Being a Mozcon Community Speaker: A Look Inside

Zeph Snapp

I stood there for a second, enjoying the moment.  Not really moving, just savoring the feeling of being in this place.  With these people.  Remembering that this combination of hard work, opportunity and good fortune might never be repeated.

Mozcon.  Fucking Mozcon!

“I’m looking forward to the memories of RIGHT NOW” – Drake


As a kid, one of my favorite stories was Ferdinand the Bull.  If you don’t remember, it is about a very gentle bull who is chosen to go to the bullfights, and when he gets there, instead of fighting, he sits down to smell the flowers that all the pretty girls have in their hair.


It was a bit like that.

I knew that I only had 15 minutes, and I wanted to rock it.  But I also wanted to enjoy that moment, because it was special.  It meant something.  It meant a lot.

Have you ever had a moment where you knew that you would remember everything about it for the rest of your life? I feel very fortunate to have had three:  The day my wife said yes, the day my son was born, and the day I spoke at Mozcon.

In all three cases, I’d over prepared, but was glad I had, because it was everything I expected it to be, and more.

I first pitched Mozcon as a community speaker the first year they offered that option in 2012.  I didn’t get it, and that was for the best.  I had never spoken or attended a digital marketing conference, and was completely unprepared for what I saw when I arrived in Seattle.  The production values were amazing, the speakers were excellent, and the attendees were all very, very qualified.

So when I got an email from Erica, that fall asking if I wanted to be a part of the Mozinar series.  I jumped at the opportunity.   In November we did Foreign Language SEO, the New Long-Tail.   The Mozinar, and its acompanying post were great for the visibility of our company.  It landed us a big client who is still with us two years later.  It was the most exposure we had ever had.

In 2013, I was an honorable mention.  At the time I was devastated, but when I got to the conference, I was actually relieved.  1400 people when I had NEVER spoken at a search conference?

I was determined that 2014 would be my year.  I had people from the team tell me not to give up, that I had been very, very close but that my topic just didn’t fit with that year’s program.  They weren’t wrong.  But Mozcon brought more serendipity. I met the organizers of two first class regional conferences, SearchFest and State of Search, two first class regional conferences.  I was invited to speak at both, albeit on topics that were outside of my comfort zone.  Both shows were amazing experiences, and deserve blog posts in their own right.

I did another Mozinar, but this time about Spanish Digital Marketing. I hired a photographer to do my transition slides and a designer to polish my deck.  I practiced and practiced and practiced.  I bought a podcasting mic so that the sound quality would be better.  In short, I planned to show I was ready for the big show.

Pitching 2014

I felt much more confident about my pitch this year.  I had some experience under my belt, and I had a better idea of what the selection team was looking for.  I also had the distinct advantage that there was nobody speaking about anything related to international marketing yet.  Where most of my colleagues had to compete against the other speakers as well as everyone who had a pitch, I had this lane to myself.

I had a catchy title that lent itself to a theme (which I later changed), but my ace in the hole was that we’d built a piece of software that (while still in very early stages), would be ready to give away.  And everybody likes free stuff!

I put together the pitch quickly, ran it past a couple of good friends, and turned it in.

What Happened When I was selected

I pretty much flipped my shit.  Erica asked me to keep it quiet until the official announcement.


But pretty much right after that, I got to work, because I knew that I was going to have to bring my A+ game.

 Prepping the Deck

Mozcon is on another level, and I knew that I was going to need to go next level as well.  First we (I have a great team) laid out all of the content I wanted to share.  Then we started dividing it up into digestible sections.  Then we started thinking of themes.  Thematic decks can be a crutch (I did one using the movie The Patriot for SearchFest), but I am not above it when it feels right.  Originally, I wanted to do something around 90’s hair bands, as the title of the presentation was More Than Words like the song by Extreme.

But it was hard to make the images match the points, so we decided to go in another direction.  Since the topic was international, and the World Cup was going on, it felt like a good fit.  Once we had this decision made, our excellent designer started putting together some templates that fit, and my team went to work on the images.

There were some touch-and-go moments, but overall we were ahead of the curve and got our deck in on time.  Note:  Many conferences don’t even ask to review your deck before you present.  This is NOT the case with Mozcon.  Erica wants to see all decks two weeks before so that she can make sure that the content and the design were up to snuff.

In my case, her fear was that I would run over.  It was a valid concern, as I was trying to pack 45 minutes of information into a 15 minute presentation.  My deck was 55 slides!  So I recorded the presentation for her to review.  It was 17 minutes long, which meant I was going to need to cut at least some content (which sucks because I felt like I was short on actionable material.

