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Conference Success Tips for Content Marketing World

Use these tips to optimize your experience at CMWorld (or any other huge conference or convention).

a photo of the urban farm at the Cleveland Convention Center1. Have a Plan B.

Sessions fill up fast, so I always have a Plan B. Choose a second or third option as a back-up so you have another shot at getting useful information and inspiration. That Plan B can include quiet time in a corner of the convention center, a walk outside or simply gazing over the urban garden and farmyard (featuring bees and pigs!).

2. Take advantage of the long breaks.

Some breaks you’ll probably spend triaging your email or putting out a fire at work. But don’t keep your head down the whole time. Set up meetings for the break times, or start up a conversation with the person behind you in line for orange-colored snacks.

3. Wear something noticeable.

Yeah, I know you have your name-tag, but it’s weird staring at people’s navels or chests trying to find the person you’re looking for, and sometimes tags are flipped over any way. And I know you can send pictures, but some folks aren’t good at recognizing faces, especially in a sea of them. I’m not saying you have don something outlandish, but something special like a lapel pin, tie, graphic t, hat or scarf makes you easy to spot. Thanks to my mom and my little sister Kristen, I have a lot of awesome necklaces and scarves so I tell contacts to look for that as well.

4. Talk to your neighbors.

Margot Lester's business cardThis is so third grade, but I’m always surprised how many people don’t talk to the folks sitting next to them. You don’t need to share your life stories or even continue the conversation, but a quick “Hi, I’m…” and a “what do you do?” isn’t hard, and you might end up meeting someone who needs your services or vice versa. Bring enough cards that you can give them out with impunity.

5. Leverage vendors and clients.

If your partners and customers have a booth, use that as your meeting spot. You’ll be easier to find and it gives you a chance to introduce your contact to the exhibitor. No, I’m not saying you should shill, but saying “hi” isn’t an imposition on either party. You also should attend events sponsored by clients and vendors to help sing their praises. After all, their success is yours, too.

6. Follow the hashtags and influencers.

If you're like me, you'll be double-booked a couple of times during the week. This is obvious, yet few of us do it: follow the conference hashtag, #CMWorld, and the Twitter handles of the speakers you're missing. Another option if you're going with friends or colleagues is to have a conference buddy who you can trade notes with later.

A tasty salad from the Urban Farmer in Cleveland7. Make dinner reservations now.

The best places fill up fast during CMW, so hop online and save your spot now. My default is a four-top, because I can easily downsize if necessary, and it’s not too onerous to add two more. If you think or know you’re going to have a big group, definitely reserve now. Three of my favorites within walking distance of the Convention Center: Lola, Greenhouse Tavern and Urban Farmer. Bonus tip: Skip the free breakfast at the conference at grab something healthy at Anna in the Raw.

8. Show gratitude (and patience).

Unless you’ve planned a huge event, you have no idea how much is required to pull it off. I worked my way through college working at and managing the student center where we hosted most of the big events. It’s hard, hard work. Give some love to the CMW team (they’re all outfitted in noticeable gear) for sure, but especially to the folks who are keeping us fed and caffeinated, the bathrooms clean and the trash picked up, the A/V working, etc. Bonus points if you give them a hand by picking up your own trash and maybe somebody else’s. Leave a tip for the housekeepers at your hotel, and do right by the waits and bartenders at the local eateries, too.

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When I'm coaching writers or training up teams, a common complaint I hear is "it doesn't flow".

There are two sources of flow issues, and they require different strategies to address: logical and rhythmical.

How to fix article flow: logic

The problem: When the logic isn't flowing, it's hard for readers to follow the information to a clear and intelligent conclusion.

Why it happens: We can experience logical flow problems within a paragraph, throughout a section or within the entire document. Our logical flow is impacted when we have a hard time organizing background information and/or aren't clear on the main idea, critical details or purpose of the piece.

