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SES Chicago 2006 Agenda & Speaker Development

As chair of SES Chicago 2006, I'm in charge of preparing the agenda and selecting speakers for sessions. Interested in speaking? Here's everything you need to know! Read all the information, and you'll greatly increase the chances of being selected.



  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. Returning Sessions: SES Chicago will have a number of returning sessions that happened at SES San Jose, in particular those that were in the Fundamentals track. I generally stay with the same speakers for returning sessions, if the speakers have performed well.
  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. New Sessions: SES Chicago -- like all shows -- will have a number of entirely new sessions. This is the very best way for someone who has never spoken before to get involved. Pitch me a new session idea, and if I go with it, you're very likely (though not guaranteed) to be short-listed to speak on that session.
  • Posted Openings: Aside from returning speakers and those short-listed by suggesting new sessions, I'm always interested in having new people take part in sessions. To accommodate this, I post specific openings of what sessions I have available.


  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. September 11-15, 2006: You may pitch NEW session ideas to me during this period. PLEASE don't pitch new sessions ideas before or after this period.
  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. September 25: Agenda should be posted by this date.
  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. September 25-October 12, 2006: Regular returning speakers and short-list candidates for new and existing sessions will be contacted during this period.
  • THIS STEP HAS NOW PASSED. October 12-October 18, 2006: Session openings will be posted and pitches to speak for these sessions accepted. The sooner you pitch, the more likely you may be selected. Sessions may get filled before the pitch period closes, if I receive enough good candidates.
  • October 18, 2006: Speaker selection completely closed. If you weren't asked to speak by this date, you weren't accepted WITH THE EXCEPTION OF ANY SESSIONS LISTED BELOW. IF THERE'S STILL A SESSION LISTED, YOU CAN STILL PITCH FOR IT.

Making The Pitch

Only pitch for session openings listed below, when they are listed! Even if you see blanks on the agenda, don't pitch for those sessions. The only openings I have will be listed on this page.

Send a separate email for each session you'd like to be on. IN OTHER WORDS, IF YOU WANT TO SPEAK ON TWO DIFFERENT SESSIONS, SEND A SEPARATE EMAIL FOR EACH SESSION. Also, please don't pitch more than four sessions in total and prioritize the sessions somehow in the emails ("This would be my top choice;" "This would be my second choice," and so on).

The email should contain 2 or 7 paragraphs or so about what you would cover. A long essay isn't required, just a succinct flavor of some specific things you might cover. We're especially interested in real-life, case study stories that you can tell or tips you can backup from actual experiences.

Also give a little background about yourself, your company and the type of clients you have or serve. A ton of information or anything super formal is NOT required. Also, please don't send attachments. Put everything in the email message itself. Send them to danny@calafia.com.

Speaking spots are typically 7-15 minutes each on panels of 2-3 people. It VERY UNLIKELY that you'll get a 1/2 hour or hour spot, so don't build a speaking pitch around this.

If accepted, you'll receive a pass to the SES event. Travel and accommodation are not covered.

Improving The Odds

Know up front that unlike some conferences, no one speaks at the show because they've paid for a spot. If you find value in being an exhibitor or sponsor, we're glad -- but that's not a ticket onto a panel. By the way, if you do want to sponsor or exhibit at the event, the people who handle that can be found over here.

Consider pushing your PR firm aside and pitching yourself. Honestly, PR firms can be helpful. But the vast majority of times, their involvement in pitching for SES is a waste of time. The requests I get from them show they aren't familiar with the conference and often haven't read up on the session they're pitching a speaker toward. Then when I reject a pitch as being completely off topic and not suitable, it doesn't surprise me to get the pitch back with virtually no changes other than to aim it at a different session. It's a waste of time all around, and no one has that time to waste.

It's also hard dealing with vendors, people who have some product related to a particular session. Here's an example. There are umpteen million measuring tool vendors out there. I can't have them all speak. I don't have a stage big enough for that. In addition, no matter how non-commercial a vendor may promise to be, audiences still feel like they are hearing a commercial. In short, if you're a vendor that has some product that seems perfect for a session, I almost certainly don't want you.

I'm not anti-vendor. Vendors can have great search marketing insight. It's just best when they pitch concepts and technique for panels that are completely independent of their tools or services. A rare few manage to do this, and I love them. If you're a vendor and can't do this, then encourage a customer to share a case study of their experiences with your product for a suitable session. However, if a customer ends up seeming like some puppet you are controlling from behind the scenes, that gets noticed and has an impact on future participation.

Session Openings

Did you jump right to the openings? Be sure to go back and read the tips above, because they'll really help you improve the odds of being selected. Also be sure to read the Speaking Tips below, to help you understand more how things go, if you are selected. Now about those openings....

  • Earning Money From Contextual Ads: Operate a big site where you've negotiated a contextual deal for lots and lots of page views? I'm looking for you to spend 15 minutes sharing some tips and thoughts from that perspective.

How Can I Speak Next Time?

