming yourself with a few days fully blocked out to work on your deck, sometimes an hour every morning is all you need to get started.
There’s more than one style
When it comes to presenting, you don’t need to sound like everyone else. There are many styles to a talk, from very few slides with storytelling or very informative straight to the point advice. Think about how you’ll feel most comfortable and what you believe the audience will take the most away from.
Ask for feedback
I always ask for feedback on my presentations no matter how many times I’ve spoken at events. Ask your teammates, your boss, your friends. Remember though, it’s okay not to take on every piece of advice. Take on the feedback that resonates with you and adds value to your talk.
On the day
It’s tempting, especially if it’s a multi-day conference, to spend a lot of time networking, but make sure you prioritise sleep the night before so you feel your best.
Nerves can play a big factor, but if you can manage to eat in the morning, it’s a good idea as it’ll fuel you. I personally find that making time for a nice breakfast and distracting yourself in any way you choose can be more beneficial than one final run through. At this point, be confident that you’ve put the work in and your talk is going to be great.
What if I hate it?
Speaking isn’t something that everyone enjoys doing and that’s okay. My advice has always been to give it a try, even if it’s just once. There’s a lot of good that comes from public speaking - whether it’s sharing your knowledge, building your brand, doing something out of your comfort zone, or gaining more confidence. But at the same time, it can be difficult to do - it can fill you with anxiety and stress, and it could even make your imposter syndrome feel worse. There are a lot of other ways to achieve the above points, through mentoring, writing posts, providing insights in a community and more.