 Preparing the Speech

Generally when I’m speaking, I’ll run through the speech three or four times before giving it.  That is because in our industry, if it sounds too rehearsed, people can feel it, and they don’t like it as much.  For this event though, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.  I rehearsed over 100 times, sometimes for friends over skype or G+ Hangouts, sometimes for the man in the mirror.  I recorded it various times, and despite the fact that I hate hearing my recorded voice (gives me the creeps), I listened to the recordings and tried to pick out what was not working.  By the time I got on my flight, I was sick of it.  That is when I knew that I was ready.

 In Seattle

I got to Seattle on Saturday, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the trip for me ends up being about 18 hours, from doorstep to doorstep, and I wanted to be fresh for the conference.  Also, Sunday is traditionally a great day for networking, as everyone is arriving and immediately wants to have a drink and start talking.

After hanging out with some old friends, I had to head over to the Washington Convention Center for our opportunity to see our deck on 40 foot screens and get a feel for the room.  Even though I had been there before, nothing really prepares you for the size of that venue.  It is huge.  As I looked around, I literally got goose bumps, a feeling that was repeated on numerous occasions throughout the week.  Erica gave us our number, and everyone had 2-3 minutes on stage to flip through their deck, get used to the mic, and walk around.

The speakers were milling around, chatting amongst themselves, feeling pretty at ease.  I gravitated towards the other community speakers, trying to contain myself (and failing).

Most of the speakers would get on stage, flip through their slides, and call it a day.  Some would have font issues, but after being assured that these would be fixed, they’d get shrug, and wrap it up.  When it was my turn, I wanted to take full advantage.  I looked at my slides critically.  Trying to see if there were any there were fuzzy (there were), and if any shouldn’t be included.  I also spoke into the mike, going through some of my points.  I wanted to see how the sound would carry, if the jokes were funny, just… everything.


(Me warming up.  That slide is of the aftermath of Luis Suarez biting someone. Such a great slide)

There came a point where I could see that my turn was over, so I jumped (literally) off the stage, and gave up my spot.  I told Erica that I wanted to change a couple of the images.  She was not pleased, but understood that I wanted to do the very best job I could.  However, she did give me homework:

Several of the speakers were not really part of the SEO community, and were kind of off by themselves, checking their phones.  Knowing that I am a connector, she asked me to introduce them to others, and integrate them into the group.

I would have done that even if she didn’t ask me, but I figured, OK!  So I went over to Kerry Bodine, and started asking about her business, her speaking engagements and experience.  Turns out she is super nice, very accomplished, and presenting on a topic that we all needed to hear about, even if we didn’t want to!  Once I had introduced her to a couple of folks, I went over to Jeremy Bloom, who was the other guy doing his own thing.  Starting a conversation with him turned out to be super easy, as we went to the same college (my buddies were super pumped that I was going to meet him), and I saw him play football on various occasions.

The Speakers dinner was a blur of fantastic cocktails, great food and fantastic conversation.  I sat between Matthew J Brown (one of my mentors and advocates) and Tori Cushing, who is doing awesome work over at Authority Labs, and is also a pro dancer!  I also got to sit across from one of my favorite people in the world, Geraldine, who in my opinion is FAR more interesting than her husband, some dude named Randy.

I always get to breakfast early since I’m on Central time, but also because I love the networking aspect of getting there early.  Someone described Mozcon to me as summercamp for grownups (If you said it, remind me, I’ll link you), and that rings true.  I was really pumped to see all my friends, and meet some new ones!  There came a moment when everyone rushed into the room, trying to make sure they got a great seat.  For once I big-timed them, and went and sat in one of the front rows that are set aside for Mozzers and speakers.  It’s the little things J.

The whole day, people were coming up to me, asking me if I was ready for my speech.  I felt like I was supposed to say that I was nervous, but the truth is, I wasn’t.  Just excited.  The sessions were great, but I had trouble focusing, knowing that it would be my turn soon.

That night I went to the #Mozcrawl, intending to take it easy so I wasn’t ruined the next day on stage.  I ended up staying out until midnight, hanging out with different groups of people like my man Dev, giving pounds on the run, and generally enjoying my friends while keeping my alcohol consumption low.

I ended up walking home from Capitol Hill, and when my phone lost its charge, I decided to run through my deck verbally.  I only ran into a couple of people, but when I did, I would smile (trying not to look like a crazy person) and just keep talking about translation options and the like.

