What does it take to turn a niche passion into a global event phenomenon? In today’s episode, I’m excited to have Kelvin Newman here joining me. He’s the visionary founder of Rough Agenda, which is responsible for the acclaimed brightonSEO conferences.
In our discussion, Kelvin shares his journey which started with local meetups and blossomed from there. His unwavering love for SEO catalyzed the growth of these gatherings into international spectacles, attracting thousands of marketing enthusiasts from across the globe. We’ll explore how Kelvin meticulously crafted an atmosphere for meaningful conversations, resulting in professional connections, lasting friendships, and fruitful business partnerships.
With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, Kelvin talks about Rough Agenda’s strategic leap into the U.S. market with a brand new conference in San Diego, designed to capitalize on the developing opportunities in the post-COVID event landscape. He stresses the irreplaceable allure of in-person events, where the collective spirit of learning and networking comes alive. He also shares his vision for the future and how he aims to keep evolving the conference experience.
If you’re curious about what it takes to cultivate a revered event brand with global resonance, this is absolutely a value-packed episode. So, without any further ado, on with the show!
In This Episode
- [02:07] – Kelvin Newman shares his journey of turning a niche passion into a global event phenomenon.
- [06:15] – Kelvin discusses the appeal of the brightonSEO conference, which brings together a large number of attendees for networking and learning.
- [09:11] – Stephan asks Kelvin why he decided to bring brightonSEO to San Diego despite the success of the twice-a-year Brighton event.
- [12:37] – Kelvin highlights the importance of presenting new perspectives and ideas at events rather than relying on well-known speakers. He also describes the pitch process for brightonSEO.
- [19:24] – Kelvin and Stephan discuss the keyword research tools they use to gain insights into consumer behavior.
- [23:29] – Stephan inquires about Kelvin’s preference for longer workshops and his process for selecting topics.
- [28:47] – Kelvin and Stephan delve into the common mistakes made by speakers, including spending too much time explaining the why rather than the how.
- [35:45] – Kelvin provides guidance on delivering effective presentations, particularly creating engaging slides and planning the structure of the talk.
- [42:18] – Kelvin reveals his favorite events aside from brightonSEO. He emphasizes how he strives to make his event memorable and distinctive.
- [45:18] – Kelvin shows interest in hosting an AI-informed marketing event.
Kelvin, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Fantastic. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be invited along and have a conversation today. Hopefully, some interesting bits will come up.
Yeah. Let’s talk a bit about your origin story, how you ended up founding brightonSEO, and getting into marketing events and not just running an agency or doing SEO. What brought this about?
Albeit now that I organize events for a living, I still think of myself as an SEO rather than a search marketer. I always did a bit of both, but SEO was the one that came to me more naturally. After leaving the university, the media studies, and student radio, I joined a publishing company that ran a number of magazines. While working in a relatively junior admin role, I got involved with their websites.
At that point in time, they were very much in this process. “Yes, we’ve got magazines, but we should be doing more of our websites.” They had some decent websites, but the reality was that most of the journalists wanted to be in the published paper version. All the bit that they had these pretty decent websites, there was relatively little interest in doing more than they had to for them.
Despite not having a journalist role, I put myself forward and wrote a few articles. I’ve gotten involved in that side of things. Very quickly, while trying to write content that connected and did well on those websites, I came across SEO. It was a good fit for my interest. There’s that writing in the written English side of things that I find incredibly interesting, but there’s also the technical side.
I’ve never been a web designer, and I’ve never been from a coding background, but this mixture of understanding how people think about words was really interesting to me. I came across SEO. I found an SEO trainee role down in Brighton. I was working up in London, traveling up from Brighton. Brighton’s about an hour from London on the train, so I did that daily commute. I got this opportunity to lose the commute, do a really interesting thing, and join as an SEO trainee, and I found myself doing it.
The route to ending up organizing events was I was an SEO in the early days of Twitter. We were having conversations using hashtags to find people who had similar interests to you. And there was one that emerged, brightonSEO, for people who are in the city of Brighton and working in SEO. That became a way to discover people in those early days of Twitter.The best way to attract people is to understand your target audience. Click To Tweet
Someone said, “Yeah, let’s arrange a meet-up down the pub.” That first one happened. After a while, I said, “Well, I’m happy to organize a little afternoon one. If we can book a pub for the afternoon and get a projector, we can get to the pub at lunchtime rather than wait till after work,” because prior to that, it’s just been, “Let’s get a few people together after work and have a chat.” Initially, it just became an excuse to go down the pub at lunchtime.
We did that first event. We had room for 20 people, and 30 people showed up. The next time around, we booked a bigger space. We had room for 100 people, and 120 people showed up. We’re like, “Okay, there’s a bit of something here.” I went through this process of incrementally booking bigger venues and getting more and more people along.
We ended up in a much bigger venue called the Brighton Dome. They’d always be not free to attend, so we were distributing these free tickets. We were selling them out in 30 seconds and then switched to a ballot and started to include some paid-for tickets. There’s a free ballot you could apply for and all that kind of thing. And here we are now.
We did the UK, which we do twice a year in Brighton. About 3,000-4,000 people come from 50 different countries to learn about search and coming together. That’s been going very well, and we’ve been doing very nicely. COVID stepped into the equation for a couple of years, but we’ve come out of that and found ourselves in a really good place.
