In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about speaking at conferences.

As you become more experienced and successful in business, you may get invited to speak at conferences. This could be for small acceptance of an award, to join a panel with your peers, or to keynote a major conference.

One great thing about speaking at events and conferences is that it provides you with a huge opportunity to get your personal brand and company out in the limelight while, at the same time, entertaining and educating those who attend.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on what it takes to speak at conferences and they share some tips that can help you do so effectively.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:33 Why Hiten prefers speaking at panels.

02:09 The number of times Steli speaks in a year.

03:18 Why Steli chooses to speak at conferences.

04:08 Steli breaks down how he decides what conference to speak at.

05:19 How to maximize your speaking gigs.

16:15 How not to prepare for a conference.

07:01 How Steli prepares for keynotes.

09:04 How Hiten prepares for his speaking gigs.

10:42 One tip that can help you prepare for your keynote.

3 Key Points:

  • Speaking at conferences helps acquire new customers.
  • I say no to a lot of conferences.
  • I do a lot of speaking because it’s a good fit for me as a founder and my skill set.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today. Oh, go ahead Steli.



Steli Efti: No, you do it, you do it.



Hiten Shah: And today on the startup chat we are gonna talk about conferences and speaking at conferences. I’m going to start right now by saying that I used to speak at a lot of conferences like Steli still does.



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: And I definitely ramped that down quite a bit. I do speak at smaller events sometimes and I do, do some other things where I speak, but recently we both spoke at Hypergrowth, which is Hypergrowth West, which is’s conference. I didn’t actually speak, I actually had a panel which is something I have been doing more because most people think panels suck and I think I want to learn how to make them awesome, so I’ve done probably over a dozen panels now I think. I did a panel on stage and the title of the panel was “What’s Killing Your Growth” and that was fun! I like to make them entertaining and I like to be a good moderator, so I have a whole process for doing it. It’s pretty simple, where I talk to the folks early and just get an idea of how they think about the topic and then I come up with questions, I create a document with an overview and questions, and I send it over to them. They have time to think about it, they might ask a couple questions back or comments on the questions I laid out, and then it’s just go time on that day, so it’s about fifteen to thirty minutes of prep, fifteen for them, another fifteen for me to write the document, and I’ve sent it off to them. That’s how I do panel’s. That’s kinda my new thing when it comes to conferences, what I like to do is moderate a panel with a bunch of folks on it. That’s my spiel about speaking and since I haven’t done it in a while, with like a deck and a presentation and all that, I think Steli, off to you. I probably have a bunch of questions for you, but how many times do you speak a year?



Steli Efti: That’s a good question. If we strictly focus on big conferences, it’s about twelve to fifteen big conferences a year.



Hiten Shah: Oh, wow, okay.



Steli Efti: There’s probably a bunch more small workshops or meetup type stuff, there’s probably another ten or so, ten, fifteen, of like smaller events.



Hiten Shah: Got it.



Steli Efti: But when we speak like proper conference, probably like twelve a year.



Hiten Shah: Cool!



