Talking Shop

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: Daily Journal Extra

Speaking engagements can raise lawyers’ visibility and enhance their credibility,
which in turn can open the door to new business opportunities.

 

Creating visibility and building credibility are cornerstones of a lawyer’s success in marketing. One of the most effective ways to do this is by getting yourself on the speaking circuit. Giving talks in your area of expertise to your target audiences is an extremely efficient way of generating awareness of you and your firm and demonstrating your credibility as an expert. These “marketing talks” usually are not paid engagements, except for an occasional honorarium.

You may have had a few of these presentation opportunities fall into your lap. Perhaps an organization in which you’re involved has asked you to serve on a panel, or a colleague has asked you to give a presentation. As you may have experienced, these engagements can offer you an extremely valuable way to market your services. So how do you identify more of these kinds of opportunities and maximize their potential?

You should use the same basic marketing principles in obtaining speaking engagements that you and your firm use to build your business. First, pinpoint the target audiences that have the potential to bring you business, whether they are an audience of prospective clients or of referral sources. This might include accountants, realtors, attorneys whose practice is different from yours, bankers or other industry groups. Second, determine the appropriate geographic area, and decide whether you want your target to be citywide, statewide, regional or national.

Nearly every conceivable industry has trade associations that are always on the lookout for programming that will interest their members. Prioritize those industries that can be most valuable to you. For example, if you target manufacturers and distributors, every product has at least one trade organization.

Where can you find these organizations and associations? An easy way is to search the Internet. Additionally, trade associations and organizations appear in a variety of published directories. The most well-known is Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations, which is sold by subscription and is in many libraries.

Consider what topics would be of interest to the audiences you’re focusing on and would underline your areas of expertise. Think of potential subject matter as an onion, with the skin being the most obvious topic. While this may be of interest, chances are that the audience has heard it from another lawyer, maybe several times. Look underneath the onion skin to get creative. How can you tie this same topic to the issues affecting this group?

The title of your talk is critical. It’s like a headline. If it doesn’t catch the decision maker’s attention right away, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the substance is.

Make the title punchy, and tie it as closely as possible to the group you’re speaking to. Consider tying it in with something in the news so it sounds fresh. Ideally, you’ll want to develop several presentation topics to present so that you’ll have somewhere else to go if your first suggestion is rejected.

Before you approach any group, prepare a one-page write-up for each topic because you’ll probably be asked to submit something in writing. This outline should explain why your topic is of interest, define the intended audience and discuss the pertinent information that will be reviewed.

Your outline also should include a few sentences about you, including your legal background, your firm and other groups you’ve addressed. Keep in mind that this write-up is designed to convince the decision maker and the audience they should listen to what you have to say. This is marketing copy, not a legal brief. Focus on being attention-getting yet professional. Also, consider putting your photo on the flier.

Once you’ve identified your target audiences, develop the database of groups for which you’d like to speak. Contact the organization to see where and when their meetings are held and who is responsible for programming. Most groups have a specific individual charged with developing programs. Sometimes, however, the decision is made in conjunction with their board.

When you contact a group, find out what types of topics interest the members and what they’ve heard recently. Be sure to demonstrate that you’re interested in delivering useful information to the audience, not using it as a selling forum.

Once you talk to the decision maker, you may need to go back and tweak your writeups or create an entirely new one. Tailor your write-up as much as you can to the specific group or industry. Adding a couple of “hot” buttons relevant to their industry and adding the industry name to the title will pack more punch than generic copy that can pertain to anyone. If you have any letters that are testimonials to your speaking ability, consider including those along with the write-up.

Remember that most organizations book speakers many months ahead, so they may not have an opening for many months. Don’t let that stop you. Just start getting the pipeline filled even if the flow won’t start for a while. Since these programs may be booked far in advance, cancellations can occur. When speaking with a program chair, be sure to mention that you are available to pinch-hit if another speaker cancels.

Once you’ve sent your write-up to interested program chairs, pleasantly persistent follow-up is the single most important factor that will get you speaking engagements. If the decision maker tells you that they’ll be having a board meeting next month to review possible topics, put a tickler in your calendar to give that person a call a day or two after the meeting. Most decision makers have volunteered to be program chair and have “day” jobs that don’t include keeping you in their thoughts. You need to create that awareness.

When you are starting, be careful about turning down any offers to speak because you think they are beneath you. This holds true even for experienced speakers. Speaking to a group of local businesspeople may not result in a large corporate client immediately but can lead to other things. Many a national or regional speaking engagement has come out of a smaller situation when someone in the audience happens to be program chair for the organization’s national conference.

At the end of your talk, be sure to thank your audience and say that you’d be happy to talk with them about speaking for other organizations they may be involved in, including other chapters of the same organizations in nearby areas.

Make it a habit to collect written testimonials about your speaking ability. As you move up the speaking ladder to organizations where speaking opportunities are more competitive, you’ll be asked for references. Having those at hand will make your life a lot easier than backtracking and rounding them up.

The timing of results from your speaking can vary by practice area. Most attorneys rarely walk away from a talk with an immediate new client or a referral. Although people hear your talk and like what you have to say, they may not need your services today or have a referral to offer. However, they may need you in the future.

At the end of your talk, you always can offer to place audience members on your mailing list so they’ll receive the informative material you send out. Another tactic is to have a drawing for a prize such as a book related to your topic. Ask everyone who’d like to participate to put their business card in the basket. Select a card at the end of your talk, present the prize and put appropriate attendees in your database.

Make sure the material you distribute at your talk has your name and your firm’s name and contact information. This may seem obvious, but it often is overlooked.

It is always a good idea to put your promotional skills to work before and after your speaking engagement by announcing your talk on your firm’s Web site. Send out the organization’s announcement about your speaking engagement along with a handwritten note to those who might be interested in attending. E-mail those in your database to let them know about your presentation.

After the engagement, follow up with your attendees by distributing some informative material related to your talk. And keep yourself in front of them. They’ve had an opportunity to see you in action and are primed when your name comes up again. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing your presentation. Leverage this work by making the investment go as far as it can. Convert your talk into an article, and get it published. Order reprints for display in your lobby, distribute it through your mailing list and post the article on your Web site.

Speaking engagements can raise your visibility and enhance your credibility, which can open the door to new business opportunities. Educating and informing your audience can be an effective way to market your practice and promote your firm. Getting yourself on the speaking circuit just requires the same type of marketing savvy that you use to market your practice.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing and public relations firm that specializes in law firms. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.

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