Now, we’re in the process of launching an event in San Diego. These are exciting times for us. It’s always been motivated by this desire to gather people interested in searching and help people learn from each other. We’ve done things along the way that have allowed us to create an event.
There are only so many parameters you can play with, but we think we’ve got a slightly different mix of the combination of things that you put into an event that hopefully has resonated and required a lot of people over the years. It allowed us to have a successful event and business off the back of that.
How many attendees typically attend a brightonSEO event?
It’s about 3,500 people every six months. It’s not all for either at one point in time. That spread over a couple of days—a big old chunk of people. That’s also quite different, perhaps, to get into a crazy event lingo speak. You get this idea of conferences, exhibitions, and trade shows.
Generally speaking, most of the search events that are around at the moment—there have been other ones in the past—tend to fall more into that conference side of things. You’re paying for a ticket. It might be a single track or a small number of tracks, maybe hundreds of people, which is great, and they’re a great format. One thing that works well with the brightonSEO format is that there’s this slightly larger scale of the number of attendees. And that’s powerful.
Particularly now in remote work, we’ve got businesses that only catch up four times a year, and two of those are brightonSEO, because they’ll be distributed all over the country and the world. They’ll come together to do that, or there’ll be agencies.
They’re bringing their clients or people you used to work with, who you’ve now gone on to work for another agency, but you’ve not seen for that kind of there’s any kind of bringing together people has those elements of, “It’s nice to catch up with people.” But the more people you’ve got, the greater the likelihood of fortunate meetings happening off the back of that. That’s a big part of the appeal, above and beyond the going, sitting down, and listening to people deliver a talk. It’s the value of these kinds of connections that you’ve got there.
We’re trying to do more to provide environments to encourage those who are either starting those friendships or relationships or supporting them. There are the classic ones like we do some big parties. That’s what you come to expect from conferences, but we’re trying to do, like, “Okay, we’ll do a yoga meetup.” We’ve got 5K runs, we do beach cleans, and all these things. But obviously, I like an opportunity for people to meet like-minded individuals and hopefully broaden their network, learn from each other, and have a successful couple of days at the office.Focus on the topic, and the right speaker will follow. It's not just about who speaks but what they bring to the conversation. Click To Tweet
He became a good friend, and then I ended up coaching him. It’s cool how you made that happen, a three-year event. I would not have gone to the UK otherwise; now, it comes full circle. I ended up introducing you to Gareth, and you’ve had him as a speaker and workshop teacher.
It’s amazing, the serendipity of these things. It’s amazing, the kind of value that I’ve got. Back in the day, people randomly happened to be put on a panel with or happened to be sat next to at some random dinner, and then they’ve gone on to, “I have really good friends,” and I’ve been able to refer them a bit of business. They’ve been able to refer us a bit. That’s the way of the world, isn’t it? I enjoy that personally. Seeing those kinds of connections be forged and also, obviously, a huge benefit from that myself, as well.
Yeah. Speaking of Michael and Gareth, both have been guests on this show. One thing I was curious about is why you are branching out to San Diego. That is a huge departure from what you normally do with the twice-a-year event in Brighton and now San Diego, of all places. I’m curious how that came about.
Again, it had been on our list for a long time now. People such as yourself traveling over and saying, “Oh, we really like this event. You should do something in the States.” We had lots of those prompts over the years. Obviously, in the post-COVID environment, lots of events have changed. So either the number of not come back for a variety of reasons. Some have switched much more to being online-focused and maybe not so much in-person. And of course, the calendars also changed around.
So what we wouldn’t do in the States, because we like those events, having come back to SearchLove isn’t running anymore. Hero Conf, a PPC Hero event, isn’t currently running anymore. SMX is still about, but perhaps, at the moment, it seems to be primarily about the online experience.
I just felt like there was a bit of an opportunity there as well. We were very fortunate to make a great hire; a person became available as we were starting to look at this. Lindsay has been involved in SearchLove since its foundation, and more recently, the Hero Conf became available. The stars align to some extent in doing something in the US. And then, we’ve begun the process.
Yeah. I know very loosely, but it’s definitely an inspiration in terms of doing some great stuff there. San Diego came about in the process of going, “Well, we wanted to find a city that felt like it had quite a lot of potential to grow into.” Obviously, they’ve got some good spaces. We’re in a hotel at the moment, still a very large hotel. But the convention center has a history and a sort of Comic Con and social media world, proving that events like ours could work in that space.
For people who don’t know and who’ve never been to the UK, Brighton is a seaside city. The venue now is literally on the road that the sea is on, so it’s right by the beach. It spills out into the bars, restaurants, and cafes on the promenade. I quite liked the idea of somewhere being on the water.
We get so many good people pitching to speak, but we’re trying to find the particular subset they will cover.
So San Diego is obviously on the ocean, so you’ve got that connection there. But the other places we were looking at were on the lakes. It felt like that holiday seaside thing was another nice connecting pattern to what we’ve been doing.
That’s not to say we couldn’t have made an event in New York or somewhere, but it felt like that was another tick in the box to go, “Well, how do we take this thing that’s been in one quite specific UK location and transpose that to a different city?” That was another area that San Diego felt was a good option. We’ll see how it works out. We’re quite excited about it.