How to improve logical flow: Fixing the logic in a sentence or section is usually fixed by reading it out loud and reworking accordingly.We use three strategies to fix logic within a piece of content (or create it from the start): 1) the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy™ [download], the What-Why-How Strategy™ [download] and Background Maps™. The first two help you think through the article before you write it, so you have a stronger logical framework on which to research and write. We like these better than outlines because most of us are so conditioned to the format that we look only at the topics (does the outline include the things we want to hit) and don't closely look at whether the items are organized in a way that readers can follow. With outlines, we often discover too late -- as in, after the content is written -- that the logic doesn't work. We use Background Maps to align our source information with the key point and sections of the content. It's as simple as assigning a number to each idea/concept or section for the post, and then assigning that number to information in the material that belongs with each numbered "bucket". For a how-to blog post, for example, I make the intro #1 and assign each tip or trick its own number (let's say #2-#6) the conclusion #7 and the CTA #8. Then I read through the background information, interviews and any other source documents I have and jot numbers in the margins as I go. Yes, you can do this on your screen, but I find it's often faster and easier to do it on paper, and then have that paper out as I write. When it's time to draft, I just follow the numbers to create the quickly draft the sections and reorder as necessary.

 How to fix article flow: rhythm

The problem: When the rhythm isn't flowing, it's hard for readers to build understanding and momentum.

Why it happens: We can experience rhythmical flow problems when we our sentence fluency is off, or when we don't use punctuation effectively. Sentence fluency is a fancy term for the cadence and phrasing of our writing. As readers and listeners, we like sentences that follow different patterns and are of different lengths. But sometimes, as writers, we get stuck in rut of using the same sentence structure over and over. It's so boring, readers disengage. And often when we're writing about complicated topics, we create sentences packed with so much information that they're incredibly long and, if not punctuated perfectly, can be hard to follow. Too many of those kill your rhythm, too. Rhythm issues usually happen when we're in a hurry or when our writing confidence is low.

How to improve rhythmic flow: The easiest way to find a problem with rhythm is to read your work out loud. You'll catch the places you need punctuation and hear where you could make a long sentence shorter or combine two short sentences. Here's a quick look at the most common sentence patterns. As you revise, try a few of these out. Work at the sentence and paragraph level first to create a nice ebb and flow within them. Then read over the entire piece to create more movement in your voice and sentences. The resulting flow should create momentum that carries the reader or listener from one sentence, paragraph and section to the big finish.

So the next time someone (even your writer's intuition) says, "it doesn't flow", ask a few questions to determine which kind of flow problem you've got. Then follow these tips to bring the logic and rhythm back to your content.

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A pretty beach photo

No, this picture doesn't have anything to do with the topic, but who doesn't need a nice break from stock photos?

Yeah, yeah. I know you love your personas. I get it. But I see a lot of folks relying on stock cariactures instead of legit, specific insights. Increasingly, the best source of insights on target audiences and the issues they care about is the people closest to them -- your brand journalists.

Get more audience insights & voice guidance from brand journalists

Even though we spend hours every month talking to your customers and prospects, we're almost never asked about what we hear, see and learn. So, marketing folks, start mining your internal and external creators.

You can do this informally, of course, by just asking questions periodically and blending the information into your work. But the real value comes from a deeper integration.

How to find relevant content topics

For instance, we deliver insights to one of our B2C clients in the form of content topics based on what we're hearing from external SMEs and actual members of the target market. Our perspective reflects "feet on the street" interests of consumers, yet it also filters in the messaging and USP's you need. That's a recipe for relevance and engagement right there. Every cycle, we suggest ideas for articles, social posts, infographics, ebooks and white papers. Then the marketing team vets the ideas and assigns the ones they want in the mix.

How to find a voice that resonates

For another client, we use our reporting experience to help them "translate" their corporate messaging. In this case, our brand journalists use their firsthand experience talking to customers and the experts who influence them to describe a voice that resonates. This enables us -- and thus, other members of your creative team -- to tune into the right tone that creates a writer persona that sounds like the person your customers want and need to hear from -- and evolve it for different points along the buy/decision process.

We've got other ways to help you know your audience better and produce more content that truly meets your needs. Holler.

