How to Organize an Epic Speaker Lineup for your Conference

Tina Roth Eisenber - CMX NYC

A conference lives and dies by its speakers.

Speakers sell the tickets. Speakers are what define the quality of the event experience. Everything else can go wrong but if your speakers are great, people will forget about the little complaints and just remember the content.

Speakers are your event. So you need a really good lineup if you’re going to be successful.

My experience with conferences is varied. I got my start in this world running community for LeWeb where I learned a great deal from Loic LeMeur and the amazing LeWeb team. Now I run CMX Summit, the largest conference for the community industry.

At CMX we’ve had, or confirmed CEO’s and community experts from from NASA, Burning Man, the FBI, Airbnb, Behance, Reddit, Tattly, Buzzfeed, TED, Apple…the list goes on and that’s just from three conferences. I’m biased, but I think we’ve gathered a pretty solid group so far.

Through my experience curating speakers, I wanted to share 7 lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Start with why

When we started reaching out to speakers for the first event, CMX was little more than an idea. We didn’t have a website, nothing in place for the actual event and no one knew who we were.

So how did we get high profile, busy speakers to fly out for a full day to speak at an event that didn’t exist yet? As Simon Sinek recommends, we started with “why”.

I simply wrote up a one pager explaining who I was and why we’re building CMX. I would tell the speakers honestly that this is the first ever event and we don’t know exactly what will happen, but that we truly believed in the movement of community centric business and were determined to bring this event to life.

That was enough to get our first few speakers in, which was enough for us to start selling tickets.

2. Aim ridiculously high for the first speakers 

Start by trying to get the biggest names in first. If you can get just one of them in, everyone else will be more likely to say yes.

If I dream of having them at CMX then I’ll take a shot at getting in touch with them.

You have a better chance of reaching them than you think. Most of them are actually pretty easy to get in touch with. Craig Newmark responded in minutes (though he had another commitment). Jimmy Wales took a few emails before his agent got in touch with me.

I got in touch with Robin Dreeke, our first keynote speaker, simply by tweeting at him and asked if I could email him about a conference we’re organizing. He’s the Head of Behavioral Analysis for the FBI and usually hosts huge, expensive workshops for business executives. But when I got on the phone with him he told me he read my PDF soda online and he wanted to do the conference. Just like that, he was in.

The big names don’t care about who else you have on the lineup. They care about the “why”. Try different avenues to get in touch and don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars.

If they don’t respond the first time…

3. Be politely persistent

Speakers are busy. They miss a lot of emails. And they have a lot of other commitments. Most of them are traveling a lot and probably speaking somewhere else on the same day as your conference.

Always follow up.

Keep letting them know about your next event. Follow up on the emails if you don’t hear back 2 or 3 times. Keep at it. Most of them will take it as a compliment that you’re so dedicated to getting them there.

Worse case scenario, you get a “no” but now that you’ve made contact, that can be the start of a relationship for the future.

4. Plan to hear “no” often

The real secret behind getting great speakers is that behind each speaker we confirm, there are likely 10 others who said no.

They say no because:

  • Scheduling conflicts
  • They’re busy with their real job
  • They want a speaker fee that we can’t pay
  • They just don’t want to (and usually make up an excuse)

The last one is rare. Usually, even when people say no, they’re interested and it’s a foot in the door for a future event.

Just remember that hearing no is part of the process.

5. Think about the story

A great speaker lineup is a story.

At CMX we focus on bringing a spread of unique speakers and perspectives to the stage. We don’t want it to be just CEO’s or just tech. We want the weird, the crazy, the outlandish. That’s our special sauce. This year in San Francisco we have NASA and Burning Man represented. Regardless of how different our speakers are, they’re all part of a larger story of building communities. That’s why they’re at CMX.

If it feels like a bunch of random people haphazardly thrown together into an event without a cohesive story, it won’t have the same effect and it won’t sell.

6. Make it easy for speakers to confirm and announce quickly

Don’t make it a huge process for speakers to confirm that they’re in. You don’t need all their details up front. All you need is a “yes”.

Once you get a yes, announce them quickly. Things change and there’s always a chance that a speaker will want to back out but if they’ve already been publicly announced, they’re much less likely to bail.