There have been various search events in San Diego and, more broadly, California. It felt like it might be one that might work. The jury’s still out at the moment. All the feedback we’ve had is a good sign.
However, whenever we asked anyone where we should be, I was doing lots of asking questions on LinkedIn and Twitter about where we should be hosting events. Every time I ask a question, I get another ten cities like, “Oh, that’s such a really good idea.” There are so many options; it’s quite hard to choose. Some of it came down to the new availability as much as anything.
Yeah. Speaking of making choices, how do you pick pitches?
Interesting. This is our process: we have a pitch form on our website all year round. We don’t have a specific deadline or process like that. Equally, we do a little bit, but some events are very much like they will always decide who they want to get to speak and then approach them. In contrast, we select it from the people who pitch for us. So we have that form up for the year round.
And then, at certain stages of the planning cycle, we’ll start to sift through, prioritize certain pitches, and bring them through, and then we’ll do a second wave. We’ve got a few sorted there. At the moment, in the UK cycle, we’ve got probably 90% of our speakers sorted. But we’ll then group them into sessions and choose a few extra speakers that fit it. We’ve got two here about this topic, so we’re choosing one that fits that.
We’re predominantly choosing one topic. That’s our main route to choosing who we speak to. We look at the topic first, then the person second. To that extent, we encourage people to pitch lots of times. If you’ve got 20 ideas for a talk, that’s brilliant for us, because it’s a great opportunity to do that.
It’s me as an editor, so I’m making a judgment call on what I think will and won’t be popular and what’s current there, but things were particularly looking for. Our talks are quite short. They’re 20 minutes long. They’re in groups of three, so we’d like to find those we could imagine fitting with other talks.
Search queries are combinations of types of words.
We like them to be practical, to get something like, “How to do…” That’s already a great starting point for me. We like them to be quite specific. So often, we’ll get pitches where someone will come in and say, “I could do a talk about link building,” and then never really get into the detail of what they cover. They might be an absolute expert. In many cases, they really are.
We get so many good people pitching to speak, but we’re trying to find the particular subset they will cover. It doesn’t necessarily have to be new, but we can program it into something. There are lots that we’ve tried to do in terms of broadening the reach of who, partially, it’s because of the process of how we select the talks, but we like new speakers.
A lot of other events, particularly those that are more traditional conferences where they’re trying to sell a $1500 ticket, they’re trying to program who will most attract ticket sales. We work slightly differently. We’ve got the free and cheaper tickets because our registration often occurs before people even decide to speak a program.
That allows us to be a bit more flexible and go, “Well, if this person has never spoken to them before, for us, that’s good, right?” It’s a new perspective. Whereas I think sometimes, other events inevitably happen because their business model is going, “Well, who’s the best-known speaker who I know will do a good job?” And then they worry about the topic.
The business model encourages that slightly different behavior, but that gives us an opportunity to present our program slightly differently, even if perfect, and win the big event. So many people speaking at events are regulars and established now, but we like that opportunity to go about whose idea we like rather than who’s already got the highest profile.
What are some of the hottest trending topics that you want me to cover, whether in Brighton, San Diego, or elsewhere?
I like analyzing the structure of language. It is infinitely compelling to hear how people formulate their questions and problems.
San Diego is really interesting. The pitch process for San Diego is eight weeks or so after the next UK one. The speaking pitches are a bit later. It’s amazing and different from how AI appears, but not surprising to anyone. It’s quite noticeable, like the Brighton pitches, the most recent increase in the topic, and then San Diego afterward.
70%-80% of the pitches we get to San Diego have some variation of AI in them. There’s a huge variety of what’s being covered. We’ll be talking about how you can use it in paid search, how to use it to create content ideas, how to use it to audit your website, and all kinds of different topics. Everyone’s got the same idea of that process. That’s an area that people are interested in, talk pitching at that moment.
Also, it’s surprising. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that because I go to every event and see all these talk ideas, there’s often a desire to have something new in terms of the newest thing. But the reality is there are lots of people who are attending events. They might only attend one event a year, and they might only attend one event every couple of years. They might be relatively new to the industry.
Sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily have to be completely fresh, but it has to be a slightly different angle on how it’s approached. Sometimes, you’re looking for new talks that would never have appeared at a previous event we’ve ever programmed. But equally, sometimes some of our most successful, most popular, most taking all our objectives talks have been those that could have been at an event five years ago. It’s just that someone’s bought a slightly different perspective or framed it slightly differently. That’s the appeal to a new audience.
Again, every different person is at different stages in their career, and they’re at different stages in the planning process that they’re at. There’s a temptation sometimes in agencies and events to make it seem like searches, this constantly shifting thing. There’s probably more that stays similar than sometimes we give it credit for if you know what I mean. That’s a good thing for me to remember sometimes. You don’t have to be continually doing the brand-new shiny thing. It can be timeless stuff as well.
Yeah. What would be an example of a timeless talk that you have to be doing?
This tends to be a bit more of a keyword research persona area I’ve always found fascinating, partially because that’s my route of how I came to search in English language and media studies in terms of trying to understand why things are written about in the way they are. That was my academic background.
That’s actually a topic that I spoke on.
