This is a post that I should have written over a year ago, but I was motivated to write it tonight after an event that I spoke at. Last year, I traveled out to Rapid City, South Dakota and spoke at Concept ONE, a premiere business marketing event founded by Korena Keys, a regional entrepreneur, agency owner, and proud South Dakotan. Korena's goal was to bring professional speakers in from out of state that could leave an impression with South Dakota businesses so that they're motivated to adopt digital sales and marketing strategies.
When I landed in Rapid City last year, Korena picked me up from the airport personally. I checked into a local, historic hotel, and then Korena took all the speakers out to tour some local wineries. The next day, we went on a professional tour of the Black Hills region, a local bear park, Mount Rushmore, and an evening in Deadwood. I was blown away at the hospitality, so much that I told Korena that I wanted to return. Korena graciously had me back this year, in Sioux Falls. The treatment was no different – a historic tour of the region and some incredible memories. That's a photo of us at the Falls in Sioux City.
The entire time I was in South Dakota on both trips, I shared each of the memories online. I never realized just how amazing the region was and I've already returned once and plan on returning soon for a longer vacation there (Sioux Falls has incredible bike trails that cover the city).
This post isn't about spoiling your speakers (although I'm definitely NOT complaining about being spoiled). Having spoken at hundreds of events, I've never been more impressed than I was with these engagements… and here's some perspectives:
- I've never spent so much time preparing a presentation and a speech than I have for this year's event. I wanted to absolutely exceed the expense and resources that Korena's team spent on me traveling and speaking at their event. I'm not sure that was possible, but I tried!
- I've never spent so much time promoting an event that I was speaking at. Despite not living or working in South Dakota, I pushed as hard as I could to try to help ticket sales and drawing their regional businesses to the event.
- The travel and hospitality industry in South Dakota should take notice of what an incredible ambassador of South Dakota that Korena is. Korena had influencers from Boulder, Colorado to Tampa, Florida and everywhere in between that shared dozens of their experiences online with their audience. I had no less than a dozen friends that reached out and told me they were planning on visiting the region after seeing how much I enjoyed the trips.
While all of these things are impressive, I think it all boiled down to one thing… Korena treated us like partners rather than just speakers. Most of the time, I'm invited to speak at an event and made to feel like folks are doing me a favor by giving me an audience. They don't think about the years of speaking and weeks of work that go into speaking at their event or the hassle of leaving my business and family for a few days. Sure, sometimes there's a speaker's dinner or a treat waiting in the hotel room… but it's quite rare to get anything additional.
Having attended and spoken at so many events, I do have some insights into how companies organize and promote events. Years ago, I keynoted at an international Analytics event and the team provided me an assistant and a private location to interview their sponsors for my blog. Korena's team accommodated that this year and I was able to record a podcast with one of the speakers.
I also attended CONEX in Toronto this year, an event sponsored by Uberflip but run by Jay Baer's agency, Convince and Convert. The event continues to grow and is one of the best I've ever attended. I don't believe it's a coincidence that one of the best speakers in the industry has helped develop one of the best events in the industry. I think Jay's team took everything learned from thousands of speeches and hundreds of events – and wrapped it into an event that knocks it out of the park. When I chatted with Jay after a recent interview, I thought I saw one opportunity and told him about it. His response was incredible – he was fully engaged and asked a few more questions. I love that he's listening to his audience.
How Not to Treat Your Speaker
Fast forward to my latest speaking opportunity. Turnout for the event wasn't that good and the logistics for speaking there was quite complex – from the stage, the supporting technology, to the agenda. I didn't feel like I hit a homerun with my speech, so I took the organizer aside after the event and made some recommendations on how the speaker experience might be improved. The response was a bit shocking… he told me I could go run my own event that way if I wanted to.
I wasn't trying to tell the organizer how they should run the event, I've just got enough experience after speaking all these years on what might improve it. If it's not as impactful as it could be and not as profitable as it could be, why not listen to your speakers to get some insight and ideas on what you could test in the future?
Speakers are Your Partners
If you're hiring me to speak at your event, it's in my best interest to not just do a great job speaking… it's in my best interest to promote your event before, during and after. It's in my best interest to improve your event experience however I can. It's in my best interest to help you grow your event so that you can afford to bring me back. I appreciate and am indebted to the companies that hire me. Treat me as a partner and I'll give you everything I've got to improve your event. Treat me like crap and I'm out of there.
If you're interested in having me partner with you on your next event, be sure to contact me via DK New Media or the chat bot here on my site.