Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What can video do to help you get that speaking gig? An organizer's tips

(Editor's note: Sarah Milstein, co-author of The Twitter Book and general manager of the Web 2.0 Expo, is a reader of this blog who has prompted some of our most-read and useful posts. Over a recent lunch, I urged her to share why she uses videos to choose her program speakers. This post does not disappoint: It has the straightforward advice and inside view she's so good at sharing. Learn from these practical tips, based on real needs of conference organizers. I've added only boldfacing to emphasize a few points.)

I organize and program a few large conferences, including Web 2.0 Expo, for which we require prospective speakers to submit video of themselves speaking. Now, nobody but Donald Trump likes the way they look on camera, and video is a little bit of a pain to capture. Why do we require it? And when you come across a conference organizer that asks for it, what should you do?

We require video because we care about presentation style--will this person connect with our audience?--and nothing else gives us even a sliver of a hint of how the proposed speaker will appear to audiences. Sometimes, a good writer turns out to be a lousy presenter. More often, a PR person writes and submits a proposal on behalf of a speaker--who may not even know about the submission--and then we really get no representative info. Video helps overcome all of that.

In seeking good communicators, we're not necessarily looking for classic presentation skills. Indeed, some of the most compelling videos we've seen were shorts that people made for us and that included title cards or walking-through-busy-NY-streets or funny interstitials. Without the usual tools, they did a good job of connecting and telling us that the presenters were thoughtful communicators. Of course, we've seen lots of good videos that simply put the speaker in front of a camera and let 'em rip for 120 seconds.

So what to do if video is required of you? A few tips:
  1. If you have an existing, strong video of yourself presenting at another conference, use it! Make sure the link is live and there isn't ten minutes of intro material before you appear (if there is, edit it down and repost). Also, if the video shows you as part of a panel, and you speak only occasionally or don't appear until minute 18, that won't help your cause. Similarly, if the video is a TV interview you did where you appear stiff or say very little, start fresh.
  2. If you have an upcoming presentation, and the conference is going to capture video, ask how quickly you can get a copy (or a link to it). If they're not filming, consider having an associate sit in front and make a video of you using a Flipcam or camera phone.
  3. No upcoming engagements? No problem. In fact, the ability to make a video is a real democratizer because it means you don't need previous speaking experience. Simply use your Flipcam or phone to make a video of yourself pitching your idea in two to three minutes (or whatever the conference requires).
  4. Practice a few times first so that you can give the pitch with a tone that's both relaxed and energetic. Depending on the conference, you probably don't need to go crazy with hair/makeup/wardrobe or appearing before an impressively well-ordered bookcase. But don't draw the wrong kind of attention with stained sweatpants and a background of dirty laundry (both of which we've seen); those sorts of careless touches, like typos in a written proposal, suggest you won't give our attendees the sort of careful consideration they deserve.
Finally, see if you can deliver your pitch with a genuine, friendly smile. We want to connect with you, and your facial expressions affect us!

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