Yeah. That’s a sign that if you want to attract, then do well on search. That’s a degree of what you’ve got to do: understand your customers. You could say, “Well, that’s been true. How long has Google been around? How long have the search engines been around?” That’s something that’s always been true.
The kind of approach that people are using, all the tools available to help that process, or even just the slightly shifting patterns of behavior that people have as new search features become available. As society changes, there are still new ways of approaching that. Equally, it’s never a bad thing to revisit your process. I don’t think anyone’s got everything absolutely perfect.
Again, in terms of the programming, I don’t think it’s a terrible outcome if someone’s attended a talk and it’s reassured them. I think that’s an underappreciated thing sometimes. I say this one kind of a mentor speaking: you don’t necessarily always have to. Sometimes, people can go away; if they’ve gone away, “What I was doing was working. This person has made me feel more excited about the approach that I’ve got.” That can be a pretty good outcome. It doesn’t have to be like, “Whoa, I’ve never thought of this before.”
Some of those talks are nice. But if you can say, “Well, here’s what you’re doing. It’s 90% perfect. Here’s the 10% that will make it a little bit better.” That can be pretty good, too.
Yeah. Speaking of keyword research, what’s your favorite non-traditional or lesser-known tool in keyword research?
I’m not doing huge amounts of keyword research now, to be completely honest. But in terms of that process of looking where people are asking questions, I can still search Reddit, forums, and Twitter to a certain extent. It’s something I’m sad about if we go to this process of threads or whatever it is, or various private communities, where people in Slack, WhatsApp, and all that kind of thing.
I am continually amazed by how creative people solve their clients’, their brands, and their employer’s problems.
I always liked that ability to go, “How are people describing their problems in a user-generated content environment? How are the people helping answer those questions responding to those questions?” It’s like listening in on the problems that people are trying to solve. That’s always been my way of approaching things. It’s to go, “Okay, that will spring off the ideas of the ways of thinking about things.”
I also quite like that, where you discover a pattern. Search queries are combinations of types of words. You have the nouns, the adjectives, and all that sentence structure stuff. Some of the most successful projects I’ve ever had are where you’re like, “Okay, what’s the pattern? And what’s that bit of the pattern—the colors, size, season, or whatever it is—that bit of the search query? What are the other variations of that?”
Rather than thinking of a different keyword, you’re thinking of variations within the bit that you feed back into the search query. I like thinking about the structure of language. How people are phrasing their questions and problems is infinitely compelling. To me, that’s always been the interesting part. And then, how do you take that insight and then reflect that in your content? The connection bit is always going to be quite powerful there.
Obviously, the AI stuff is interesting now that you can go trying to understand when your ChatGPT responses come back. What did it get in the question to get that type of answer? Trying to see the connection between the two is an interesting area.
Have you tried using ChatGPT to do keyword research?
Less so for that, but it’s to find that prompting stuff.
I know from the talks that people are pitching and doing really exciting stuff now. I have to remind myself sometimes now that I’m an event organizer, not an SEO. The competitive world out there is what’s led people to do. It continues to blow my mind how creative people are in the process of solving their clients’ or their brands’ and their employer’s problems. There’s an infinite amount of creativity out there. It’s amazing to see.
Yeah. One of my favorite tools to tell people about, and has been for a handful of years now because it’s not well-known but really clever, is alsoasked.com. I think I included that in the presentations I gave at brightonSEO. It just scrapes.
The Google people also ask box and put it in a pretty format. It allows you to download a PNG or a CSV file. You can click on any of the questions to recenter on that new question, and it will scrape a whole set of additional questions that are related to those.
Again, it’s that pattern matching. I go, “Oh, well, there were lots when they were talking about size or season. What are some of the other variations?” I think those types are incredibly powerful. That’s a good one.
I was going to say the AnswerThePublic one because they’re original—I think it’s changed now, but that was Brighton-based, so the city where our events are hosted and I’m based. The term that built it out there before they sold them and moved out, I think, at least once, maybe twice. I don’t know. It’s interesting to see that type of functionality. I think there are some good tools out there.
Yeah, so Answer Socrates is a nice alternative tool.
I’ll write that one down now.
Let’s talk about workshops. Why longer workshops? How do you pick the topics for those? Is the pitch process different for that?Every presentation can provide a fresh perspective for the audience. Powerful ideas can ignite curiosity and spark action, especially for newcomers to your industry. Click To Tweet
In the US, this is the format, and largely it is in the UK very slightly. We’ve got two days of conferences there on Thursday and Friday. There will be multitrack, multi-speakers, 12 speakers per track per day. There are 48 speakers per day, something like that. They will be all 20 minutes long.
We like that because you can cover all these different topics. You can go in all these different directions. People can move about, and they can choose what their experience is. But the reality is that they’re quite shallow. It’s the nature. There’s only so much you can do in 20 minutes.
We’ve always had a training element. We do them on Wednesday now. There will be a more in-depth single topic. We were talking about our advanced link building as an example. They will be 10 AM – 4 PM or 9 AM – 3 PM a day, but not a full day with a decent lunch and some decent breaks. They’re just more training. They’re training workshops.
The hope is they’re the opposite of that, like a little bit of everything. There will be a relatively narrow topic. There will be in-depth learning in that one and different forms of learning. The reality is that lots of conferences and ours, particularly the main conference. We had a person on a stage with a great big PowerPoint talking. The format is there, and it works well.
