Pitching a talk: Tips, pitfalls, and general advice

Pitching a conference talk can be nerve-wracking. Which topics are hot? Should I co-present with someone? What do these people WANT?

We’re here to help.

In no particular order, here are All The Things speakers need to know before pitching a talk, at Confab or elsewhere …

Talk titles: Skip the cutesy and go for clarity

While it can be tempting to infuse your title with something bizarre or playful, never do so at the cost of clear language. It’s possible to add tone or flavor without sacrificing what the talk actually is. And business jargon is a no-go at Confab. Here are several examples of titles that miss the mark, aiming for comedy, curiosity, or business-speak without communicating value:

  • What’s the buzz? On bees, honey, and content management
  • Lessons from Laura Ingalls Wilder: Content strategy on the prairie
  • Innovations for maximizing B2B engagement
  • Seven ways content is like Battlestar Galactica

As we review proposals, we won’t know what any of these things mean. It’s OK to use fun storytelling devices later, when you develop your slides or the narrative arc of your talk. But your title should clearly describe what your talk will teach our audience—or how it will help solve their problems. Here are a few titles that balance a playful voice with understandable value:

  • We’ve done all this research, now what?
  • Too many cooks: Overcoming content interference
  • Never say no: Strategies for handling stakeholders

Choose your topic wisely

Conference attendees tell us again and again: Session topics are why they show up at our conferences. But nailing the perfect topic is perhaps the most challenging aspect of pitching a talk.

Here are the ways past Confab speakers have succeeded:

  • Play to your strengths. Sure, you know lots of things, but what’s the one thing you always seem to be explaining to colleagues or clients? Are you great at setting up editorial review processes? Or perhaps you’re the team mascot for user research? Wherever you tend to be an expert or a squeaky wheel, that’s where you’ll have an edge as a presenter.
  • Put a new spin on an old topic. How are you applying your voice and tone guidelines to AI? How have emerging audiences changed your personalization efforts? Show how you can help folks keep up with the evolving landscape of content.
  • Go back to basics. There’s nothing wrong with addressing an evergreen challenge. Audits, editorial calendars, messaging, and content models never go out of style.
  • Stand out in the crowd. Whether you have a bold new idea, or just a hilarious sample video, it always helps to be memorable. Your unique personality as a presenter can be your greatest selling point.

Focus on your audience

The Confab audience is here to learn—not about you, but about themselves. What can you help them understand better? How can you transform their work? They may gain insight from your lived experiences or a strong case study, but your proposal needs to emphasize what the audience will take away with them.

As you pitch your talk, consider these audience benefits and how you might fulfill them:

  • What skills, knowledge, or understanding will they have after listening to you?
  • What examples, templates, or tools will you share with them?
  • How is your topic different from or better than similar information available elsewhere?
  • Why would their boss pay you to teach them what you know?

That last one may sound strange, but that’s ultimately what happens when you appear onstage at a conference. The more you can demonstrate the value of what you’ll teach the audience, the more likely you’ll have your presentation selected.

Ditch the sales pitch

While it’s true that conference audiences are open to hearing about new tools and services, they reeeeeeally don’t like thinly veiled promotional tricks. Don’t pretend to pitch an educational talk when you really want to demo a product or sell your expertise. If you do have something to pitch, here are better ways to do that:

  • Become a conference sponsor. Exhibit tables and hosted events are great places to show off a product.
  • Give away coupons or trials. A freebie in a conference swag bag is a more welcome way to reach the audience.
  • Deliver an amazing, sales-free talk. When you offer unconditional educational content, you’re sure to earn more trust in the long run.

Be brave: One speaker is better than two

Audiences consistently give higher ratings to individual speakers than teams. That’s because co-presenting is really, really difficult to do well. Uneven speaking styles and awkward transitions tend to weaken a presentation.

The exception to this rule is when two speakers offer significantly different perspectives. You might want to talk about how a writer and a designer collaborated together to solve a UX problem. Or perhaps an agency and a client want to share together about how they approached a tricky project.

If you’re just feeling nervous about taking the stage alone, that’s not a good reason to add a second speaker. Hey, don’t sweat it—some of our most popular sessions have come from first-time presenters!

Ready, set, GO!

With all these handy new tips in your back pocket, surely you’re ready to pitch your Confab talk?

We look forward to hearing your great ideas!