How to Get Compelling Content for Your Conference

A guide to securing and managing great speakers who will attract attendees

Event Speaker Content

There are countless industry events to choose from every year, and you want attendees to pick yours -- and the content of your event is a big reason why they will go with yours over the competition. The speaking sessions you host should promise compelling content that makes attendees want to immediately purchase a ticket. So how do you make sure you're finding and selecting the best speakers for your event? Prepare in advance for your call for content, create an effective evaluation process, and manage your selected speakers wisely. Here's a quick and easy guide to help you manage the content process for your next event:

Before your call for content

• Identify your event goals.   What is the purpose of the event and what kind of results do you want to see at the end? Once you are clear on what you want to achieve, you can plan content strategically, and select appropriate speakers, to meet these end goals. 

• Build a map.   Build or get a map of the physical space of your event and a list of your potential meeting rooms and time slots. Use this map to determine how many speaking slots you're looking for -- hosting 100 sessions does not make sense if you only have five meeting rooms and two days. Different meeting rooms and floor areas can be used to host different session formats (presentation versus roundtable discussion, etc.) and a physical map will help you maximize your floor space.

• Reach out to "all stars" directly. Personally contact a handful of potential speakers who would be a perfect fit. These are the people and sessions that will serve as the cornerstones of your event, and locking them in early and quickly will make the planning process that much smoother. Giving VIPs the opportunity to claim topics they want to discuss (or shape the event content overall, if appropriate) will help you build a strong core of content to build the rest of your event around.

• Pick the right judges.
 If multiple people will be evaluating proposals, make sure that they understand the purpose of the event, what kind of content you are looking for, and how much time they should expect to spend evaluating proposal in advance. Try to pick a diverse group for well-rounded feedback. A skewed judging panel will affect the final content of your event, and you should make sure you're catering to a wide audience.

• Apply to your own event.   Once you've built a final call for proposals, fill it out as if you were applying to your own event. Not only will this give you a rubric for what the ideal proposal looks like, it will also help you identify areas of your call for proposals that could use more work. Have a few additional colleagues who haven't seen the CFP apply as well in order to get a full understanding of its ease of usability. They might get stuck at steps that seem like second nature to you.

Evaluating proposals

• Consider the big trends of your applications.   Through the call-for-papers process, you may notice certain trends in the content choices that your potential speakers are making. If potential speakers are flocking to apply for a specific subject matter, this may indicate a demand from your event to address that topic and include more speakers on it. Instead of making that topic just one track at your event, you may want to consider making it a larger part of your event's overall theme. Similarly, if your speakers have a similar personal or professional profile, that information will give you valuable insight into the demographics of your attendees. Remember: potential speakers are potential attendees.

• Send regular reminders.   Use your communication channels (Twitter, Facebook, email lists, etc.) to send regular reminders while the call for papers is open. Use those regular reminders to drive potential speakers towards topics that have not been adequately covered. You can even set up automated reminders that go out to subsets of your potential speakers based on what stage of the application process they are in. This will save you from getting 200 applications on the last day, and will allow you to better anticipate your event needs.

• Experience does not equal quality.   While previous speaking experience can be a good indicator of a speaker's expertise in a field, that doesn't mean that they're the right speaker for your event. If you ask for speaking experience, make sure to also get a video or recording of their previous appearances for you to make a more informed decision. Similarly, ask for other supplemental materials from those with less speaking experience -- even a recording of a presentation or speech given internally at a company can showcase a potential speaker's strengths as a presenter.

• Be careful with "edgy" proposals. Having a few sessions that directly challenge the preconceived notions of attendees makes your event more interesting, but too many speakers telling your attendees how they're doing everything wrong is tiring. Think about ways to structure these sessions in ways that start an open dialogue on current status quos rather than directly attack them. This allows attendees to come into the session with an open mind.

Managing confirmed speakers

• Automate your data collection process, or outsource it to the speakers themselves.
 Use event technology to its full potential to help you keep control over the deluge of speaker information, presentation drafts, and other materials that will be flooding in from your confirmed speakers. Ask speakers to submit all of their own information - otherwise, you may find yourself pouring over online bios trying to fill in info a speaker could have given you themselves.

• Give your speakers access to change their own session content. Similarly, give speakers the necessary permissions and access to update their own content on their own time. This is much easier to do if you're using a specialized system (like Hubb!), but a shared spreadsheet hosted in the cloud will work if necessary. This way, you don't have to manually track every request for change in punctuation or title session. 

• Have backup speakers. Executives are a busy bunch, and sometimes they cancel due to new conflicts, or end up giving their planned presentation at an earlier event. Nothing will frustrate attendees more than a last minute hole in their carefully planned event agenda. Keep a list of backup speakers ready with sessions that suit your final event theme and content. Make sure to relay this change in sessions in a timely manner, and try to keep the content in line with the original presentation when possible.

• Market your top speakers and sessions. You can plan the best lineup with a relevant and timely theme, but if no one hears about it, your event will suffer from a lack of interested attendees. Share session and speaker information in real time on the company website or blog and promote VIP speakers through social media! These speakers also have large followings on social media, so encourage them to post about their speaking sessions through their personal accounts.

Two-thirds of event attendees make their decision to attend an event based on the event content according to a recent AMEX industry report. Outline your event goals and actively work towards them when planning your events, and use technology to automate as much of the content collection and marketing as you can. By following these steps, you'll not only pick the right content for your event, you'll also be able to effectively market it to attract the right audience! 

Allie Magyar is a skilled entrepreneur and technology maven with over 15 years of experience driving successful technology enabled service companies. She founded Hubb in 2015 to build a technology solution that directly addressed the needs of event technology for meeting planners as they manage the overload of information for their event content. As CEO of Hubb, she is responsible for directing the company's strategic direction with an emphasis on key partnerships, integrations, and growth. Allison is also passionate about driving positive corporate culture and her companies have won several regional awards such as "Healthiest Workplace" and "Most Philanthropic." Allison combines her real-world experience in marketing, sales, partner relationship building, and show production with a strong vision for the technology-enabled future of event management. Allison is CMP certified, a member of Vistage, a two-time Inc. 5000 award winner, and was also listed as one of the 2013 Collaborate 40 under 40 in the meetings industry.