How to get booked as a drone conference speaker, according to someone who has spoken across 4 continents

Fiona Lake is a professional photographer specializing in agriculture. She’s been in the field for more than 30 years, but in recent years has built up her expertise as a drone pilot focusing on aerial photography. She’s built up her expertise so much, so that she’s become a world-renowned drone conference speaker and drone industry thought leader.

And with that, she’s built up conference experience (she’s spoken at conferences across 4 continents). But building up that conference experience is not an easy task. For starters, you have to get booked. From there, you have to get paid Lake has gone through it all – and she shares how.

Fiona Lake Commercial UAV EU Amsterdam
Fiona Lake at the Commercial UAV Expo Europe.

This is Part 1 of a 4-part interview series with Lake. To begin, Lake shares how she gets invited (and invited back) to speak at drone conferences.

Drone Girl: How did you first get started in your journey as a drone conference speaker?

Fiona Lake: My first speaker invitation arrived twenty years ago and I don’t recommend starting as I did – at a national conference, with hundreds sitting in the auditorium! I did my best but it wasn’t great, I nearly died of fright. At least I had the good sense to be brief. The next speaker invitation was from a local camera club and that’s ideally how everyone begins; small and local, to grow experience and confidence.

DG: Do they reach out to you to come speak? Or do you pitch yourself to them?

FL: Some events are invitation-only, but usually conference organizers call for proposals about 6 months beforehand.

DG: So do you typically submit a proposal to speak?

FL: The first overseas conference I spoke at was InterDrone, and it came about because I applied to run a session. A couple of attendees then recommended me to another drone conference organiser and this led to a chain of similar recommendations for conferences in other countries.

DG: Ah ha, so it sounds like you put in a lot of work to get started, but the payoff is ongoing! You just keep getting invited back to more!

FL: The only overseas invitation I didn’t accept was for a conference in Dubai, because it was frustratingly impossible to fit another overseas trip into that year. I’ve thanked all the people who recommended me, profusely. These generous people have made a real difference to my life and it’s great to be able to pass on this kind of help to others, by recommending them to event organizers.

DG: I want to go back to getting accepted for your time as a drone conference speaker. If you’re submitting a proposal, what tips do you have for making it stand out?

FL: To give your speaker proposal a good chance of acceptance, apart from matching your public speaking experience with the event size, it’s essential to do thorough research. Read up on the previous and current event themes, fundamental aims, subject streams, other speakers and the likely audience. Ask yourself:

  • What useful, thought-provoking information could you impart, that will complement what other speakers are likely to cover?
  • What are organisers looking for, are there any obvious gaps?
  • What point of difference can you offer?
  • Think like an audience member and set the bar high. What sort of things do you value most, when listening to conference speakers?

DG: Those are great questions. Any other tips to get your foot in the door as a drone conference speaker?

FL: I recommend emailing conference organizers after an event has concluded and mentioning topics they may like you to speak on. If the submission deadline has passed, let organizers know that you may be able to speak at short notice, because if your proposal is a stand-out you may still score a speaking spot due to a cancellation.

with Professor Lan the other international speakers at World UAV Fed conference
Fiona Lake at the World UAV Federation conference.

DG: If you’re trying to build up your business, is it better to target speaking at drone conferences? Or conferences specific to the industry you’re flying in, such as construction or agriculture?

FL: Drone business owners can build a customer base if they can ‘walk the talk’ and speak convincingly at industry events like conferences run specifically for industries such as mining, construction, agriculture and other land management sectors.

But speaking at drone conferences is also valuable. It builds credibility as a trusted industry leader and creates a public profile via increased publicity. 

DG: On that note, what advice do you have for someone speaking at their first conference?

FL: A few things:

  • Start small: Only move on to state and national conferences after mastering small, local events and working upwards.
  • Prepare: Thorough preparation is the key to confidence. Know your topic inside out and continue investing in hours of research to stay current. Think about exactly who you will be talking to and what unique information will help them. Then step up, take deep breaths and give it everything you have. 

DG: What’s it like not just being a prominent professional aerial photographer, but thought leader and speaker too?

FL: I still pinch myself and joke that I spent 35 years preparing for a job I didn’t know would exist. But the truth is that everything that has gone before contributes to what I do now, and once I had a few years of hard work done, my business started producing surprises.

DG: Amazing! So where can people find you online, if they don’t already know you?

FL:  I have lots of social media accounts, but my website is best. 

I’ve written a blog post about public speaking here too. The principles are global, even though these posts were written from an Australian point of view and are mainly concerning agricultural events.

Next week, Lake will share what goes into giving a great conference talk. You don’t want to read from slides, and you don’t want to dish out the same, boring information everyone already knows. Come back next Friday for Part 2. And the following week, Part 3, is the real moneymaker, literally. In two weeks, Lake will share how to not just get booked, but get paid, to speak at drone conferences.

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