The Real Reasons You Should Speak at Conferences

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(HINT: It’s not just for the people in the audience.)

“Should brands be publishers?” panel discussion at Content Marketing Summit Asia #CMSAsia2017, Singapore

An industry colleague once told me he wouldn’t accept an invitation to speak at a conference unless the the audience was at least 200 people. While I respect why some prefer to have a sizable gathering present to make the time investment worthwhile, I think it overlooks other more important factors. Whether there are a hundred, two hundred or a thousand people in the room, here are five more important considerations for why working the conference circuit benefits your career:

You get to know the conference organizers

Knowing the people behind these conferences (more precisely, that they come to know you) helps to build your profile in the industry. The organizers are also usually industry associations, whose officers are prominent industry leaders and whose relationships you may need, or media organizations focused on your industry.

The conference industry is a relatively small one, in which conference producers will move around from one company to another. If you do a good job and the response to your presentation or panel discussion is positive, the organizers are more likely to invite you to future conferences. It’s also not unusual for the same people to stay in touch and keep you top-of-mind, even as they (or you) move from one organization to the next.

Conferences linked to media, such as trade publications, will give you the chance to develop good relations with journalists or independent writers who cover your industry. They are also more likely to contact you for comments on stories they are working on, even if the story isn’t about the company you work for.

You get to meet other speakers

If you’re invited to speak at a conference, don’t just show up 10 minutes before and then leave as soon as your part is over. Spend as much time as you possibly can because this is a great opportunity to meet the other guest speakers, all of whom are likely to be industry leaders in their own right.

Introduce yourself, exchange business cards and chat with them during the breaks. During their presentations, make notes about some of the things they say and refer to them later when you are onstage. You’ll discover who are the people in the industry who feel the same as you do about issues. (You’ll also be able to size up who are the ones who offer real opinions, with whom you’ll want to learn from and form lasting relationships, and those who are simply corporate marionettes.)

You may be surprised to find how many other industry spokespersons are in careers linked to yours, who are invited to the same types of conferences as you. These could develop into some of your more valuable industry relationships (or friendships).

You need the practice

The best public speakers are the ones who make it look easy. These are the guys who look like they just came up with those brilliant insights while they were onstage, thanks to their vast experience and industry knowledge. The truth is, the key to good public speaking is practice.

I learned this from watching stand-up comedians. Comics are the best public speakers in the world because they pull off each routine like every single joke is fresh and spontaneous. But of course, all of those gags have been practiced and road-tested over and over. I discovered this when I watched an act at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village in New York City several years ago. I saw the same comedian on The Tonight Show deliver exactly the same act as he had performed live 48 hours earlier. Yep, even the “spontaneous” jokes.

You have great industry knowledge but there is a craft to articulating your thoughts correctly. (You don’t really think President Barack Obama settled on “Yes we can!” right off the bat without trying it out on audiences a few times, do you?) Think of your best presentations like a stand-up comic’s favorite routine. You need to stick with the key words and phrases that work on a live audience. Speaking at conferences allows you to refine your presentation until it’s perfect. And you need not be afraid that someone will accuse you of repeating yourself since you are very unlikely to have the same audience at two different events. So you can keep showing the same funny videos and dropping the same timely, witty remarks. (Yep, even the “spontaneous” jokes.)

CMSAsia2017 2

You will have content you can re-purpose 

Assuming you didn’t just compile other people’s work and actually prepared original content for the conference, this is how you get the most mileage from your efforts.

When organizing an event, I always remind my teams to think beyond just the people in attendance but the many more who will consume the content produced from the event after. In the same way, that PowerPoint presentation you spent hours on must have a lifespan long after the conference ends.

In addition to being the source material for future events, your presentation can be reworked for your blog, offered as a written piece to trade journals, used as an outline for an audio podcast, etc. At the very least, any photos or videos of you can be used for social media like LinkedIn. This is the age of Transmedia storytelling, after all.

You can stand out

Sadly, in a typical conference speakers repeat the same things and spout the same cliches over and over. Everyone talks about how need to “fail fast” and “innovate or die.” How often have we heard that humans now have the same attention spans as goldfish? (That’s bullshit, by the way.) Or listened to the speakers who obviously just grabbed the standard Sales deck or presentation from the Corporate Communications team back at headquarters and presented without adding anything to it? (I also think there should be a rule that every speaker can only talk about his own company 20-percent of the time maximum. But I digress.)

If you are being asked to speak in front of a group of people, you’d better have something fucking original to say!

This is your chance to present your own ideas, challenge traditional wisdom and show off your breakthrough work, even if you might spark a little controversy. Be memorable. Speak your mind. No one remembers the guy who played it so safe that he disappeared into the crowd. Each conference represents a chance to stand out and be remembered as the industry leader you are.

