CMX Summit pitches are open and early bird tickets are on sale!

CMX Summit 2018 is coming to Portland, Oregon, October 1-3, and we couldn’t be more excited. Speakers, of course, are a key component to any great event. We’ve been extremely lucky over the years to hear from some of the top experts in our field and strong community professionals who are paving the way. We’d love to hear from you!

But before you start those ponies 🐴🐴🐴🐴 and submit your application, let’s talk about how to get ahead of the curve by writing a great speaker pitch.

Over the years, I’ve read thousands of pitches by a variety of excited potential speakers. Some of them were immediate yays and others hurt my head. I want all of you to submit great applications and make our choices really hard!

Let’s distill what makes a good pitch:

A focused topic, using concise language, explaining to the event runner what their audience will learn and walk away with from your time limited session, and submitted with a short bio explaining your relevance and (bonus) links to videos of past talks.

Time to break this down to actionable bits:

“A focused topic”

This is one of the hardest hurdles. Since CMX Summit is a conference for professional community builders, your pitch needs to focus on something about community building or adjacent and relevant to community builders. Do not pitch a “how to build your community” talk. This is what the entire conference is about!

Instead, get specific. Some topics last year that came from pitches:

  • Starting Strong – How to Make an Impact in Your New Community Role in 90 Days
  • Building Successful Product Community with Facebook Groups
  • Scale and Sustain Global Community Growth (Like the Ants)
  • Laws and Other 4-Letter Words Community Pros Need to Know
  • Balancing Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities
  • What All Community Managers Can Learn from Association Communities

What all these topics have in common is that they are focused. And don’t fuss too much about topic focus cleverness as all these titles, we workshopped them.

“Concise language”

That’s right, there’s a word count limit — 1,500 characters — because a 3,000 word treatise on migrating communities is book proposal, not a session pitch. Do not link to Google Docs, Evernotes, or Dropbox.

How you describe your session should have an emotional impact of curiosity and excitement. Use language in a concise way that shows you’ve put a lot of thought into this topic.

“Explaining to the event runner what their audience will learn and walk away with”

Your audience for this pitch is me (and David, Katie, and Matt). Too many pitches come across like sales or marketing teasers. They are descriptions you’d put in a programming booklet for someone to get excited about your session.

Here’s a marketing teaser from a Summit 2017 talk:

Authentic relationships are the core of any healthy community, but can they drive growth? Jenna Kleine will share how to turn your community into your growth team’s secret weapon. She’ll dive into the tactics of building meaningful relationships that promote the growth and scaling of a community.

This is great for a conference attendee who is trying to choose between Jenna’s session or another one. This is terrible when a conference organizer is trying to figure out which pitch about growth to choose or if the tactics will fit the audience’s knowledge level.

You have to explain what the audience will learn. You have to tell me what you are going to actual talk about. You have to share the tactics, the data, and the takeaways the audience will leave with. Your pitch is a book report on your talk, not the book jacket blurb.

“Their audience”

Your pitch should demonstrate knowledge of who CMX Summit is for and how your topic and the details fit. You are also given a question to explain why CMX Summit is the place for you and what motivates you to be on the stage.

On a similar note, CMX Summit does not allow sales pitches on stage as we’re an educational conference with an audience seeking to learn. Your details should make it clear you have this understanding.

“Your time limited session”

With focus comes an understanding of time limits. Most sessions at Summit 2017 were 20 minutes long. This is another reason for the word count limit. You cannot always shove everything into a single presentation. We are not accepting pitches for workshops, and there are no sessions over 40 minutes. Your subject needs to be flexible enough to flow into a conference schedule, not the other way around.

“A short bio explaining your relevance”

A good bio explains who someone is in relationship to the conference audience and the topic. It demonstrates why you should be picked and maybe hints at your personality. This field has a word count too — 600 characters — because this is not time for your memoir, Wikipedia article, or a brag list of every cool company you’ve worked for.

Here’s a brief, memorable bio from a Summit 2017 speaker:

Michael Margolis is one of the world’s leading experts in narrative strategy. A 2x TEDx speaker, strategic advisor to Silicon Valley, cultural anthropologist, and Amazon #1 best-selling author and story philosopher, he’s a pioneer of breakthrough models to messaging, innovation, and large-scale change. Michael is left-handed, color-blind, and eats more chocolate than the average human.

If you’re worried you don’t have an Amazon #1 best-seller, do not worry. I don’t either. Most of the speakers I book, also don’t.

But this bio tells me why Michael should speak about storytelling, how he will connect with my audience, and a bit about his personality. Personally, I mostly remembered the part about the chocolate, and if you meet Michael, it’s very true.

