by Lauren Sergy, founder of Up Front Communication
For many small businesses, marketing budgets are thin to non-existent. While many turn to social media and websites for inexpensive advertising, local speaking opportunities can provide exceptional marketing value with virtually no direct cost.
The power in speaking as a marketing platform lies in the fact that face to face interaction increases trust and lets people meet you on a more personal level. Speaking directly to an audience accelerates the know-like-trust factor while enhancing your credibility. Speaking gives you the opportunity to provide immediate value to people, to demonstrate your abilities, and to chat with them informally afterwards. People get to see you in action, experience your professionalism and skill first-hand.
Finding an audience.
As this is intended to be a low-to-no cost marketing activity, you will be focused on your local market. Search your area for service clubs, professional associations, and business networking groups. Many of these organizations hold monthly meetings with guest speakers. Some may limit speaking opportunities to their own members, but many are eager to bring in a fresh face from outside their organization.
Another excellent venue for public speaking are conferences and professional development events. Organizers of these events need speakers for their concurrent sessions. Proposals for sessions from outside the conference’s target industry are often welcome. A productivity coach, for instance, may provide a time management technique session at an urban planners or teachers conference.
Even if you’re running an online business, public speaking allows you to reach customers in your own backyard. Additionally, you can leverage your local talks into interesting content for your website. Announce upcoming talks to build excitement. When you give a talk, record it, upload it (in part or in whole) and make it available via YouTube and on your website. This gives online customers the chance to watch you speak to a live audience, and can turn a single talk into a highly leveraged marketing tool.
Shouldn’t I be paid for this?
Most speaking opportunities for associations, clubs, conferences, and so on will be unpaid. While some organizations may offer a small honorarium or a charitable donation in your name, most do not compensate their speaker. But the purpose of this activity is marketing – not breaking into the professional speaking circuit.
Still, it takes a lot of time to prepare and practice these presentations, so spend your time wisely. You are doing this to generate business, so only present to groups that fit your client description.
Again, this is a marketing activity, so be shameless in seeking attention. That is your compensation. Encourage the organization to trumpet your talk as much as possible via social media, on their website, in their newsletters, and so on. Make it easy for them by providing them with a professional headshot, a very brief description of your business, your bio, and all your contact information including social media handles.
Good content, good contact.
When it comes to the talk itself, the best presentations are highly focused on one skill or idea. The talk should provide people with information they can immediately apply to a particular aspect of their work – such as a run-down of anti-spam laws, or a current best practice for recruiting on LinkedIn. The key here is to provide the attendees with a sample of your expertise while giving them memorable skills or information they can easily share with others.
While some people put a strong sales pitch into their presentation, it has been my experience that this should be avoided. First, many organizations explicitly ban pitching during presentations. Second, even if pitching isn’t banned, the audience usually turns off as soon as the speaker goes into sales mode. That being said, it is absolutely acceptable to let the audience know what your business is and invite them to contact you. Often the event host will incorporate this into your introduction and the thank-yous at the end of the talk. If you are using a slideshow, have your name, business name, website, and full contact info as your final slide.
Always make sure you stay after your talk and hang around after the meeting concludes. I find that people always want to speak with me after a presentation, and this is where you can make valuable new contacts. Bring lots of business cards, ask people for theirs, and send them follow-up emails. If you have a newsletter, bring a sign-up sheet so that people may subscribe on their way out the door.
But I’m not a public speaker!
Don’t let a lack of speaking experience stop you from finding and pursuing speaking opportunities. If you are informative and engaging, the audience won’t care one whit how many presentations you have under your belt. They are interested in you your expertise, your message, and if all goes well, your products or services. Prepare and practice thoroughly, bring your enthusiasm, and you’ll do just fine. And don’t give up after one talk; hunt down opportunities, refine your talks, and give more presentations. Not only will you become a better speaker, you’ll even come to enjoy it!
Lauren Sergy, founder of Up Front Communication, is a public speaking and presentations coach and trainer. Her unique speaking and coaching method engages both mind and body, incorporating techniques from acting, radio, psychology, marketing, and more. Lauren walks the public speaking talk with regular lecturing and presenting at a wide variety of events. Her first book, the Handy Communication Answer Book, will hit the shelves in winter 2016. You can connect with her on Twitter @lsergy.