 

If you want to see me speak, catch me at Millennial 20/20 on 26 October, Mumbrella 360 on 9 November and the World Marketing Summit on 4 December. 

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Culture’s vital role in digital transformation

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Mediacorp

It’s no secret that the traditional media industry faces challenges. Today consumers are experiencing an unprecedented era of choice, not just in variety, but also how and when they choose to consume content. Traditional media companies are under extreme pressure to digitally transform and national broadcasters like Mediacorp are not exempt from this grim reality.

Often when it comes to digital transformation, much of the emphasis is on organizational restructuring, new processes or technology upgrades. But from experience, the role of culture is always underestimated. Without a deliberate plan to change company culture, any new initiatives will simply fall to the wayside as legacy and old habits inevitably creep in.

Recently I spoke at the Singapore Management Festival, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Management, and shared my experiences with Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey.

Media: a disrupted industry

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, among many things, the erosion of trust in media, with traditional media reflecting the sharpest decline. The shift is a reflection of influence flipping: from a traditional model where what is deemed fit for public consumption is decided by a minority such as the government or other institutions to a system where anyone can be a publisher. What good are state controls when a blogger or YouTube creator can enjoy a larger audience than a newspaper columnist or a television news program?

The changes are also impacting media companies where it hurts most: their traditional revenue models. Consumers are increasingly rejecting classic forms of advertising, from the 30-second TV commercial to the ubiquitous online banner ad. This is evident whenever a consumer pays for a Netflix subscription or installs an ad blocker on their smartphone.

In order to counteract these shifting behaviors, media companies must reinvent their approaches to content creation and distribution. Mediacorp is making inroads into these new spaces, such as its foray into OTT video streaming through Toggle, the development of its own creator network Bloomr.sg and even embracing Transmedia storytelling with popular programs like Tanglin.

Innovating means embracing risk-taking

It’s not unusual these days for large, incumbent corporations to borrow language from Silicon Valley. One of the most often invoked phrases is the need for companies to “fail fast.”  Too often, this is pure lip service.

Announcing that you are encouraging employees to take risks means nothing if employees continue to fear the consequences of failure. I once worked for a company where one of its senior executives would frequently encourage risk-taking by publicly announcing, “Don’t worry, if you fail nobody will kill you.” During one such townhall, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “Yesterday I was in a meeting with him and he told all of us, ‘You’d better be right because if you’re wrong, I will f**king kill you.’”

Trust is a two-way street. If you want to build an innovation culture where employees are emboldened to take chances, a company must demonstrate that it trusts its employees.

Twitter rotation curation

Full control of the corporate Twitter handle @Mediacorp is given to a different employee each week

One way Mediacorp has demonstrated trust towards staff is with its Twitter rotation curation. Since July, Mediacorp has been giving full control of its official corporate Twitter handle to a single employee for a week. During that week the employee can, quite literally, post anything he or she wants. No mandated content calendar or schedule. No screening or approval process. For seven days, the employee has the reputation of the whole company in his hands.

 

Celebrate individuality

Often companies will focus on more outward manifestations of promoting creativity and individuality: casual dress codes, recreational facilities, etc. While Mediacorp has embraced those things in its own way (including an open seating concept within the Mediacorp Campus building), we turned as well to social media as an instrument for driving cultural change.  

In many companies, especially in Singapore, the typical employee’s attitude towards social media goes something like this: “I’d better keep things low key or I might attract the attention of HR.” A colleague once told me when I asked why she wasn’t more active in LinkedIn, she explained, “My boss might think I’m looking for another job.”

SIM event

Presenting at the Singapore Management Festival with my partner-in-crime, Nadeem Ashraf (right)

Earlier this year, Mediacorp began encouraging its staff to be more active in social media by sharing their stories. Since April, over 60 individuals have been featured in the corporate Instagram account, each with a personal story in a style inspired by the Humans of New York series. These stories are meant to celebrate the different backgrounds, personalities and inspirations behind the people of Mediacorp.

Also read: the importance of skills & capability training and celebrating champions

During the presentation at SIM, another speaker referred to the Human Resources department as a bottleneck or obstacle towards cultural change. My experience at Mediacorp has actually been the opposite. In contrast HR (demonstrated by my co-presenter, Nadeem Ashraf), together with colleagues from the corporate communications team, have very much been our “partners-in-crime” for all of the initiatives referred to here. Far from being hurdles, these pushes for cultural change have only been possible through the triumvirate of HR, Brand & Communications and the Digital team.

Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey is still very much in its early years but I take great pride in the accomplishments we have made so far.

Listen: brand storytelling, content marketing and transmedia storytelling in Click2View’s podcast

What Brands Storytellers Must Learn from Hollywood

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170926 Click2View Podcast

Last week I talked about why brands must master storytelling and take their lead from Hollywood with Click2View‘s Simon Kearney for their inaugural podcast.