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The Word Factory's gear boxStop Overlooking Operations

If you've been reading this blog for more than a hot second, you've noticed I write an awful lot about process. I love creativity and strategy as much as the next marketer, but the truth is, those are the places is where good ideas go to die unless there's a process for executing them.

And, importantly, process is frequently what separates successful content marketing and brand journalism from the rest.

It's not skill -- I can teach you how to be a better writer, or I can hire in help who already is.

It's not capacity -- Again, I can usually find the dough to fund an important writing project.

It's process.

Content operations isn't sexy, but it's where the action really is.

If you're not meeting your goals or getting the results you want, take a closer look at how you make content. That's the best way to stop grinding your gears and start producing more and better content.

Content Operations Audit Step One

Start at the beginning, before the writing even starts, to evaluate how you find and form content ideas and sources.Key questions include: Where do good ideas come from and how can we vet them faster? How do we find the best sources? Who furnishes KWs, CTAs and meta data?

Content Operations Audit Step Two

Then consider every step along the writing process to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies and opportunities to be more effective. Key questions include: How do we pre-write, draft and revise? Can we create templates for the formats we use most? Do we know how to consistently create good writing?

Content Operations Audit Step Three

Don't forget to look at what happens to the content after it's written. Key questions include: What does the revision and approval process look like? How does the content get published?

Content Operations Audit Step Four

Compile the list of findings and recommendations. Then discuss them with core members of the content team and other stakeholders who are required in the process. Create steps and take them for a test drive till you find the right operational flow for your team.

I used this process to help The Recording Academy understand how its various content teams produced content and to create a shared process that worked for everyone and produce better results. We involved managers, writers/producers, tech and internal clients in investigating the existing procedures and developing new ones. The result was a work flow that improved creativity, speed to publish and crucial KPIs.

Read more tips for better content operations.




Came across this interesting insight from The Next Web in a SmartBrief round-up this morning:

Today we have plenty of evidence that deeper, research-backed, and longer-form content has more potential to be shared and drive links over time. Sharing of magazine articles, which tend to be longer than 1,000 words, is up 11.3 percent since December. Longform and evergreen content remains the domain of B2B, but perhaps it’s time for more B2C brands to accept the data and its implications and stop demanding that everything be “snackable.”

Our B2C clients are already investing in longer form content. The longer content is more discoverable because it gives us more real estate to deliver relevant details, include quotes and data from credible sources (all linked back, of course) and makes it much easier to authentically include long-tail key words and semantical search terms that push search.

The benefits continue when searchers arrive at the site. Data shows that the longer articles help site visitors "self-serve" more effectively via contextual and related content links that guide them through out the site based on their own specific interests. And satisfied readers are more likely to share articles they find useful.

But some marketers blanch when they hear the call for longer form content. In many cases, this is because they're already having a tough time creating enough short form stuff. I hear you. But relax. It doesn't have to be so difficult.

TL;DR image10 Ways to Easily Write Longer Form Content

To avoid the dreaded TL;DR, don't focus on just adding words. Instead, add information of actual value to consumers by augmenting content with crucial details:

  • Examples are particularly valuable to people who aren't quite ready to make a decision.
  • Explanations matter most to people who want to know more about an issue or process.
  • Evidence is crucial for all content consumers, but especially for those who are ready to decide or need validation for their decision.

Here's how to add vital details and make content longer without padding it like your high school term paper:

  1. Testimonials 
  2. Mini Case Studies
  3. First-Person Accounts
  4. Hypothetical Situation
  5. How-to Information
  6. Quotes from SMEs
  7. Properly Cited Data and Facts
  8. Infographics, Charts and Graphs
  9. User-Generated Content
  10. Excerpts from Related Content on Your Site

These are the techniques our brand journalists use to produce those deeper-dive articles B2B and B2C consumers like to read.

Use these tips to write  longer content from scratch, or to revise evergreen and other high-value content to provide more information. Deploy these with your internal team, freelancers and your agencies so all your content creators know how to add value with longer content.

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