Steli Efti: We recorded an episode once, it’s episode 248 on how to use conferences to grow your startup, this is more like marketing at a conference as it makes sense to do sponsorships there, yes or no, but I get asked so often and so frequently about speaking at a conference as a founder and if it’s valuable or not or a waste of time or not, how to do it, that I thought it might be fun to check with your [inaudible] , especially because you shifted your focus right and you’ve kinda like adjusted and changed your approach to it recently. For me, it’s a bunch of ways that I do it and why I still feel that it is valuable to my company. It’s starts with some very practical things, the reason I speak at a conference, there’s three main reasons. One is it helps acquire customers, B. It helps hire great people, and C. It helps create brand awareness, it helps create new contents and new kind content generation engine for our content marketing team overall. To me, when I get invited to a ton of conferences, probably like thirty to forty conferences a year and I only go to twelve, so I say no to a lot of these. The reason is that my first question when I get asked to speak at a conference, the first question that I have is always, are the people that go to this conference, a good amount of these people become customers of my product or my company and is there a chance that a good amount of these people could be people we would want to hire today or tomorrow? If the answer to both of the questions is yes, then I will entertain going and speaking there. Then my next question is, does this fit into my travel schedule? If it’s a month that I was planning not to travel, I still might say no, but if it’s a month or period when I’m traveling and it fits into my travel schedule, right, so I have three conferences in Europe and this would be a fourth one in Europe and it’s kind of close to the conference time before and after, it’s very likely that I will say yes, if the audience is the right fit in terms of customer and potential hiring or recruiting play gram. That’s kind of how I make decisions about will entertain it or not. Could this get me customers, could this get me new team members, and does this fit into my travel schedule anyways? If all three check out then I’ll say yes to going and speaking there. There might be some other little details in terms of budget and how much money they have and all that stuff, but those are kind of the main questions I ask to figure out if this could be a good fit or not. When it come to then speaking at a conference in a way that gets the maximum to value to accomplish these three goals, there are a few things that I want to highlight that are unique to my situation, we can focus on the things that we think most folks can get out of this, but the number one thing that I’ll bring up is that I do so much conference speaking A because it’s working very well for us as a business, but also because it’s a very good fit for me as a founder and my skill sets, right. I have a lot of friends that are founders and CEO’s that go and speak at conferences, many of them often times do it because they want to build their personal brand further, and a lot of them are way more brilliant than I am and have a lot to say and a lot to teach, but it is very hard for them to come up with a talk or come up with a keynote, so it takes them a lot of time and a lot of practice to do this, so they might spend two or three weeks of preparing to design a keynote and then once they design one keynote, they might not speak that much, so they might just do it once or twice a year. I know other people that had to spend a month to come up with a good keynote and then because it took them so much time, they give the same keynote pretty much everywhere they go, right, and the way I do it, which I don’t think translates that well to most people is that for whatever reason in my natural talent, it is, quote unquote, easy for me to come up with a topic to talk about. Because I generate so much content anyways, we have these podcasts where we talk about topics, I create so much



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: video content, so much blog content, so I have this never ending muscle I’m training about how to do storytelling and how to share content, that I will spend usually one to two hours the night before my keynote to come up with the entire keynote.



Hiten Shah: Cool.



Steli Efti: I used to do all of my keynotes were brand new for the first three or four years that I did this, and the last two years to be honest, I would say that it’s about like fifty, fifty, so half of my keynotes are brand new keynotes that I’ve never given before, like the one I did this week in San Francisco, the one that you did the panel on



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: was a brand new one that I created the night before and then half of them are keynotes that I have given before just because of the sheer demand of these talks and workshops and meetups that I do now. Sometimes people will tell me, we want you to come and talk about this specific thing you’ve talked before to our audience because we know



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: that’s going to be the most valuable thing for them.



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: So, that’s kind of my process. Also, like the way I do slides is usually, I don’t use video, I don’t do animation, I don’t have great design, it’s usually white background and just one big sentence or just three, four words. It’s just like very simple, simply designed, not just because I like it, but also because it makes it so easy for me to prepare the keynote the day before right.



Hiten Shah: That’s right.



Steli Efti: I don’t have to work with designers, I don’t get any glitches with video, animation, cool. I don’t do anything complicated, I keep it as simple as possible, that allows me to be very, very efficient. Because I have this pressure sometimes of creating something brand new the night before, for whatever reason, that creative pressure. I don’t always enjoy it, sometimes I will get into a panic in minute forty five, like shit, I have one more hour and I’m still really far away from how to make this happen, but that creative, that pressure usually creates something, it forces me to create something or to get really creative, it works for my creative work process. Usually I come up with something that I’m really surprised by myself and often times people, audiences will tell me that they really enjoyed, got a lot of value from it.



Hiten Shah: Nothing like procrastination. I didn’t know your process. I too can come up with topics, I think it takes me a little bit longer to make the decks unless they’re material I already have, then I usually just re [inaudible] , add some things, and make it flow. Also, if it’s a topic, in your case, like I think a lot of time you’re talking about sales, right?