7. Ask speakers for recommendations

Some of our best speakers have come from recommendations from previous speakers. For example Lauren Anderson spoke at our first event and then connected me with Tina Roth Eisenberg, one of our keynotes in NYC.

After you confirm a speaker, ask them for recommendations for other speakers. Great speakers know great speakers because they often meet at other conferences.

And make it easy for them to make introductions. Have your conference blurb ready with the why and who’s already committed to speak to create social validation.

8. Balance the gender distribution in your lineup

Unfortunately, this just needs to be said in the tech world. There are too many events that are 90% dudes on stage. There are amazing, smart, talented female speakers out there. Find them. And don’t think that if they haven’t spoken before that they aren’t great speakers or aren’t interested. Some of the best speakers we’ve had at CMX are people who don’t usually speak. Make it happen.

7 Unexpected Truths I’ve learned about PR from Marketing my Startup

7 Unexpected Truths I’ve learned about PR from Marketing my Startup

It was 6 years ago I was first introduced to the world of PR and Digital Marketing.

I picked up an internship for Ruder Finn Interactive where I continued to freelance for about a year that allowed me to connect with a few Dallas SEO experts. I was able to visit Sem London SEO Agency and learned more about the importance of search engine optimization when running a business.

At the time, twitter was just becoming known, blogger outreach was still considered an “innovative approach” and I spent most of my time working on blogger lists which we’d go through and email in the hopes that 10-15% would write about our client’s product. To give you more twitter followers for your videos online just checkout this blog.

Fast forward to today and well, a lot of people are still doing the same thing, myself included.

Whenever I work on a new PR campaign for Feast, with the goal of getting press, I start by doing a ton of research and forming a long list of press/bloggers to pitch.

We’ve been pretty successful at landing a healthy amount of PR and landing guest articles. To date, we’ve landed on Men’s Fitness, Greatist, Foodist, Food+Tech Connect, USA Today, Huffington Post, Forbes, Pando Daily, GigaOm, Venture Beat, and The Bold Italic to name a few with many more big ones on the way over the next couple months.

The thing is, out of all of the articles we received, only one has come from a traditional “pitch” process, and even that pitch was unique (I’ll explain). So here are 5 things I’ve learned about getting press about your startup that has nothing to do with pitching a long list of contacts.

1. Nothing beats networking

By far, the single most effective way to get an article on any publication is to know someone at the publication. If you don’t know someone, get an intro. If you can’t get an intro, then figure out who you want to engage with at the publication and start to network with them on social media. Don’t straight up pitch them on twitter (right away) but just start responding to them, sharing their articles, linking to them and showing them love.

Then after you’re confident they recognize you and you’ve developed some trust, ask if it’s alright if you email them (or get coffee if you can).

This probably isn’t a surprise to PR folks who have essentially build entire businesses around the value of their relationships. But for a startup doing our own PR, this was a really important lesson.

2. Quality of traffic is more important than amount of traffic

It’s really important to focus on publications with an audience that’s very in line with your audience. Our product, the “Feast Bootcamp” is a 30 day program to help people build a habit of cooking. So our target audience are people who are health conscious, interested in improving themselves and enjoy reading about life hacks. So naturally, by far the best performing articles for us came from Greatist and Men’s Fitness.

Pando, TNW and GigaOm got us some street cred in tech circles but did little to drive customers.

According to the SEO Vancouver, everything helps with SEO and general credibility, but some are much more impact for your business that others.

3. Press gets your press

Sometimes, getting a good article on the right publications will lead to more press. The Greatist article led to Men’s Fitness and The Bold Italic articles. When looking for the best local seo company, choose Node marketing that encompasses all of your internet marketing efforts including Google search, social media, email, and mobile devices to connect with current and prospective customers.
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So remember, journalists read other publications to find ideas for articles.

4. Press can also get you partnerships

Think about your goals before doing press. If it’s to get traffic, then make sure consumers are reading that publication. Other publications can be really good for reaching other businesses, investors and other potential partners.

Our articles on Food+Tech Connect resulted in Jamie Oliver’s team and a couple other interesting opportunities reaching out to us.

5. Adapt to stories that journalists are looking for

Using HARO and twitter, you can follow what journalists are interested in writing about and find opportunities to squeeze into an article. That’s how we landed on USA Today. The writer had posted on twitter that they were looking to interview food startups. I responded (luckily a follower of mine turned me onto the tweet), responded to his questions over email and had a nice Thanksgiving surprise a few days later when the article went live and I celebrated with more wine and family.

