You Need a Strategic Plan

We speak with dozens of corporate communications pros every year, many from some of the world’s largest companies.  We’re continually amazed how often we hear that they have no strategic plan for securing speaking engagements for their key executives at major conferences.

The Professional Speechwriters Association (PSA) fielded a member survey that surfaced some interesting findings:

  • 44% percent of executive communicators surveyed have no process for identifying the best venues for the speakers they support
  • Nearly two thirds of executive communication pros are uncomfortable with their ability to place their organization’s key speakers at strategically important conferences
  • Rather than finding the best events at which to connect their speakers with key audiences, most communications pros are reactively choosing speaking targets from a set of incoming invitations they receive
  • “We mainly accept incoming invitations” is the leading answer to the question asking how communications pros most frequently place their executives
  • 59% of communications executives said most speeches are conceived as one-off events rather than as a coherent leadership communication strategy

Given that executive speaking is such a powerful mode of corporate communication, these figures are astounding.  Would you go into war without a battle plan?  Onto a sports field without a game plan?  Of course not, so why execute something as important as communicating your key messages externally so haphazardly?


Be proactive, not just reactive

When we first engage with a new communications team, they usually tell us that they get lots of inbound speaking requests, especially if they are a major brand and their executives are well known.  Reacting to the inbound invitations is often the core of many of these companies’ approaches to speaking externally.  The two biggest problems with this approach are:

  1. These teams are reacting to what comes their way but are not necessarily getting in front of the audiences that are most valuable to them
  2. They often don’t have a good, consistent way of evaluating these inbound invitations to determine which conferences are of the most strategic value.

Take care to not just rely on the easy path of reacting to incoming speaking opportunities- inbound speaking requests can be a valuable addition to a strategic speaking program but should not be its main pillar. Decide what goals you want to accomplish with your speaking efforts, and which audiences need to hear your message most, then determine at which events those audiences convene.  Finally, develop a strategy to win speaking opportunities at those venues.

Centralize your speaking program

New clients also tell us they don’t really know whom in their company is speaking, what they’re saying, or where they are speaking.  Those speakers are likely acting on their own because they don’t have a better alternative.  If the corporate communications team rolls out a speaking program company wide, they’ll find these people which is the first step to putting a framework around your speaking program.

Control your key message(s)

Once you start building your speaking program, publish the ground rules for speaking.  These may include speakers sharing where they’re speaking, and the communications team providing a framework of how to communicate the company’s most important key messages – the concepts that every external speaker should be reinforcing.

Define your most important audiences

What are the objectives of your speaking program? Is it to promote sales, generate awareness of a new initiative, recruit new talent, influence public policy on an issue, strengthen an old brand?  What types of audiences will help you do this – prospective customers, college students, bloggers, government officials?  Once you know whom you want to get in front of, you can figure out how.

Identify the conferences addressing those audiences

There are conferences on virtually every subject you can imagine.  The next step is to identify the best conferences convening the audiences you value most.  This takes old fashioned research – or access to an up-to-date conference database.

Reach out to the producers of those conferences

Now that you know the conferences where you want your executives to speak, you’ve got to find the person responsible for producing each conference, reach out to them, and convince them that your speaker will be a valuable contributor to their agenda.  If you’re effective, you’ll start to win some speaking opportunities.

Winning the speaking opportunities you want is a pretty straightforward process, but not necessarily an easy one.  To do it well takes focus, perseverance, and a strategic plan.  But it’s worth it.  We think it’s the most effective way to reach the most impactful influencer audiences you want most.