That’s not necessarily always the best way to learn. Exercises, discussion, and group work are often more effective as ways to really internalize some knowledge. That’s the workshops and the training courses, as I call them. That’s their intention. They’re allowing that slightly more considered form of learning.
Exercises, discussion, and group work are often more effective as ways to really internalize some knowledge.
There are fewer potential topics. There will be a GA4 one, and we get these ebbs and flows. Advanced link building is beyond just the basics of link building; it was very popular a couple of years ago, a little bit less popular now, but not still like people need it. But then we’ve got our GA4, which wasn’t a thing two years ago and probably will be much less of a thing two years from now. But you get this ebb and flow of areas that people are trying to scale up in.
The pitch process is often slightly different now, where we’ll identify a niche for some workshops. That’s usually because we’ll get three or four talks about it, and they’ll go down really well. And we kind of go, “Okay, well, there could be more in this.” Or occasionally attract the trainer. The workshop host will come to us and say, “Hey, I’ve been working on a day’s worth of material that I think would work quite well. Do you think that could work for our audience?”
It’s a different one that goes through that process. But often, what’s interesting with those is trying to think about, “Well, what is the package going to be because it’s a product?” We want it to be really useful, but it also needs to be something people know they want. Sometimes, we’ll often get a trainer, or a person will come to us and like, “I can see that if you attended this session, it would be incredibly useful. But people might not realize that they’ve got that problem.”
To some extent, we’ve had one that our project management is like a skill that most SEOs can use to improve their ability to handle projects using the approaches that the project produces. But when we’ve hosted them in the past, they’ve just never quite taken, because it’s not that they don’t want to learn about it, but you know what I mean. It needs to be something that’s going to be useful, but someone’s going to want to learn about it. Sometimes, I’ve made mistakes on that front where I’ve been, “this will be incredibly useful for people.” But if people don’t have an interest in that, then it doesn’t matter how useful it is.
You know the old adage that you give them what they need, but you sell them what they want. You know those pill pockets you put medicine in for your animal, dog or cat, and that’s how they do it?
Yeah, definitely. I think you’re right. I underappreciated that in the early days of my career. It’s what people want to learn. Again, that’s interesting. Again, when choosing what talks are on when, we often say to people that because it’s multitrack, it’s a bit like, “Well, they’ve chosen not to be in your session.” Sometimes, when we’re going through people and helping them with their deck, we say they spend too long explaining why something is important.
They chose your talk. They didn’t choose the other three, four, five, or six, that were running at the same time. They’re probably persuaded that it’s an important thing to learn about. Spend more time on the how rather than the why.
Again, it’s similar to that thing where it’s like, “Yeah, but they decided they want to learn about it.” They’re interested in how they do it rather than being persuaded that they should be there because they’ve already made that choice.
Yeah. Speaking of those rookie mistakes for speakers of spending all that time explaining the why, what would be your top speaker mistakes or presentation mistakes that you see time and again and you have to keep correcting?
It’s interesting because you become aware that some of it is preference thing. That is a particular visual style of presentation that I quite like. It’s like a bet, it’s just not my preference. Quickly framing why some points are not being made as useful as possible, I think, is a good one to do.
I quite like it when people almost plan what they’re going to say first and then get into the slides because you sometimes see this predicament where it can become clunky because they move bits around. And that doesn’t necessarily always work. That’s like, decide what you’re going to say first and then worry about the presentation as a means of communicating what you’re trying to say, rather than using the construction of the deck to construct your argument, narrative, or point of view that you’ve got there.
Also, generally speaking, people often try to do too much and too little time. It doesn’t help that our talks are short. It exacerbates that. But the number of times that people come to us and maybe never really on a run-through till the event is quite near, and then they suddenly discover they’ve got 40 minutes of material. Again, people are like, “Oh, here are the 20 things you need to do. You’ve got 20 minutes.” You cannot cover 20 things.
And I have 100 slides.
Decide what you’re going to say first, and then worry about the presentation as a means of communicating what you’re trying to say.
Yeah. The slide counts as an interesting one as well because you get asked people to do lots of slides in short periods. Many slides don’t necessarily mean a long talk, but 20 dense slides can take much longer than 100 light slides. If you go, “Here’s what I want to cover, I’d say maybe half that because that’s probably a good start.”
It’s much better to have 15 minutes of material and room. Suddenly, a thought occurs to you on the day you’re presenting it because the neurons are fired in a particular way, and you can go off on that bit of a tangent rather than already cramming stuff in. When those tangents or things you’ve never thought about before pop up, you just don’t have time because you have too much material to do.
Again, sometimes, I like how people rightfully structure a presentation. Often, the best and most valuable bits for action are the takeaways in the last quarter of the presentation. That makes sense when you’re structuring the presentation.
If they’ve spent too long or have too much material beforehand, you can often find yourself in the unfortunate situation of rushing the best bits. It’s always a shame when you see this presentation- the supplementary resource they wanted to explain, the additional tool, and all these things.
They don’t necessarily get the time to cover those areas because they spend too long telling you why AI is important and not enough time telling you about, well, here’s the great tool that will help them do their job a little bit better. That’s on us as organizers to help people through that process and ensure that they’ve got the best tools possible to deliver the best version of their talk.