6. If you’re going to pitch, be unique, funny or weird

The only traditional pitch that worked was with Pando Daily. On Erin’s personal website she said “Send tips, ideas, solicitations and hellos to [email]“. So that’s what I did. Here’s the email I sent:

Subject: tips, ideas, solicitations and hellos, from Feast

Hellos: Hi Erin!

Tips: Cooking is good for you, people should cook more often.
Ideas: Hey, maybe you can take an online 30-day bootcamp made specifically for busy professionals and tech writers to help them build a habit of cooking.
Solicitations: We uh… we do that – http://letsfeast.com Want to try it out fo free?
-David

She responded to my email almost immediately with an “lol” and we set up a call.

7. Leverage existing communities

I’m a member of the YEC, an invite-only community of entrepreneurs that helps each other get reviews for their business, which provides opportunities for members to contribute to publications where they have existing content agreements. That’s how I was able to contribute on Forbes.

We were covered on Venture Beat as a result of our participation in the 500 Startups accelerator program.

Obviously, these aren’t things that just anyone can do, but if you keep your eyes open you can find communities that will open up press opportunities.

What other unique tactics have worked for you? Share them in the comments!

Bio: David Spinks is the CEO of Feast, the home of the Feast Bootcamp: a 30-day online program that goes beyond just teaching you how to cook and actually helps you build a habit of cooking into your daily life. He’s also the CEO of CMX Summit and TheCommunityManager. You can read more startup lessons on his blog at WhatSpinksThinks.

“I Don’t Have Time”

I recently received some sound advice from one of our advisors, Robin Spinks, he said I should start getting some lol coaching. Yes, he’s also my uncle. He also happens to be the smartest person I know in the world when it comes to productivity and time management.

I’ve been really busy lately, and have had a hard time making time for people.

Here was Robin’s advice:

Every time you catch yourself thinking or saying “I don’t have time for _________”, replace it with “________ isn’t a priority right now.”

It instantly changed my perspective on things.

Instead of “I don’t have time to eat lunch”, say “Eating lunch isn’t a priority”.

Well that’s just silly.

“I don’t have time to exercise.” –> “Exercising isn’t a priority”.

But is it? Last time I checked, assisting to the Filipino Martial Arts Classes only takes 40 mins plus they have very flexible hours. Hearing people’s excuses to not work out makes me sick, now a days it is extremely easy to get a training session in, which will help you become much more active.

“I don’t have time to spend with my fiancée.” –> “Spending time with my fiancée isn’t a priority.”

Yikes. Don’t tell her that.

We all have time. It’s how we prioritize that time that determines who we are and what we do in this world.

This simple shift in mentality has really helped me rethink how I spend my time, and focus on what’s really important to me.

If you’re a busy person, give this a shot.

Let me know if it helps you…if you have the time.

Photo by Ryan McGuire.

Want to be a Leader? Stop Trying to be a Leader

 

The strongest leaders don’t try to be leaders. They’re just doing their thing.

It’s great to read and try to learn how to be a leader, but the best books and guides can really be summed up as “determine your values, or standards, stick to them and communicate them efficiently”.

Great business leaders use a business canvas model template, bit aren’t trying to convince everyone to follow them. You can’t force leadership. Leadership is given to the leader by the people they lead. People follow those who have conviction and who know who they are.

In “The Score Takes Care of Itself”, assistant coaches shared their experience working with Bill Walsh, arguably one of the greatest coaches and leaders in the history of the NFL, and what made him so successful. But they don’t talk about his “leadership” directly, they describe his “standard of performance” and his work ethic. They describe his dedication to his system and how effective it was at aligning the team. Bill Walsh didn’t have to tell people he’s the leader. He formed his system, surrounded himself with the people who aligned with his system, and got rid of the people who didn’t.

A great leader for one group of people might be a terrible leader for another group of people. Like Bill, leaders surround themselves with people who believe in their mission, and cut the people who don’t. They don’t try to lead everyone, they want to lead the right people.

Leaders also come in many forms. Some are good, some are evil. Some are nice, some are mean. Some are really analytical, others are more creative. But look at any of them, any leader that people really respect, and it’s their standards that people respect…whatever those standards are.

