The 8th annual Content Marketing Conference (CMC) is coming up soon, with a hybrid virtual and local-live setup in venues around the globe. As one of the premier events in the marketing industry, we thrive on making our experience better each year, and better than other events every year. To accomplish that goal, we’ve learned a few tricks of the trade in selecting and coaching speakers that we’ll share now.

In a nutshell, our team has become freakishly good at assessing topical expertise, reviewing sample recordings, reading applications, interviewing speakers, and perusing social media accounts and bio descriptions of each speaker to help us pinpoint these potential 8 faux pas that bring on yawns from an audience and gongs from conference chairs like me.

1. Scripted Delivery of Presentation, Word for Word

Each year we like to bring on at least a few new speakers that have great content, but lack speaking experience.  We took a chance on AJ Wilcox for example, 8 years ago, an he’s now a prolific speaker on the circuit.

While writing out the value of each slide or tactical magic you’re going to present in your deck works, reading that batch of words on the stage is a huge mistake. Rehearsing is the key to avoid dependency on the written words, or even bullet points. We go out of our way with all the new speakers to offer coaching advice on delivery and to be sure they nail it.

In the end, nearly every speaker we select has the public speaking experience and expertise attendees demand, with an extensive track record of speaking excellence required to make the final cut.

2. Self-Promotion Content, Of Any Shape or Form

Have you ever seen a keynote speaker plug themselves or their company? My guess is no, as they understand that the mission is to transform you into a believer of their concepts and ideas rather than their business or background.

Plugging yourself or your company is simply a big turn off to the audience, and not something we recommend or approve, even with sessions. Instead, we encourage speakers to deliver greatness with their presentation and watch the line form with fans that want more of that greatness with the products, services, or speaking venues that surface from that greatness.

3. Vague Session Descriptions without Clear Takeaway Value

Too many conferences end up scrambling to plug in speakers at the last minute, which results in vague descriptions that promise both the world and nothing. Our second phase of our selection process involves revamping session descriptions to clarify the problem being solved, the complexity of that problem, and the solution the speaker offers, with three or four bullet points that explain what attendees will take away and be able to put to work in the office when they return. 

It’s a simple formula with each of our session descriptions that you’ll find on the agenda every year. Trying to describe the target audience learning level is also important, and something we’re working on this year with new “tracks withing tracks” for different proficiency levels.

 4. Conceptional vs Tactical Presentations

Describing a marketing challenge is certainly part of any great presentation.  But resolving the challenges with both strategic and tactical advice can become murky for the unseasoned speaker.

Taking a close look at the speaker’s topic title and description offer some insights into that speaker’s ability to put the right mix together. And working with them on the session description along with the value-drive learning takeaways helps to clean up the muck where attendees and fans get stuck.

5. Untested Solution to Spot-On Challenges

Each year we receive lots of topic pitches that are clear pain points in need of resolution. But digging deeper into the speaker’s solutions, answers, tips, tactics, or techniques to overcome the challenges needs to be challenged. Sadly, that exercise often falls short of the proven, tested solution that attendees will expect.

Our six content marketing pillars–content planning, content creation, content optimization, content distribution, content performance, and comedy marketing–help to avoid these off-topic pitches and snags, ensuring we receive focused topics that can complement each other and deliver comprehensive advice and tactical takeaways. 

6. Speaker Feedback From Previous Events

The role of any conference chair is to find the best speakers to bring unique and meaningful insights to attendees and fans. While having prior public speaking experience is a big plus, the actual key to prepping is feedback, good and bad, from previous conferences’ presentations.

We love learning that a particular presentation was not only delivered at another conference, but received well or improved based on the feedback. That’s hard work for both speakers and conference teams to sort out together, but the effort pays off in the long run, by giving speakers cues on what has and hasn’t worked in the past (7 years in our case).

7. Target Audience Ambivalence

The more you know about your audience, the better presentation you can deliver from a speaker’s point of view. Many speakers, and conference chairs for that matter, miss the opportunity to note the intended audience and proficiency level of that audience in their description. 

Only then can you get the right people attending the right session or keynotes to reap the greatest reward. That’s the benefit to focusing on a specific type of marketing and breaking that down further into pillars to deliver razor-sharp insights on topics that people want covered. The audience cares as much as the speakers do, since everyone has a vested interest in the information being presented.   

8. Screening Call Faux Pas

As part of our screening process for speakers at CMC, I personally speak with every prospect speaker to learn more about them and their goals for speaking at CMC. Experienced speakers ask many questions about audience wants and needs, as well as the overall setup of the conference tracks, agenda, and logistics. 

Some speakers feel compelled to explain their position at their company, and why they or their company are leaders in the industry. Other speakers dive right into their presentation, and why it would be of value to our audience, without knowing much about said audience.

I’ll leave it to your interpretation on how I would assess these different conversations, noting that I learn a lot about the speaker based on how they handle the screening call, which could carry over to how they present themselves and their content at the conference.