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Five Ways to Build Public Speaking into Your Marketing Plan

No news to buzz about? Speaking engagements to generate publicity. Here's how to make the most of your efforts.

Sometimes companies face publicity droughts. Without a new product launch, an earnings announcement, a change in leadership or a relatable current event, companies can go through periods without the opportunity to generate positive public exposure. Ubiquity is the key to remaining foremost in the minds of target audiences. But what are companies to do when there's nothing newsworthy to promote? Luckily, speaking opportunities at industry conferences abound throughout the year.

Here are five tips for targeting -- and capitalizing on -- speaking opportunities:

1. Identify relevant conferences in advance: Most conferences have long lead times for speaker submission deadlines, so it's crucial to begin the process of identifying relevant conferences early. There are subscription services that search for relevant conferences based on any number of variables such as industry, geographic location, size and date.

If you don't want to pay for a subscription service, a simple web search will return numerous sites that list conferences for various industries. A few recommended sites include:

Additionally, many media outlets host conferences, so it's worthwhile to browse the websites of the top trade publications in your industry to identify opportunities.

A little digging is often needed to find speaker submission guidelines and deadlines as this information is not always posted on the conference website. Also, some conferences change dates from year to year, so you can't depend on the schedule from years past.

2. Keep track with a database: Whether you use a spreadsheet or a document table, it's critical to create some kind of database to keep track of conferences each year. Include the name of the conference, when it's taking place, when the speaker submission deadline is, guidelines and protocols for speaking submissions, contact information, conference URL and a bit of background information about each conference.

Sometimes conference dates are listed before any speaking submission information is made available. That's why it's also crucial to check the conference website often and update your database accordingly.

3. Identify the best speakers in your organization: Not every CEO or VP of Marketing is cut out to be a speaker. That's why it's important to identify the most suitable executives in your organization as speaking candidates. For instance, the Chief Financial Officer may not be the ideal person to speak at a conference focused on online marketing or social media, even if the CFO happens to be the most charismatic speaker available. The point is that speakers and speaking submissions are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, which is why it's imperative to . . .

4. Customize speaker submissions: Some conferences want a very detailed speaker submission. Others merely require a brief abstract with key take-aways of the proposed presentation. Some conferences require a case study or a customer to corroborate claims made by an organization in order to be considered for a speaking slot.

Be selective when choosing which conferences to submit speaking proposals to. Developing a top-notch speaking proposal can be a time-intensive process, and it's not a good use of time to submit a proposal for a conference or topic that your organization doesn't really fit into. Whatever the case may be, it's crucial that you read the speaker submission guidelines carefully and customize your proposal to best meet those guidelines.

5. Maximize opportunities: Identifying, submitting and hopefully securing a speaking engagement offers several additional PR and marketing opportunities that companies should look to leverage. Whether or not your speaking proposal is accepted, the practice of positioning executives within your organization as "thought leaders" can provide a springboard for generating widespread media exposure. Offering expert analysis or commentary on a given story can be an excellent way to secure prominent placement in an article and cultivate relationships with reporters. These relationships can lead to reporters contacting you for quotes, analysis or commentary for a future story.

Similarly, if a speaking engagement requires customer participation as part of the presentation, companies should utilize this opportunity to develop "case studies," which can then be posted on one's website, used as marketing collateral or pitched directly to the media.

Lastly, if your proposal is accepted and your executive is scheduled to speak, this provides a launch point for several event-driven PR initiatives. Press releases promoting and even summarizing the speech should be issued. This is a way to drive attendance to the presentation, as well as to market your executive's expertise. Additionally, online event press kits have grown in popularity as a way to allow companies to feature news and multimedia content in connection with the official trade show website.

Speaking engagements remain one of the bedrocks of a well-constructed public relations program. Not only do they allow your spokespeople to demonstrate their expertise and unique viewpoints, but having your company prominently represented at an event provides a promotional vehicle that can translate into increased sales, potential partnership opportunities and greater media exposure. All that's needed to succeed is a little planning, a touch of creativity and a hint of charisma. With that, the podium can be yours. 

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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