The podcast is available on iTunes here.

You can also play it below:

 

What Brands must consider when selecting an influencer

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loot-crate

With the rapid growth in social media and content marketing, there is greater interest than ever among brands to embark on “influencer” campaigns. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at Content 360 in Singapore where this topic was discussed.

Here are a few things for brands to consider before working with influencers:

  1. Look beyond the numbers

Very often influencers are shortlisted by brands purely because of their follower numbers. But the value of an influencer isn’t strictly a numbers game. Take a look at who I follow on Instagram: There’s @PatLaw, a personal friend and founder of social media agency Goodstuph, by many measures a prominent figure in the Singapore media & marketing scene. She has over 7,000 followers. And then there’s @dreamerthepeskywestie with nearly 15,000 followers. Dreamer is a dog.

Brands should look into the demographic makeup of an influencer’s audience as well as their geographic origins. A Singapore-based brand might find an influencer with over 20,000 followers exciting, without realizing that half of her followers might be from other countries. Unfortunately, platforms like Instagram don’t always natively offer such analytics capabilities. Consider using an analytics tool such as that offered by a company like Popular Chips.*

  1. Influencers are also brands

One way to evaluate an influencer is to think of them as a brand in their own right. In which case, the influencer is evaluated in the same way a brand manager considers a partnership with another brand. Does your brand benefit from being associated with that brand? Does that brand’s reputation bring benefits or risks to your brand? Does that brand have sway over an audience that you consider valuable yet currently has  no interest in your brand?

GujiThe strongest brand partnerships are when two brands bring distinct audiences together. For example, when LEGO partnered with Star Wars, this bridged generations of both parents and children. Now parents (who were probably kids themselves when Star Wars first opened in 1977) can relive their childhood with their children, forming a stronger bond than ever through LEGO. That’s the kind of value an influencer should be able to lend your brand.

That’s not to say you need to spend millions of dollars in a partnership of the LEGO-Star Wars scale. Recently Caltex partnered with Mediacorp’s Channel 8 by simply having their mascot Caltex Boy appear next to Channel 8’s family-friendly mascot Guji-Guji in a Facebook post.

  1. Define the influencer’s role in the marketing funnel

Wowed by numbers, many marketers simply look at influencers as a way to get cheap reach. This kind of thinking is naïve and just plain sloppy. A good marketer knows his budget needs to cover the whole marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion, and knows the role each channel plays within.

Is your influencer marketing really just about expanding your reach into new markets? The value could also come from giving your brand more credibility within an audience that would not have thought of you otherwise. (In other words, impacting the consideration part of the funnel.) Example: by partnering with Youtube influencers like Pewdiepie and Mr Sunday Movies, “comic-con in a box” geek swag company Loot Crate built instant credibility with the video game / scifi / fantasy / comic book crowd.

Knowing which part of the funnel your influencer plays will be crucial in measuring results. For example, tracking clicks from an influencer’s post may not give you a dramatic increase in transactions (especially in comparison to other channels like paid search). But with the right tracking you could discover that a follower of your influencer is 20% more likely to convert because of this new brand association.

Watch comedian Hossan Leong take over Singtel’s Twitter account in 2013 influencer campaign

  1. Values matter

Lastly, if values matter to brands then your choice of influencer should also be about values. Your brand should stand for something…how does that sit with what the influencer stands for? Do the influencer’s values complement or reinforce your own brand’s values? Or does she contradict them?

Arguably the most high-profile example of an influencer campaign gone wrong is Pepsi’s brief but damaging romp with reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Pepsi was clearly trying to align itself with the new, emerging political awareness in the US among young people. Instead, they came across as simply capitalizing on the movement to sell more soda pop. While one could argue that Pepsi got many things wrong with the execution of this campaign, its choice of influencer in this case could have made a big difference. What values does Kendall Jenner represent? Does her reputation include speaking out on political issues? How would it have helped Pepsi’s credibility if they had instead selected an influencer who was a known political activist?

This is also why I’m not a fan of buying “influence” through influencer networks. While a brand partnership requires meticulous research and evaluation, an influencer network acts on your brand’s behalf with the precision of a grenade thrown into a crowded market on a Sunday. How do you know that every single “influencer” in this network offers the right amount of synergy with your brand? Critically, how many of them have the potential to damage your brand by sheer association?

Working with influencers should be treated with the respect and gravity of any other brand alliance. The exercise can be very tricky but also vastly rewarding. Marketers should consider the risk as an opportunity to stretch your brand beyond its current constraints, potentially delivering value well beyond what a regular paid media campaign can deliver.

*Full disclosure: Popular Chips is a Singapore-based startup and part of Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur incubator programme.