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: Your good at that topic and you have so many subtopics inside of it that you can pull out and so many stories and things like that, that I think that as long as it doesn’t get old and there’s not as many people that have heard you speak before, it’s not so bad to kind of reuse parts of it if not all of it depending on who you’re talking to. When you can do it that fast and it’s on a topic that something you have given a lot I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, to kinda have that pressure. So that’s a really interesting process, I haven’t heard anyone else do it quite like that.



Steli Efti: Yeah, I don’t either. I also think it’s…sometimes I’ll…You know when you have such a huge content library, even just the startup chat right, where were approaching, I don’t know how many episodes at this point, like were gonna be.



Hiten Shah: We’ll be at 400 sooner than later.



Steli Efti: There you go, right. So, when you’re at that level there’s just certain topics and themes that we’ve talked about so much, right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah,



Steli Efti: That it’s sometimes just easier for me to pick one topic like how to say no, right, or team alignment, or.



Hiten Shah: Yep,



Steli Efti: There’s just certain topics we’ve spoken about so much, we’ve shared so many tips that I could just like assimilate that into a kernel and give a talk on it. I think one tip that I give often to people, to founders that are thinking about giving a talk at a startup conference, because I’ve not just given so many myself, but I’ve also saw and heard so many other founders,



Hiten Shah: Yeah, of course.



Steli Efti: give talks. I’m curious to hear your tip on this, but one thing that I have, or one of the biggest tips that I give to people is to really be self aware and self accepting with your strengths as a speaker and not try to be somebody else. What I mean by that is that some people that are kind of much more shy and reserved in their personality and much more kind of, a calm and quiet energy, that’s what they’re natural and authentic self is, they might see somebody like me on stage that’s screaming at people and cursing all the time and see that people, the audiences respond really strongly and positively to it and then might make the wrong kind of conclusion out of that, that I should curse more and I should be really loud and obnoxious on stage. That probably works for Steli, it will probably work for me as well. The obvious answer to that is no, I’ve seen a lot of people bomb, and sometimes sadly even right after my talks, unfortunately sometimes people will be influenced to adjust, to change their style because their intimidated by my loudness and that will not work well for them. And just the reverses can be true as well, I’ve seen founders that their natural personality might be a lot louder and more outgoing and then they see somebody give a really data driven, really quiet, really kind of strategic and data and rational presentation and then they will try to be that way. They’ll like, oh I need to be a super data driven, give a super data driven presentation to impress people and then they’ll try to do that, but it’s not something they do day to day, it’s not the way they think, it’s not the way they work, so then that will bomb. They’ll go on stage and they’ll try to be this data scientist and people will see through that, that’s not their authentic self, that you don’t really have that expertise, the knowledge, the data they’re sharing is not that accurate, or useful, or helpful. So, I think people succeed screaming and being really loud and I see people be really quiet and be really of a complete different style from me and be super successful and connect with an audience in a really powerful way, and everything in between obviously, but my biggest tip here is be your authentic self and ask yourself what I can give the audience that they need to hear right now that’s going to be useful and valuable to them versus how can I make myself look as good as possible. If you go on stage and you go from a selfish perspective and you try to copy somebody else’s style, the audience as a collective, is incredibly accurate at judging what you’re doing on stage, how authentic it is, and what your reasoning and motivation behind it is and if they feel that it’s a selfish thing or not an authentic thing, they will either literally or you know, non literally give you the middle finger, right. They’ll let you bomb and they won’t respond, they won’t listen, and it’s going to be a really horrible experience both for you on stage and also for the entire conference and you’re destroying value versus creating it.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean you have to be yourself, otherwise people will see through it and you’ll bomb like you said. I think it’s pretty simple, it’s probably one of the hardest things for people to do though because they think they have to get onstage and not be themselves and that’s actually, the exact opposite is true.



Steli Efti: Yeah, that’s it. That’s it for this episode on how, when, and why you should give keynotes at startup conferences or conferences in general.



Hiten Shah: Enjoyed speaking!



Steli Efti: Alright, bye, bye.