Right. Will you see things like too many words per slide, it’s overwhelming, and too small of text that’s not going to be read by somebody in the back of the room screenshots that are unreadable?
Yeah. It’s an interesting one as well. It’s a layout thing, but it’s amazing. Often, in first drafts, we get into people. We’ll give feedback to them because the content of the talk is really strong. But the PowerPoint presentation isn’t quite right because they’re almost used to doing these boardroom-type presentations, where it’s their laptop on a screen for a client, to their boss, or that scale. Often, the slide design, particularly for that scale if you’re never more than ten-foot from the screen, doesn’t necessarily work so well when you’re on our biggest stage, which you can be 100 feet-200 feet from the stage.
Our screen increases, but the scale of layout and design can change a bit. We often say, “Stand on the other side if you’re in your office.” When you’re designing your deck, stand 12 feet away. If you can still sit on your tiny little laptop screen, that will be readable on a big screen.
The best and most valuable bits for action are the takeaways in the last quarter of the presentation.
As you mentioned, chunking tends to be the outcome. In a boardroom-style meeting, you might often have five points on a slide, five different things you’re trying to say. For a conference, just make it five slides. There’s no reason not to split them and then cover them individually.
It’s much better to have 100 slides with 100 different points than fewer slides with more points on them. There’s not usually much of a reason to do that. There’s no expense to having an additional slide or breaking it down. Take the opportunity. One idea per slide is a good rule of thumb.
I really liked the approach of using a metaphorically relevant image with just a few words of text overlaid so that it is evocative, provocative, visually appealing, and not overwhelming.
Yeah. I’m a big fan of that. You’re trying to use the imagery, the layout, the colors, or the presentation. The presentation to articulate a point can be quite clever. Sometimes, you end up with a text as well. Here’s one version of the text, and then the next slide is the bit you want highlighted. People are good at it and do a really good job.
I get interested and excited about that kind of presentation and design stuff. It’s about having a clear thing that you want to say. Again, it’s an underappreciated design on Post-it notes or whatever. Trying to get your flow sorted is underrated as well in terms of that kind of process.
The good thing is it’s always something you can get better at. Fortunately, for most search events and supportive audiences, they’re there to learn as well. There’s a degree of benefit of the doubt, the audience is always happy to do so if you’re going in with the right intent. They’ve got that right attitude, which is lovely because it is easy to forget sometimes.
I speak to other event organizers who work in different sectors. There isn’t this ecosystem of knowledge sharing in the world of search. Marketing, generally, but search particularly. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how helpful and supportive everyone is of each other.
Yup. It’s important for a speaker on stage to remember that the audience wants you to win. I think that spans many topics, not just SEO. I think it’s a general rule unless you are talking to a room of direct competitors who want you out of business. But typically, they want you to win. They want you to succeed, so don’t apologize. Don’t say that this is your first time speaking.
One idea per slide is a good rule of thumb.
Yeah, it’s very easy to talk. People are like, “Oh, I’m so tired, I’m hungover, or I only just finished the slides.” Don’t say that. That might be true but present the best version. Be confident.
Or I’m so nervous.
Yeah. It’s amazing that people don’t notice the mistakes you think you’re making. Most people are their own harshest critics in that regard.
Do you see any particular approaches to speaking that are quite remarkable? They have some sort of schtick about them, making for a much greater presentation.
We try to say the speakers we get very well over time, but one we got for a long time, largely because he does our training, is this guy, Greg Gifford, who uses films as a theme.
Yes, he does.
Yeah, and he ought to do very well. Again, his schtick there is to have the scenes from movies as illustrative representations. That’s helpful of him because it gives them a means of when he’s creating a deck and what you can use to get through it. People love that as well.
There are many different ways, and it’s just a matter of what device you use to reach the point you’re trying to. Other people are out there, a reach for women in tech and SEO. Hannah Smith, as well. Both have quite a similar style, with 250 slides, but they’ll often be a word per slide.
That’s just how they work, and it works quite well. There’ll be others, and it will be four slides, and they were just all images. There’s no perfect way of doing it, but with more experienced speakers or people who’ve done it many times, they’ve often developed their approach.
Has Marty Weintraub spoken for you?
No. He’s definitely on our list of US ones to get as well. I’m seeing him speak myself, but my reputation has a very good style and approach.
Yeah, he does that three times the number of slides than you could imagine fitting into a shirt pocket, but he makes it work. It’s really fun and fast-moving. He’s rehearsed it a number of times so that he knows he can fit it into the allotted time.
Yeah, I think charisma does go a long way as well. As much as I talked about, we always want new speakers, and that works quite well. There’s certainly a knack that an experienced speaker can sometimes bring where they know themselves. They know what works there.
In any of these, doing a podcast, doing a client meeting, or going out and doing a conference presentation, you’re presenting a version of yourself, but that’s not all. It’s not necessarily precisely who you are. You’re a performance of sorts. There’s no harm in leaning into a particular approach and that kind of thing.
We’ll do things on stage. We’ll do some silly competitions and stuff. We’ve got this long-running thing where I use a character sheet t-shirt. It’s meant for the audience. The first time we did it, it accidentally went wrong. It got a laugh. Now, every time we do it, we deliberately make the t-shirt not always work because it becomes this running joke about how I can’t function and make a t-shirt that can work.
