First, let’s acknowledge a universal truth: Nobody likes public speaking. At least, not at first. Standing in front of a group of strangers can be nerve-wracking. Luckily, there’s a cure, and it’s simple: practice, practice, practice.
Few things make as much client seduction sense as speaking. Your prospects get to see you and hear you sharing expertise without any risk. Speeches are a perfect opportunity to be seen, heard, and most important, remembered.
Securing speaking engagements, however, is not as easy as throwing your name into a hat. You have to prove yourself and your credentials: A strong business track record, a unique message worth hearing, and compelling speaking skills.
If you need to learn how to speak, join Toastmasters. Not only is such a group likely to attract other success-oriented professionals, it’s also a great, low-threat way to pick up practical pointers, watch other dynamic speakers in action, and begin to get used to the idea of speaking to groups.
Start with family, friends and colleagues. Just ask. As with other things in life, our circle of influence is often more connected to what we want than we might realize. Want to talk to local hiring managers at technology firms? Ask around and you might be surprised how many people in your network can suggest groups you might approach.
Package yourself. Write a one-page letter that explains who you are, what your background is, and three to five topics on which you are prepared to speak. Make this your standard “speech pitch.” Also make sure you have a one-paragraph biography, introductory paragraphs for each speech, and a pre-written introduction (to YOU) available for the people who book you.
Prepare a 30-second commercial for your speaking. Condense what you have to offer to an audience as much as possible: “I’m Joann Blough, and I’m an expert on Tax Savings. I speak to more than twenty groups a year on unique tax strategies, leveraging international tax law, and expanding tax savings through an international approach.” Use this “elevator speech” when you network and socialize.
Search the Internet for directories of clubs and organizations.. This kind of directory can be an invaluable resource when you’re sending out emails offering your speaking services.
Contact group staff and committee members, who can tell you about each group’s procedures for selecting speakers.
Contact university continuing education instructors in your field and offer to be a guest lecturer. Be sure to use handouts that are printed on your stationery that includes your phone number and Web address. Extended studies students are often more motivated, better educated and more attuned to forming alliances than the average person in the industry.
Or, get paid to speak—as a university extension instructor, or with such organizations as The Learning Annex.
Offer to do in-house training for corporations. It’s a low-pressure way to hone your skills and really dig deeply into your subject of expertise. You’ll also discover the need to make your speaking more interesting and animated when you’re working with a group for a longer period of time—good lessons for anybody who wants to spend more time at the podium.
Approach conferences that are scheduled to take place in your area, or in your industry. Send them your speaker’s introduction kit and topic list. Follow up with a phone call.
After a speech, offer to hold a small roundtable discussion for those who are interested. This can be later in the day, at a coffee break or over cocktails, and is a great way to solidify your position as a trustworthy expert, and to extend the impact and influence of what you’ve said to the larger group.
Consider going pro. The National Speakers Association (NSA) offers practice and networking for experts who get paid to speak. Once you’re proficient at talking about your expertise, check them out and watch the opportunities expand.
When trying to woo and win clients, professionals and consultants need to remember that nobody loves a salesman. Just ask Scott Love. “The problem with actively selling your professional services to prospective clients is that it screams, ‘I have no business right now,’” says Love, an author and an internationally recognized expert on leadership. “And if you have no business, how good can you be?”
Love maintains that prospects only want to do business with the sought-after and busy consultants, not the ones scrambling for new projects. How good can an empty restaurant be if no one is eating there? How good can a professional be if he has to actively solicit business?
“Instead of selling, focus on bringing the business to you by creating the perception that you are the premier expert in your field,” says Love. “By following four practical steps your credibility factor will skyrocket.”
The most effective way to build credibility is to create a perception that you are the “guru” in your field. Here are Love’s four steps to accomplish that:
Step one: Target the industries in which you work. Clearly identify those industries in which your value is the highest.
Step two: Contact the associations that serve those industries. Initially speak to the editor of the association newsletter and offer articles that they can print for free on a subject in which you are an expert, something that solves a problem of their members or helps them raise the bar.
Step three: The association editors will never turn you down because they are always looking for good content. In fact, put several articles on your Web site as a collection for them to download at will. (For an example of how Love set this up, visit his Web site at http://www.scottlove.com.) Tell them that the articles are already written and they don’t have to worry about deadlines because the work is done. Ask them to send you a copy of the publication and that they must print your non-salesy byline at the end of the article. “And don’t make the byline a commercial,” adds Love. “Have just your name, company name, what you do, and your Web site or e-mail or phone number.”
Step four: Once your article is printed in their magazine or newsletter, contact the head of their education department or their meeting planner for their conventions. Tell them that you are an expert in your field and are recognized by many of their association members. In fact, tell them to turn to page 37 of this month’s magazine so that they can see your article in it. Because you are in their very own publication, they will see you as an expert in their industry. Offer your services in terms of speaking and training for their association.
“Charge for this. Don’t give it away,” says Love. “If you don’t charge for your speaking they will believe that you do not value your time or your message. Sure, they know you’ll get business from it. But you need to charge for it.” Love believes your initial refusal to give it away sends a message that you believe your message has tremendous value.
If it ends up that there is no way at all they will pay you, then negotiate something which costs them nothing, but has value to you. Ideas for free remuneration include: getting their mailing list, being a regular columnist in their newsletter, getting free advertising in their newsletter or a banner link on their site to yours, obtaining free advertising in the conference program guide, receiving free sponsorship of an event, and having a free booth at their convention.
Whenever you can, charge money for your information. When people see that you value your time and your professional expertise, it sends a signal to the association, which is then conveyed to the rest of the industry.
“When you give your presentation, NEVER EVER sell your services from the platform,” says Love. People hate that and will go out of their way for the rest of their lives to never do business with you if they perceive your breakout session to be a 90-minute commercial. Instead, give away all of your secrets and tell your audience that anytime they have a quick question that they can call you for no charge. (Be sure to put your phone number and Web site address at the bottom of every single page of your handouts). The ones that call you are the ones you want to talk to anyway, because they see you as the expert.
“And when they call, give them your best advice, letting them know in advance that you cannot spend more than just a few minutes off the clock with them,” says Love. “They will then see the value of your expertise, and they will inevitably ask for more information on your services if they see a benefit.”
“Follow these steps and watch your business explode,” concludes Love. “By creating credibility in your firm, you will have a hard time keeping up with all the business that will soon seek you out.”
Even though surveys consistently show that people would rather visit their in-laws than speak in front of a group, speeches and presentations are absolutely essential to long-term success for professionals and consultants who follow the Educating Expert Model.