Three Outstanding Speakers From PRSA International Conference 2011

PRSA’s annual international conference, held in Orlando this year, was like a breath of fresh air. High energy and stimulating, the mix of workshops and keynote presentations ranged from thought provoking to inspiring, and even a few that challenged conventional wisdom on best practices.

I wasn’t alone in my appreciation for the show. Here’s a quick clip from attendee Susan White, director of public relations and media at Rust-Oleum:

Meeting valued clients like Susan was the main reason I traveled down to Orlando for the show – but it wasn’t the only one. For me, attending industry conferences is a fantastic opportunity to attend sessions from thought leaders in PR, content marketing, SEO and online advertising.

Sometimes what I hear validates my own assumptions; other times, I learn things that radically change my perceptions and force me to rethink what I thought I knew. These can be uncomfortable moments. But they’re also the ones I seek out most.

When you work in a dynamic space like online marketing, you know – and even expect – the ground to shift beneath your feet, and at irregular intervals. Ultimately, it’s easier to navigate a fast-changing space when you have multiple data inputs. Ideally, these come from very smart people.

The good news is that I attended several memorable sessions from some very smart people at PRSA. Although it was difficult to choose the three that qualify as most outstanding, I tried to narrow it down based upon content, delivery and actionable takeaways. At that point, it was easy:

1. Jay Baer:

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jay speak previously at conferences such as the Online Marketing Summit and Content Marketing World. As a devoted reader of Jay’s Convince & Convert blog (like many of my peers in the industry), I had high expectations for his presentations. He didn’t disappoint.

Jay made a sweeping and convincing argument that companies need to embrace social media in order to deal with the reality of doing business in real-time. This means actively listening to what your customers say about you, empowering employees – your new marketing army – to respond quickly and intelligently, and ultimately, creating meaningful conversations with your audience.

There was a lot more – including some big ideas and memorable one-liners (“If your company sucks, Twitter is not your problem.”) But what made Jay’s session ridiculously compelling are two simple qualities: 1) he employed entertaining stories and examples to illustrate his points; and 2) he was a flawless speaker. I’ve seen roughly 75 online marketing presentations in 2011, and outside of a couple of memorable keynote presentations, Jay was the smoothest presenter. There was no hesitation or awkward pauses – just steely precision and smart storytelling. Bravo.

2. Lee Odden:

Even though Lee is a fellow Minnesotan, I rarely see him in-state. It’s become a running joke that we only see each other at conferences outside of the Twin Cities. I’m still holding out hope I’ll run into Lee at a local grocery store – just to prove that he actually spends time at home. We’ll see.

What makes Lee stand out as a presenter is a nice blend of big conceptual ideas and sound tactical advice. I appreciate that he can do both. During the Q and A portion of his session, several attendees asked very specific questions around execution. The fact that he could drill down and speak intelligently on something detailed, like tracking an SEO campaign with Majestic SEO, is impressive. The audience left with lots of takeaways they could begin using right away.

I also like that Lee catered his talk to a PR audience. He is a strong advocate of harnessing social and search in tandem to achieve business goals, a topic he discusses frequently at his popular TopRank blog. For PRSA, Lee nicely tied in how these approaches work together to affect PR outcomes.

3. Greg Jarboe:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that Greg’s company, SEO-PR, is a current client of Brandpoint. But the reason I chose him for this list was his killer presentation on measuring the ROI of press release distribution.

Admittedly, I went to Greg’s session mostly out of curiosity. I thought I had a fairly good handle on what you could measure from a simple press release. What could I be missing? Apparently, quite a bit.

Greg wisely built his presentation around an 18-month case study from Syracuse University. He monitored tracking links in the releases with Google Analytics to measure traffic to the school’s website. But he didn’t stop there. Greg also tracked how much of this traffic led to student enrollment, and finally, how much revenue was generated for the university. The ROI on his press release campaign was competitive with that of a pay-per-click campaign run during the same time frame.

The last thing I’ll say about Greg is that he’s just plain fun to watch. He’s practical and he brings an air of common sense to his sessions. It was fun to see the attendees around me frantically write down just about everything that he said. That’s definitely a sign of a job well done.

One final word: I would be remiss not to mention the insightful and inspired job Chris Brogan did in his keynote speech. I excluded him from the “best of” list only because his was a keynote, which I always look at a bit differently than the more time-constrained and instructional workshop presentations. Nonetheless, Chris was awesome – and even kind enough to chat and pose for an impromptu photo with yours truly.

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