Effective public speaking is key to capturing your audience’s attention to understand your message, and ultimately get more business from it. Over the past 15 years, I have spoken about business development to help professionals obtain more business from their efforts. These groups have ranged from five people to more than 1,000. At the end of the day, there are two purposes to speaking that are paramount.
First, it’s about building your name and brand to be seen as an expert in your chosen field. Second, it’s to get actual business from the time invested. The unfortunate truth for many attorneys is that they may not be accomplishing either one of these goals.
Here are three tips that I help my clients with on a regular basis. In some cases, these tips have been game changers in their careers.
Tip No. 1—Choose wisely when deciding where to speak
One of the biggest mistakes I’m witnessing is attorneys who will speak practically anywhere to try to get their names out there and attract new business. While this might be OK to try out new material or build your speaking skills, finding the right place and audience is really where the value is.
When thinking about your target audience, I always recommend two categories: First, the people who actually buy legal services like CEOs, CFOs and general counsel; second, the people who can routinely refer you to the people who buy legal services like attorneys in other practice areas, accountants, bankers and so forth.
While it’s not always easy to get audiences like these, it’s what you need to shoot for to build your book as a speaker in your marketplace.
One example of a failure to identify the right audience occurred with one of my clients about a year ago. He is a well-regarded speaker in the mergers and acquisition field. He’s always out there speaking and sharing his words of wisdom. The problem we found was in his audience—other M&A attorneys.
Essentially, he was sharing his work, ideas and research with his competition, with the hope that someone would refer him. When I asked how many referrals he had received over the past 10 years of speaking to his peers, the look in his face said it all.
Zero point zero.
Now, I’m sure there are exceptions where magic happened and big deals were landed with the wrong audience, but we can also buy lottery tickets everyday, too. The goal with any business development activity is to hedge your bets by being smart and focused in your approach. Here are a few ideas to help you find the best audience and venue to speak:
- Research your competition to see where they are speaking.
- Speak to other lawyers who regularly speak to find the best venues.
- Define a niche that no one else is speaking in and leverage it to get better gigs.
- Make a list of associations, groups and settings that make sense for you and call the leader to discuss a speaking opportunity.
- Create your own venue at your firm and invite your own clients and strategic partners to hear you speak. Have them bring their friends.
Tip No. 2—Develop a plan to ensure steps aren’t skipped
One of the worst feelings a lawyer can have is investing a ton of time and energy into a marketing effort and watching it fail. Sometimes you know it’s a bomb right away, other times you don’t know until months later.
The reason most goals aren’t met is because there was never agoal to start with. Think about it. The Olympics will start in a couple of weeks. Do you think these athletes don’t have a plan? What they eat, how they sleep, where they practice and who their coach is are all elements of winning. Jumping into the speaking circuit or continuing without the results you desire is simply not acceptable.
Developing a plan can be easy if you follow a few simple steps:
As mentioned before, you must find the right audience and setting. Make a list of targets and contact them.
Think about what you need to get together before speaking. This might include a solid slide presentation that’s interactive, collateral material that includes your contact info or a survey that will be completed at the end of the program. This should ask each participant if he or she would like to have a more in-depth business discussion with you.
How are you interacting with the audience? Don’t read your bullet points! Tell stories and share analogies that connect with the people attending. Try to make the presentation entertaining as well as educational.
Have a follow-up plan. It’s too easy to collect cards or surveys and stack them on your desk for a week or a month. This is the single greatest killer of opportunities. These prospective clients must be called within 48 hours of your presentation, while they’re still remembering how impressed they were with you. Don’t miss this step!
Tip No. 3—Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Have you ever heard that before? It’s true and I can prove it. I was on the driving range two weeks ago practicing my golf swing. I hit a bucket of balls and then I went out to play a round of golf. The next week I did the same thing again. Have I gotten better from this practice? Of course not! The reason my game doesn’t improve is that I’m practicing the same bad habits and swing every week.
When trying to get higher level speaking gigs, it’s important to be regarded as one of the best. Not only do people understand your level of expertise, you become more desirable as a speaker. This means bigger and better opportunities to speak to the audiences that you want.
The best way to accomplish this feat is to improve your speaking skills. Again, reading your PowerPoint slides or speaking monotone to a group just isn’t going to cut it. You need to be prepared with your content, practice it and then make improvements before speaking again.
Last week I had a presentation in front of a law firm of about 50 attorneys. At the end of the program, one of the attorneys approached me to compliment me on the presentation. It seemed a bit unusual, but he mentioned that he was tracking how many times I said “um” during my 75-minute presentation. Weird right?
To me this was an amazing compliment because years ago my speeches were littered with “ums” and “uhs”. This was one of those practice and improve moments that I had after watching video of myself speaking. Back then I counted more than 40 “ums” and “uhs”.
Regardless of your area of practice or years as a lawyer, you can make it as a speaker if you find the right subject, the right audience and if you work to improve your performance as you go.
Many clients found success in publish speaking by acknowledging and fixing their issues. Speaking is one of those business development steps you may knowingly or unknowingly make to establish your name and business.