Conference Hero: Four tips to grabbing that speaking slot

It’s conference season in Minnesota’s nonprofitland, and how to present at them is a hot topic at YNPN, such as at last month’s Emerging Leaders Networking lunch. A recent e-news piece of ours offers some great tips on how to make your presentation shine once you’re doing one, but how does a young nonprofit professional secure a gig like that in the first place? 

Here are four tips from my experience, as well as what I’ve seen and heard from others:

You get bonus points for being you

This might be the most important thing to keep in mind. Conference organizers are sensitive to the criticism that their conferences are just more of the same year after year—no one experiences it firsthand more than they do. But what can they do if it’s the same people who have session proposals down to a science submitting them year after year? That’s where you come in. You can offer that fresh, new, peer-to-peer learning experience that consultants, as great as some of them are, just might not be able to. And session pickers will often know it. Who you are and where you are in your career is a strength, not a weakness.

Dream up the session you want to attend

Don’t limit yourself to what you already know. Have you ever come away from a conference really wishing it had covered a certain topic, or gone beyond the basics in something you’re interested in but already know something about? Guess what, odds are no one submitted that session. But you could! And how do you create that session when you’re not quite knowledgeable enough yet to pull it off? Glad you asked.

Research, learn, do

Chances are there are people who’ve given a lot of thought to and published on your topic of choice: books, blogs, YouTube videos, you name it. Find them, devour them, put them to use for yourself to see how they apply to you and how they need to be modified. After you’ve done all that, you may suddenly find yourself as considered the local expert! (Side tip: credit your sources of knowledge generously when you do present. Not only is it the right thing to do, but people will appreciate the new resources you’ve unearthed for them.)

Practice, practice, practice

During April’s Emerging Leaders Network lunch, one participant recommended joining a local Toastmasters as a great way to gain public speaking experience and get feedback before leading something as big as a 60+ minute conference session. Whether it’s that or something else, there are plenty of lower-pressure opportunities out there where you can build confidence and work out the bugs in your speaking style, so that when it’s conference submission time you’ll feel no misgivings about whether or not you can step up to the plate and nail it. (Spoiler alert and shameless plug: look for YNPN-TC to offer just such an opportunity later in 2012.)

Presenting at conferences has been a very enjoyable part of my last year or two of nonprofit life, and I’d love to attend more sessions from people in the YNPN target demo. Use the tips above, put in a little elbow grease, and inject your own personal style, and I have no doubt you’ll be wowing those crowds in no time.

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