For most people who’ve never been before, it’s never a thing. But then, for the people who are returning, it’s a bit of a thing that they get across. It’s a continuity thing. It’s just this developing connection with your audience. That’s never a bad thing to work into your thinking.
Yeah. As far as other events, do you still speak at other people’s events because that’s how we met?
No, I don’t know what to talk about anymore. I’m this weird one where I don’t do as much SEO as I did in the past. But yeah, I’ve done a few over the years, and it’s enjoyable. Again, the irony is that when brightonSEO first started, part of it was that I was very fortunate that very early on in my career, I got an opportunity to speak at SMX London, the first one in 2007. I haven’t done an SEO for about nine months or so, so it is not a very long period.
I got invited because I was blogging, active on Twitter, and that kind of thing. I got this opportunity quite early. To some extent, I got this great initial, “Wow, yeah, I can do this, I love this,” and then never got any more speaking slots afterward for a little period. That’s where brightonSEO came in.
Present the best version you can be. Be confident.
This motivated it, like, “Well, I can get up, do the moderating, and do that stuff.” That’s why I’ll do so, which initially helped it grow. But then, bizarrely, in doing that, it made me dislike myself that I don’t like. I don’t get opportunities now because I’m not very good at SEO anymore.
Also, because I’m now doing my events, it’s a bit weird to get invited and do someone else’s event so much as well. The thing that I like to do, which is going up and doing the presentation or jump, makes it very difficult for that to be the case now. But yeah, I still get to moderate and MCing, which is similar, so it’s all good.
Yeah, and you’re very good at that, by the way.
Yeah. Some moderators got these amazing notes and the ability to host good Q&A. I’m nowhere near that profession, but my angle is I go up and present a version that hopefully is endearing and sets a bit of a context of how we do what we do. Again, in any environment, you’re trying to put a wiping and present a culture that is unique to that organization or that kind of company.
I’ve often been torn. I will moderate the largest stage in the UK, and I’m going to do something similar in San Diego. I often wish I don’t do it because I don’t get to see the other stages. I don’t get to see a lot of speakers. I’d like to check out because I’m there waiting to introduce the next speaker, which is a shame. But then equally, I go, “Well, the ability for me is an organizer to influence the tone and fear of the event by doing that.” Moderating is quite powerful.
Again, in the emails we write in the copy of the social media updates we’re doing, we’re all trying to bring that tone of voice. I’m writing whatever email I haven’t done for a number of years, but I’m trying to make it feel like I could have. That’s a degree of authorship of sorts that, again, hopefully, makes it distinctive from those that either have a different tone of voice or no tone of voice at all, which is sometimes a bit of a danger in business events that they can be a bit in some random Hilton in wherever it is in a year later. I didn’t know what the name of that show was. That’s a real missed opportunity for event organizers. It’s trying to be memorable in some way, shape, or form.
What we do probably is annoying to some people. I like to connect with them, but for the people who come and appreciate it, it’s a memorable experience that they have.
Yeah, it is memorable, and you do stand out. I’ve spoken at hundreds of events over decades, and yours is one of the most memorable. It has a personality to it that most conferences don’t have.
That’s great to hear. I think that’s it. Many good ones do it in different ways, but that is definitely done with intent. There are areas of what we do that aren’t perfect, and there are things that we do that could be improved. That’s the important thing.
Yeah. Do you have a favorite event, not yours, that may not even be in the industry?
Yeah. I used to love the SearchLove events because there’s almost a yin to the yang in terms of our events, which are multitrack short talks. They had a longer talk, single track. It’s obviously a shame that SearchLove’s not around to that extent. I was a big fan of the work that Lindsay was doing there. When she was able to come across and help us in San Diego, I was very excited about that.
I think charisma does go a long way as well.
I quite like events where I can admire from a distance if you know what I mean. Weirdly, my ideal way of experiencing an event is like going on the Instagram hashtag, looking through all the photos, and going, “Oh, okay, there’s that photo opportunity that they’ve created, or there was this event format or this way of staging it,” and all that kind of thing that tends to be.
I’m a big fan of these multi-venue festival-type events, like South by Southwest and the Cannes Lions in France. I also like that type of format. There are a few festival-y business ones. There’s one called RecFest, which is for recruiters and internal HR people and is essentially like a music festival but a business conference. That’s quite a cool one, as well.
There’s lots of admiration from afar for these approaches that people have got, but it’s this challenge now. It is very difficult when I go to events not to try and understand how it’s working behind the scenes and that process that spoils it a bit now. Even to the extent of some of the music here tonight, I’ll be trying to understand how they’re not running on time. It’s hard to enjoy it in the way that you see the moving parts in a way that, perhaps, sometimes it’s easier to miss if you’re not so much part of the space.
Yeah, I’m a big fan of Will. He’s spoken at many of our keynotes before, and I’m a big fan of his approach. Some of my favorite talks I’ve delivered were those I pitched to Will for SearchLove back in the day. I did some of those: graph theory, semantic structured etc.
Also, interestingly, there’s one I really enjoyed that I was talking about. I went to University of Sussex in Brighton. I did media studies, but they had an informatics machine learning course that ran at the same time. There was this really interesting scenario, which now is really—I was chatting about this ten years ago, whereas they had this experiment where machine learning essentially solved the problem, but they didn’t know why. They couldn’t make the connection of how amazing these things are when you look back at presentations.