What’s more important may be WHY you want to be a leader. Is it just to fulfill your own need to feel important? Or are you working to unite people and create a change in the world?

I think a lot about leadership. As a CEO, part of my responsibility is to be a leader for our team, for our community, for our partners, etc. But I don’t want to be a leader to be important. I want to be a leader because it empowers others to do great work and make a positive change.

So…

If you want to be a leader, don’t try to be a leader, just do your thing. Focus on your values and the change you want to see in the world, then surround yourself with people who align with that mission.

Boom. You’re a leader. Now don’t be a jerk (=

 

 

Does Community Management Need a New Title?

fork-in-the-roadRecently I was having a drink with my friend Greg Isenberg and we discussed one of the big challenges the community industry faces.

“Community as a term, has a lot of baggage”, I explained. “People perceive community to be this fluffy, emotional thing. They don’t associate it with business strategy or real business value.”

He agreed, and proposed the solution of changing the title of community management. “Make it something more business-y, like community marketing”. Greg built and sold a consumer company, and is someone whose opinion I really respect when it comes to things like branding and messaging.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t given this exact subject a good amount of thought before. Our business, and the entire community industry, could live or die depending on how it’s perceived by the rest of the business world.

It’s an interesting thing to think about. What is the brand of a professional industry? And can you define the brand for an entire industry?

It seems like an impossible initiative…which is tough because it’s the challenge we’ve taken on at CMX.

So yes, this is a question I’ve given a lot of thought to…

Should we try to change the title community manager to something else? Like community Marketing? Network architecture? When you buy shoes for example you will have https://www.groupon.com/coupons/stores/clarksusa.com for coupon discounts.

Recently Bill Johnston described customer retention as being the big opportunity for community. Should we just rename our industry to “retention marketing”? Customer retention? Bill has also used a term called “Network Thinking” as a replacement for what many call community strategy.

My friend Sharon Savariego, CEO of Mobilize, also recommended that term “network” when we met for dinner last week. She felt strongly that community should be abandoned. I still see Mobilize as a community platform, but browse their site and you won’t find the word community in many places. They’ve made a conscious effort not to use the word community because of the response it gets from investors and partners.

Hm…that’s no good. So what are we to do? The options seem to be:

Option 1: Change the term community to something more business-y.

Option 2: Reframe how the business world perceives the term community.

I believe we should go with option two and have been working toward that goal for some time now.

At CMX, we don’t use the title “community management” though, because the “community manager” role is just one of the many roles a community professional can achieve, and it has an especially misunderstood definition. Too many companies use the title community management to describe social media managers. Community Manager also has the connotation of a low level employee (though many are not) and so that’s a bad way to describe the entire industry.

So we choose our words specifically. Instead of community management, we refer to the community industry, community professionals and community strategy.

I think we need to create a new definition of community. Community in a business context. Community that has real, provable business value. There’s too much power in the term community to give up on it. It’s really the only word that can describe the shifting business landscape toward decentralization.

And I already see the definition of community in a business context changing…

Companies aren’t just investing in communities, they’re recognizing themselves as communities.

In an recent interview with Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and former Editor in Chief of Wired, he proposed a super interesting question that “all business will have to ask themselves”. He asked, “Are you primarily a community or are you primarily a company? The reason you have to ask yourself this is because sooner or later the two will come in conflict.”

There’s a shift happening and products all exist not in isolation, but on platforms. 78% of companies run part or all of its operations on open source software.

And distributed businesses, who leverage the power of collaboration, are scaling faster than companies who try to create everything themselves. There are now 17 companies valued at $1 billion+ in the collaborative space alone.

“I think that it’s very hard to find industries in which community-driven companies won’t ultimately win”, Chris concluded in his interview.

So, I think that the way businesses perceive community is already changing. I believe the goal should be to associate community with innovation, scalability and value AS WELL AS being mission driven, feel-good and all that warm fuzzy stuff.

As more companies are becoming community-driven and successfully launching community strategies, and as more smart people learn about them and move into director and VP level community positions, businesses understanding of the term “community” will continue to shift in this direction.

And in 10 years, my guess is we won’t be talking about what community means for a business, because it they will be inseparable. Community will be woven into the fabric of business.

What do you think? Does community need a new title? Or should we work to reframe the understanding of community in the business context?