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Public speaking to help grow your business

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Speaking to the right audience about your products or services is an invaluable marketing opportunity. One of the most memorable experiences of my own marketing career, and perhaps the most frightening, was a time I had to fly on short notice to Canada to present a one-hour new product speech to a large group of science professionals in replacement of my boss.

Did I mention I had been employed with the company for just a few months? I got through it somehow and even received an ovation. I have enjoyed public speaking ever since.

The right opportunity

I don’t want to write about the fear of speaking, but rather about public speaking as an important opportunity to help you to grow your brand as well as your business and services.

Always start out with the strategic thought of who you want to reach and a general topic that is likely to meet that audience’s needs. The topic should be a timely one of value to your own business as well.

Once you or your marketing support staff decide the possible topics, the next step is to contact event organizers. There are numerous speaking opportunities at conferences or meetings, and the planners often seek new speakers and topics.

Initially check prospective organizations’ websites to determine the recent topics presented at their local or national meetings. This will allow you to adjust your topic suggestions to introduce a new or enhanced aspect to their previous offerings.

For example, if you are suggesting a topic due to a change in the law, it is helpful to know you are the first to suggest it to the sponsoring group. It’s also good to have two possible topics to pitch.

If the event planner turns you down, follow-up with a thanks, a bio or resume, and a request for consideration in the future. And look elsewhere, keeping in mind that some planners work many months in advance of their events.  Just don’t be discouraged if you encounter a delay until you are selected to speak.

Effective presentations

Once you have obtained the perfect speaking gig, the real work begins. You can easily search for numerous suggestions on Google, but the most important effort is to PRACTICE your presentation beforehand. Time it out and find a test audience of your co-workers or friends.

Once you start on the talk, identify and state your desired outcome for the audience and yourself. Include relevant anecdotes and examples for a personal touch.

The best presenters go beyond showing off their important knowledge of a topic by showing passion or enthusiasm. Watch a few Ted Talks on YouTube to see polished examples. Your talk should be conversational (not stiff or memorized) and slowly paced with spare use of slides or video.

Your presentation should be positive and without excuses — no one cares if your plane was late or you slept poorly (or if you had to replace your far more experienced boss in the presentation.) Although you can and should mention your business and experience in your introduction, limit the self-advertising in the substance of the talk.

Speak several minutes less than the allocated time slot and include the opportunity for a Q&A period. Always end by thanking the audience attendees for their time, and distribute a relevant handout at the very end that includes your contact information.

To leverage your time spent on presentations as a marketing tool, you can pre-promote the speaking engagement on your own LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media sites.

You should also follow-up with similar updates after the presentation. If you were able to obtain a list of attendees at the talk, an important advance request to the event planner, it’s a good idea to add those contacts to your social media sites very soon after the talk.

With the right efforts to prepare and present well on timely topics to the right audiences, it’s hard to develop a better marketing strategy for expanding your brand and business base.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Marketing & Strategic Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net.

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