 The Day Of Reckoning


I woke up at 5 am, and jumped out of bed right away.  I jumped in the shower and heard Nas’ Cherry Wine come on and got super emotional about the whole thing.  Started thinking about how I started this company in my spare bedroom 3.5 years ago, all the people who had worked with me, my family, industry folks who had helped, encouraged, critiqued… I sat down right then and wrote out a Facebook post and tagged as many of them as I could remember.  It felt good to recognize them.  I vowed to pay it forward.

Once I got some exercise (always helps relax me before something big) I planned out completely.  What sessions I could watch, when I would step out to do my final run-through, the whole bit.

When the time came for the community speakers to get mic’ed up and ready I walked over and started getting set up.  Justin, Steph and Mark were friendly, but everyone was focused on their process, so I tried to give everyone their space.  I’m sure I was grinning like an idiot, I was so pumped.

The sound guy told me a story about how he once felt Bill Gates crotch, which was funny and relaxing as well (Poor dude.  The sound guy, not Gates.  My rule is, if you could buy Panama, I don’t feel sorry for you).  Right after that I got a tweet that had put my deck on the front page, which was awesome considering I hadn’t even presented!

Walking out, I felt a little like when I used to pitch in little league.  I always took sports seriously, and I would get into this energized place where I just wanted to go out and throw as hard as I could.

While Mark was on-stage I had trouble focusing, and mostly just paced.  But once Steph got on stage, I went into this zone where I was hyperfocused on what she was saying (and let’s be real, that was one of the most actionable speeches of the conference.  Seriously awesome stuff).

And then… it was my turn.

And I still wasn’t nervous.  I looked at the crowd, and got chills.  Amazing.

Once I got on-stage, it was just like I thought it was going to be.

No, that isn’t true, it was better.

I added jokes that I hadn’t thought of, made fun of myself, and shared what I had planned.  It wasn’t flawless, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t even look at the clock until I was on my last slide, but saw that I’d stayed under 18 minutes, so that was great.

And as promised, when I finished, my good friend Greg Gifford yelled GOOOOOAAAL like a Spanish soccer announcer, which was awesome.

But to see all of those faces looking at me, enjoying (or not) what I had to say was as powerful as any narcotic.  When Q & A was over, I didn’t want to leave the stage.  I wanted to stay there forever.


The Afterglow

After the talk, I was just buzzing.  I had the chance to talk to Ian Lurie, he told me “now you are addicted”.  And he wasn’t far off.  It is easy to see how captivating the experience can be.  Getting so much attention from so many people seems almost dangerous.

For example, while I felt pretty good about my speech, people were coming up to me and saying “you killed it!” or, “that was amazing!”  I would ask these folks for some constructive criticism (always looking to improve), and most people would just shrug.  And while that is great, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t true.  But I imagine if enough people tell you that, you start to believe it yourself.  And that is what concerns me.

When does being a public speaker become such a big part of your identity that it defines who you are?  That you start to believe these people who want to take pictures with you, invite you to exotic locals, and take your word as gospel?

The fact of the matter is that our SEO/Inbound/Digital Marketing world is much smaller than any of us care to admit.  No matter how “SEO Famous” you become, there is no excuse for allowing that to cloud the things that are really important.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t consider myself in the same class as a lot of these speakers.  I’ve done four events, total.  But the slip from being a business owner to being a public speaker is a very easy slide.

Which is why I’m not even thinking about speaking engagements until State of Search in November.  It is time for me to get back to the best part of the job… doing the work.  Building up the team.  Giving our clients value.

I never want to be thought of as a Marketing Speaker, but as a marketer who speaks.

 The Aftermath

The first thing people ask me is “how many leads did you get”.  I say none.  Because that is not what this kind of thing is about. Companies rarely meet me and immediately hire Altura.  More often, they speak to me, and six months later someone suggests marketing to Hispanics, at which point I get a call or an email.

So that is not how I will measure the success of this experience.  I won’t even measure it by the ratings that I get from the audience (although I wouldn’t mind being in the top 10).  It was a success because it forced me to up my game (Erica is a tough to please, as she should be).  Because from here on out, I can put Mozcon Speaker on every pitch I send out.  But mostly because Marshall Simmonds, Mike Ramsey and Geraldine follow me on Twitter (what can I say, I’m shallow).

So that’s it.  It was an incredible experience, one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.  I’m not saying that it is all downhill from here, but damn, it was pretty amazing.

And if you made it all the way through this post, so are you.  And you deserve something for your trouble.  So drop me a line at zeph [at] alturainteractive [dot] com, and I’ll send you a little present the next time I’m in the US.

You’re still here?

It’s over.

Go home!

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