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6 Strategies for Winning Awards and Speaking Engagements

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The formula for winning awards or speaking engagements for your business can sometimes feel like a black box. As a result, many companies don’t bother trying at all. 

For companies that are able to effectively secure awards and panel submissions, these wins pave the way for future top-tier media opportunities by serving as powerful third-party validation for their business or thought leader’s personal brand. But successful award and speaking engagement application strategies require a thoughtful and measured approach to execute. 

BAM CEO and Founder, Beck Bamberger, recently took the time to outline six proven strategies our clients have used to successfully secure spots on prestigious stages and coveted lists like CNBC’s Disruptor 50 and TIME100.

This post was originally published on Forbes. Read the full article here


Only some of my firm’s VC-backed startup clients take the time to submit themselves for awards or speaking engagements (or pay us to submit them). It’s understandable as many award and panel submissions require robust data, thoughtful and detailed responses, the time to travel to a speaking engagement, submission fees and so on. The upside of investing the time and attention for award and panel submissions, however, is that it contributes to what every founder we work with wants: top-tier media coverage for their venture-backed startup.

Here are six strategies we’ve used to get clients on stages at events like South by Southwest and the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything, and on lists like CNBC’s Disruptor 50, Time 100 and more.

1. Suss Out Previous Winners Or Speakers

Who was on stage at the previous event? Which companies were showcased on the last couple of lists? It’s disappointing for some startup founders to hear this, but sometimes, a startup just isn’t at the level yet to apply for an award or speaking opportunity. Of course, most startups love a challenge, but I recommend first comparing yourself to previous winners or speakers to assess your likelihood of winning.

Consider how real estate agents use comparables (comps) to see what homes or apartments have been sold for in the neighborhoods where they’re getting ready to sell. A good real estate agent prices a home in the ballpark of what a reasonable buyer would go for, using the comps as supporting evidence. Similarly, we use panel and award comps with our clients. If an award list only features public and later-stage startups with at least 1,000 employees, then a startup client that is just finding its momentum likely has a super slim chance of winning. It’s not impossible, but do you want to win or not?

2. Contact The Organizers

Most startups or agencies will contact awards or panel organizers after submission, but I recommend doing the opposite. Try to make inroads and develop relationships with organizers months in advance of the submission forms even opening.

The benefit of this proactive approach is that it helps you garner details that may not be so apparent on a form or website link. For instance, some awards and panels push their deadlines by a week or two. Others waive fees for certain circumstances. In other cases, you can get close to the team in charge of selecting winning nominations and gather insights on their pet peeves or turn-offs. It doesn’t hurt to make contact well in advance of a submission.

3. Check The Questions Ahead Of Time

Even if you know the organizers and feel you have a decent chance of nabbing a coveted award or speaking slot, always check what is required for the panel or award submission. Some forms may take an hour while others could require input from several departments and team leads. In addition, and as we’ve found with clients over the years, some submissions require sensitive information such as revenue or employee hiring figures, and some VC-backed founders may not be open to sharing that information.

4. Use Hard Data To Back Up Your Claims

Let’s say you’re well aware of what is required for an award or speaking submission form and are ready to cross it off the list. In fact, you have your startup’s messaging and marketing materials right in hand and can’t wait to tell the awards or speaking committee how your startup is the “first,” “biggest” and “best in class” startup practically ever. None of these adjectives matter unless you can prove to the committee, with hard and specific data, how you back up your audacious claims. “Our startup grew 30% last year and helped solve the crisis of loneliness in America with our product launch last May” is weak compared to, “Our startup exceeded $8 million in revenue last year and was used by more than 2,500 physicians who are aligned with our mission of ending loneliness in America.”

5. Tell Compelling Stories

As the adage goes, “facts tell, but stories sell.” All of our winning award and speaking submissions over the last two years have included customer quotes, testimonials and narratives. Compelling one-liners (“This startup utterly changed my relationship with my 6-year-old,” for example) and detailed journeys of how your startup touched a real person are compelling complements to strong data. Stories, told via your customers, are also third-party validation.

6. Be Brief

A final tip I see ignored so often is to be brief. If a certain question has a word limit of 500, there is no need to write 498 words. Nearly all of our successful submissions have clocked in at around half the word limit. This quote often attributed to Mark Twain rings true: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” Take the time to be concise.

Winning awards and speaking engagements requires a thoughtful and measured approach. When you secure them, though, they often aid you in seizing top-tier media because of the validation they signal. Consider awards and speaking submissions as a pillar of your PR and marketing strategy for your VC-backed startup.


Not sure where to start with events and/or speaking opportunities? Get in touch with our PR experts to find out which stages you should be on and what compelling story will set you apart from the competition. 


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