For Senior Account Director Stephanie Heckman, in light of her nearly 20 years with Stern Strategy Group, conference speaking engagements represent truly unique and valuable opportunities to showcase an organization or individual’s expertise in front of key audiences. From engaging with attendees to fellow speakers, to amplifying your messages in front of a crowd, to leveraging events as opportunities to build and maintain long-term relationships, conferences create value that simply can’t be replicated by other forms of marketing communication.   

Acting as a space to share examples, case studies or insights, conferences and industry events provide executives and experts a platform to present thought leadership with credibility and create lasting impressions for potential customers and other stakeholders.  

While advertising and other forms of promotion can grab the spotlight, an executive visibility strategy has the potential to make or break a brand and its leaders. Our job is to identify your ideal platforms and messages to reach and inspire your target audiences through customized speaking and event strategies.  

Stephanie shares her experience and insights on the conference and events process in the following Q&A: 

Can you talk a bit about your background and how you came to lead Stern’s conference relations capability? 

I’ve been working in PR and communications for almost two decades. About ten years ago, I started to lean into the conference relations work and develop our conference practice. We were seeing increased demand from organizations for their top executives to speak, while at the same time we saw an emergence of new platforms and venues seeking fresh voices for their programs. 

What value do speaking opportunities at conferences bring to companies?  

Speaking at conferences and events is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your key customers and market. When we first launched our conference practice, we called it “direct engagement” because it did just that: it provided leaders with an avenue to reach and connect directly with the audiences that matter most to their businesses.  

Why do companies hire Stern for this kind of support?

There are two main reasons companies come to us for help with speaking engagements. They are either starting fresh and looking to build out their conference presence, or they have a desire to “level up” the quality of engagements they’ve had to date. But there’s more—many companies invest heavily in sponsored talks. Our programs are intended to avoid what we call “sponsorship traps,” and instead, secure high quality, earned opportunities to showcase thought leadership and industry expertise.   

What types of speaking opportunities have you secured for executives?

We work with conferences of all sizes and across industries. Speaking can take many shapes and forms. Years ago, keynotes and standalone talks were the gold standard. Over the years, we’ve seen many platforms shift away from this form as they leave little opportunity for engagement. They’ve moved to more interactive formats such as fireside chats, interviews and panel discussions.  

How have you seen the opportunities positively impact their business?

Speaking opportunities can have a big impact on business. We had one executive see two new consulting engagements come from a single speaking appearance. While all speaking may not result in an immediate business opportunity, it can go a long way toward a company’s marketing and business development. We’ve seen much success with leveraging speaking content (e.g. video, presentations) and connections to fuel additional marketing efforts by our clients.  

How do you help clients define their message to drive organizational growth?

No one wants to hear a sales pitch. When we are working with speakers, we focus on aligning our clients’ expertise with the themes and issues that shape a program. This means working with the client to identify the issue they can address and/or the problems they can help solve. Think about what you can offer the audience that’s new. As you define your message, it’s important to have one that’s a mix of counterintuitive, provocative and surprising.  

Why are conference capabilities an important function of PR, and why aren’t all PR firms able to offer this capability?

Conference relations is essential to an integrated communications strategy, but it requires a very different approach, process and set of skills than other areas of PR such as media relations. For one, the timeframe is much longer and requires patience. In contrast with media relations where there may be several key journalists or editors you are targeting who file multiple stories per day, with speaking engagements, you are working with a finite group of platforms that may put on only one or two key events per year.   

As the demand for in-person and interactive events grows, so does the demand for executive speaking engagements. Our expertise brings you face-to-face with the network, buyers and individuals who can lend power to your purpose.  

Live interaction is invaluable, and our team is here to put our reputation and network to use to help shape existing agendas and create new ones to fit your big idea.  

Ready to share your expertise? Reach out to our team at to see how we can help you reach your business and executive communications goals.   

Every leader is unique, as are their voices, platforms and messages. Because of this, we tailor our executive visibility strategy to be specific to leaders and brands. We’ll help you cultivate and highlight the inner strengths of your executive(s) and find opportunities for them to share their voice, connect with like-minded leaders and more. Contact us today.

Shaping An Executive Visibility Strategy: Insights from a Conference Programming Expert  was last modified: July 10th, 2024 by Braylyn Bruno