Some are like what I called, “What was I thinking?” That one, where another approach to it, I think, still holds up relatively well in trying to understand complex systems when the outcome makes sense, and the input makes sense, but what happens in between? You don’t know how the system works, which feels like it’s particularly relevant.
Yup, that’s cool. Regarding machine learning and AI, are you thinking of having a Brighton AI event and going full-on AI?
Yeah, I’d love to do it, actually. I’ve found the one really interesting. I’m quite a big fan of Midjourney. It’s essentially an image-generation tool. I’d be really interested. They call it photosynthesis or something like that, like weird words they’re using. I’m using AI tools to create imagery.
There is some really interesting stuff around prompt engineering, the words you can use to generate an output you want to produce in Midjourney. I would love to attend, and we’d love to host one.
We’ve got this weird situation now that, “Oh, yeah, we should add that on.” And then you go, it needs a small-scale meetup where people are in the space. Inevitably, the intention for me is, “How do we turn it into a 500 attendee event?” No, just these 25 people in the room are interested in the subject to do that. You try to solve it with a big one.
AI informs marketing.
AI informs marketing. There will be big opportunities because people want to learn about it. There will be tool providers who want to talk about the product and functionality. It’ll be interesting whether it becomes enough of its topic, or whether it’ll just be AI as part of email marketing, or AI as part of content marketing, or AI is paid social, whatever it is, or wherever it’d be AI marketing is its whole as a topic in its own right. I’d like to know how that shakes out. At the moment, it’d be more within the existing areas, but who knows? That can change quite quickly in this world.
There’s just so much happening in the AI space, and it’s moving faster and faster. If you’re not on the cutting edge of what’s happening in AI, you will be left behind.
Yeah. People will become more efficient and more effective in what they’re doing. There are huge opportunities there for people to get better at work. I’m excited about it. I’ve got friends who are far more cynical and jaded. Everyone will get made redundant, which is less of that attitude.
I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s the rise of social media or mobile. It’s big, but it’s not significant. But it’s easy sometimes to downplay or overplay things, and I’ll probably be somewhere between them.
Yeah. Try playing with Claude. Have you played with that yet?
No, that sounds good. How are you using that?
Okay. I uploaded a PDF of the episode’s show notes, including the transcript, action-based checklist, and everything else. Then I have Claude answer questions like, “Can you come up with a quiz based on the episode content? How about an online course lesson plan, etc?” It’s mind-blowingly awesome.
What’s different about Claude is that ChatGPT has 8000 tokens for a limitation in terms of your prompt—and 100,000 tokens for Claude. You can upload an entire book within those 100,000 tokens in your prompt limit. It’s awesome. It is a game changer.Use social media platforms like Reddit, Facebook groups, and X, formerly known as Twitter, to understand how people describe problems and find solutions. This can spark content ideas. Click To Tweet
Yeah. That’s where it’s going to be that ability to do what would have been a day’s worth of work, or it might even have been possible. As far as going to be nice, it never would have been economical to do that analysis or that corpus of text in that way, shape, or form. It’s exciting, and those things you couldn’t previously do will be much easier than they would have been before. Hopefully, that will allow people to spend time where the work they’re doing and their mind is valuable, rather than the paste-type stuff that might have been the case before that type of functionality.
Yeah, it’s a brave new world. These are interesting times, for sure. All right. If our listener or viewer wants to learn more about brightonSEO, perhaps sign up and attend, or even pitch to speak, where do we send them? And if they just want to follow you and your brilliance, where do we send them for that?
I’m predominately still on Twitter. I’m on Threads as well. @kelvinnewman on Twitter, @kelvinshuffle on Threads. I’m more of a Threads person. And brightonseo.com. It’s worth doing that to check out the events that are coming up. Particularly, if people want to pitch, if you go to the speakers’ page, there’s a pitch from there to do that. We encourage people to do it year-round as well.
Whenever you get those ideas, definitely submit them and get involved. It is lovely to have people along if they can make it work with their calendars and stuff.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Kelvin. Thank you, listener. We’ll catch up with you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
Connect with Kelvin Newman
Previous Marketing Speak Episodes
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Diversify my content approach. Experiment with different content formats to engage my audience.
Blend technical SEO skills with creative content creation. This will help me create a well-rounded approach. Understand how people read content and leverage that in my SEO strategy.
Focus on creating content that provides solutions to the pain points of my target audience.
Plan the narrative and flow of my presentation and then build slides to support it. Don’t let slide construction determine the flow.
Create slides that focus on one idea. Avoid addressing multiple ideas in one presentation slide. Use visuals, colors, and imagery in slides to support my points and break up large paragraphs of text.
Practice my talk to ensure it fits the allotted time. Save key points/takeaways for the end of my presentation.
Confidently present my ideas. Avoid apologizing for being new or nervous. Audiences want me to succeed.
Develop my own distinctive presentation style and tone. Avoid rigid rule following.
Build networking opportunities at my events. Socialize with new contacts and get to know them.
About Kelvin Newman
Kelvin Newman is the Founder of Rough Agenda, the company that arranges specialist digital marketing events including brightonSEO.