“(Bonus) links to videos of past talks”

Getting accepted to speak at conferences is a catch-22. Most speakers have spoke at other conference, so where do you start? If part of your potential is how well you can do, how does one practice?

Personally, I am huge advocate for new speakers, and speakers who we don’t get to hear from often. At CMX Summit, we have a commitment to diversity and inclusion all around and on our stage. Part of this means that we make sure to have a mix of new friends and old friends with varying stage experience.

If you have a recording of yourself giving a presentation, doing a webinar, or on a podcast, link it up. If you don’t have that, get the smartphone, hit record, present, and upload it to YouTube. I once booked a speaker whose only video was a (non-relevant) comedy standup routine.

You are not too good to write a real pitch.

This is an aside for my Amazon best-sellers, if you want to speak at Summit, please make a full pitch. I’ve had speakers I know and speakers who are names think putting a title and their bio is all the effort required of them. This is frustrating because the title cannot carry a talk alone. LeBron James can’t just walk onto a basketball court and announce his team’s won. He has to the play the game. (James is a very famous and good basketball player.)

What does a great pitch look like?

The best pitch we got for Summit 2017 was from Jennifer Sable Lopez, Director, Global Communities at Welocalize.

Starting New – How to Make an Impact in your New Community Role in 90 Days

You landed your dream community job, and you’re ready to jump in feet first and make things happen. But how do you make sure you don’t fall flat? It’s easier said than done! Jen Lopez, who recently moved into a Director of Community role at a new company has done just that. She’ll walk you through the do’s and don’ts and give you real life strategies to help you make an impact in your first 90 days.

Some strategies:

  • Listen first, act second
  • Set achievable goals – make sure you have enough information to even set the goals in the first place
  • Meet with team members, and ask questions. Don’t assume they’re happy you’re there, or that they completely understand your role
  • Meet with the community – learn who they are and what they care about
  • Visualize what a realistic 90 days looks like, what about 180 days?
  • Set daily, weekly milestones
  • Managing up, down, and across
  • Lean on your strengths!

Focused topic: Starting a new community job or role
Concise language: Gets you excited and shows her relevant expertise
Explains to me: What attendees will actually learn (bullet points are great for this)
Fits the audience: Clearly understands who a community professional is and their needs
Time limit: A completely doable talk in 20 minutes

Okay, now that you have a bit more information on how to make a better pitch, let’s get to the goodies.

What are we offering speakers for Summit 2018

  • 1 non-transferable pass for admission to the conference.*
  • 1 non-transferable pass for the VIP Dinner for yourself.
  • 1 pass for admission to the conference for you to give away for free to anyone of your choosing.
  • 1 coupon for $10% off general admission to the conference for you to share with friends, colleagues, and any professional audiences (social media, newsletters, etc.).
  • $100 donation to a 501(c)3 charity of your choice.
  • Up to $500 reimbursement on travel (flight, train, bus, mpg) and/or lodgings.
  • 1 complimentary year of CMX Pro membership, our private, online community.
  • Lots of coaching, process, and any assistance you need from me in getting you to the CMX Summit stage. I have experience with over 200 speakers, and my goal is to make your talk the best of your career (so far).

*If you’ve already bought your ticket or want to buy your ticket to lock in our early bird prices, go forth. If you are selected, we will work it out.

Fill out the form below by Friday, April 6 at 5pm PT to submit your talk for consideration

Rapid FAQ

How many applications do you expect to get?
Last year, there were 85 speaker applications. I’d expect around the same or possibly more.

How many speakers will you choose from these applications?
This year, we’re expecting to book ~7 speakers from these applications.

How long will it take to hear back?
Submissions end Friday, April 6 at 5pm PT, and I expect it will take around a month. Everyone will hear back either way.

If I’ve applied before, do I need to fill out this application?
Yes, please do!

Can you or someone else on CMX’s staff read my application before I submit it?
No. Sorry that would put you at an unfair advantage.

Can myself and a colleague give a joint presentation?
Unfortunately not. Past experience shows these talks are best solo. We do provide support for speakers who want extra help shaking off stage nervousness.

Can I teach a workshop?
Right now, we are only accepting applications for keynote-style talks. Sorry.

If I’ve spoken before at Summit, can I submit an application?
Yes, you can. Though keep in mind as part of our commitment to diversity on stage, we limit the number of returning voices each year.

Can’t wait to see you at CMX Summit! Make sure to grab your early bird ticket and secure that deal.

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erica mcgillivray

erica mcgillivray | @emcgillivray

Erica is the Director of Product Strategy and Community Experience at CMX. She is a proven community manager, events manager, and author. Previously, Erica wrangled an online marketing and SEO-focused community of 600,000 at Moz. She’s also a founder of GeekGirlCon, a Seattle nonprofit. Erica has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard. Follow her at @emcgillivray.