What's the very best way to get to speak at the show if you didn't get picked this time? Pitch me a new session idea when I ask on this blog for new session ideas. This happens long before the show agenda is organized for any show. I love new, original ideas. Give me a new twist on something I find intriguing, and you're likely in. In particular, watch the Speaking category of the blog. When I've got news about speaking slots for our next US show, that will show up there.

Speaking Tips

Below is information given to Search Engine Strategies speakers, which should help you understand more about speaking at our show:

Sales Pitches: Audience members react badly if they think they are being sold something. If you are too "salesy," they definitely let us know in the feedback, and that can impact whether you'll be invited to speak at a future event. Said one attendee:

The conference has been outstanding except where a panelist is interested only in selling their products instead of teaching us. I paid to come. I shouldn't have to pay for a sales presentation.

Obviously, we do want your company to get some promotional value out of your participation, but to avoid sounding too sales-oriented, keep any PR-style points to one slide and run through those briefly.

The funniest way I've seen this handled was when a speaker told the audience that his PR department gave him a list of things to say about his service. He put these on one slide, then said "but here's what you really want to know" and went on with the core of his presentation. The audience laughed and didn't mind the mini-commercial. I've also seen the audience break into applause when some says they'll simply skip the sales pitch.

In particular, if you must do PR points, then use a SINGLE slide to set-up why you are qualified to speak, such as outlining the types of clients you work with, the sort of audience you received and so on.

In some circumstances, you may be asked to speak on a topic that involves your own products. To avoid problems, if you must mention your own products, focus on a "real life" example of how it may have been used by someone, rather than a more sales-oriented explanation of features. Also keep pricing information to a minimum. You might include such information on a slide but only mention it briefly, telling the audience that the additional information is there for their future reference.

Dress Code: Wearing casual business attire is recommended. Formal business attire is perfectly fine. If in doubt, overdress. You won't feel out of place, as many speakers will also be in formal attire. How you look has an impact on how well the audience receives your presentation.

Planted Questions: Don't get someone in the audience to ask you a particular question. If you want to ensure a particular topic is raised, talk with the moderator. They can then note that you and/or the other panelists wanted to comment on that topic. If it is discovered that a speaker has planted a question, it will greatly decrease the chance of returning to speak at the conference.

Being Positive & Negative: Many of our sessions involve helping attendees understand which products and services might be helpful to them. If you liked a particular product or service, great! Feel free to let the attendees know. However, if you have a financial connection with that product, it should be disclosed to the audience, if this isn't immediately obvious (such as when speaking about your own product).

If you dislike a particular product, service or company, you're welcome to say that, as well. However, use good judgment on when to be critical. If you are asked about a particular product, and you've used the product or know the opinions of many people, then it is fair to be critical of it. However, if you've never used that product, then be honest with the attendees and say you are uncertain. Instead, share with them your opinion of that particular class of product.

Be Forthcoming: You've agreed to speak and share your experiences with the audience. Don't hold back on the sharing. They'll respect the wisdom you impart, and your reputation will rise for having done this. Hold back, and they'll reactive negatively, as one attendee said:

Some presenters seem really reluctant to give information. I understand people trying to protect their work, but then they shouldn't agree to present if they don't want to give details.

Show, Don't Tell: The more "real life" examples you have in your presentation, the more the audience will love you. That's always a big thing they want more of. Rather than telling them what to do, try to show them more. For example, you might tell an audience that cost-per-click advertising is effective. However, what they will remember more is if you show them this by explaining how two or three different companies ran a particular campaign and received a particular return on investment.

Fight, fight, fight against the bullet point summary of tips! Focus on screenshots and stories. SHOW things, illustrate them, don't just tell. It will make a world of difference.

Provide Solutions: The audience is looking for actionable tips, as much as you can provide them. Please try to guide them with specific actions as much as possible, to avoid them feeling like this attendee:

Many of the sessions did not offer viable solutions. Serious issues were simply addressed as 'good' or 'bad' and subjectively many people were told that they were 'screwed' as far as search engine success.

Facts Vs Opinion: Search engine marketing is not an exact science. It's common for there to be a variety of opinions about what works and how things work. Because of this, please remember to say things such as "in my opinion" or "based on my experience" when stating as fact things that might be disputed by others or where you are not 100 percent certain is absolutely the case, in all occasions.

Your opinions and experiences are valuable. That's why you are being asked to speak and share them with the attendees. However, helping the attendees understand that others may have their own opinions and experiences will ease the confusion they sometimes experience, when hearing conflicting views. They better realize that they ultimately need to weight up the various opinions they've heard and make their own decisions.

Other Speaking Events: We prefer that speakers at Search Engine Strategies not speak at another event with a search engine marketing emphasis within two weeks before or after the SES show.

We understand that good speakers will be in demand by other events, and we don't wish to limit your own opportunities for exposure. However, we also want to ensure that speakers at SES are not tired from committing to multiple events in a short time frame. We also want to protect the show itself, and all the work that goes into it, from other events that may wish to ride upon its coattails.

Should you find yourself in a situation where you are, or would like, to speak at another event within the timeframe outlined above, please contact us for further guidance.

Posted by: Danny Sullivan on Aug. 15, 2006 | Permalink
Categories: Chicago 06, Categories: Speaking at SES