Recently, a client of mine asked, “I do a lot of public speaking — talks at association meetings, presentations at conferences, even workshops. My talks seem to be well-received, but I don’t get many clients from them. Am I missing something?”
Public speaking can be one of the most powerful methods available for an independent professional, consultant, or coach to land new clients. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Before you book your next speaking engagement, ask yourself these five questions to make sure you’re on the right track to turn your audience into clients:
1. Am I speaking to the right audience?
A common practice of many professionals is to speak at meetings of their professional association. In some cases, the members of your industry association may include prospective clients. If you are a computer systems consultant speaking for the Association of Information Technology Professionals, for example, there will be IT directors in the room who might hire you.
But with some associations, the only people in the room may be other independent professionals like you. For example, a professional organizer speaking at the National Association of Professional Organizers would typically not find potential clients there. With associations like these, speaking can build your credibility and stimulate referrals, both of which can ultimately result in clients. But you usually won’t leave the room with people who want to hire you.
The best audiences for landing clients are those that match the profile of your ideal client as closely as possible. A leadership coach trying to reach human resources and training directors would have more success speaking for the American Society for Training and Development than for the Chamber of Commerce. While there certainly could be HR or training directors at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, they would only be a small percentage of that audience.
2. Do I have the right topic?
The topics you speak on should represent the core of your expertise — the body of knowledge and skills that are the primary reason people will decide to work with you. It’s not enough to choose a topic you happen to know something about. You need to speak on a subject that demonstrates you are an expert in the same issues you want to be hired to address.
An accountant should speak on tax savings or financial statements, not on how to manage independent contractors. A graphic designer should speak on crafting a dynamic logo or creative designs for postcards, not on preparing accurate estimates. The accountant or designer may know quite a bit about these secondary topics, but it’s not what people hire them for.
I once gave a talk on time management to an audience of consultants. It was a valuable program, I delivered it well, and the audience matched my ideal client profile. But while I know a lot about time management, it’s not why people hire me. It doesn’t appear on my business card, it isn’t featured on my website, it’s not mentioned in my elevator speech. I didn’t land a single new client as a result of this talk, because the audience couldn’t connect the topic with my work.
3. How will the people in the room find out what I do?
At a typical speaking engagement, you’ll have at least three chances to describe exactly what you do without being overly self-promotional. The first opportunity is when you are introduced. Be sure to write your own brief introduction and give a copy to the program chair or room host for them to read. Don’t let someone else decide what to say about you, as it may not be at all what you want people to know.
Your next opportunity will be in your audiovisual materials. Your program handout and slides should include your professional specialty and the type of clients you serve. On a handout, this information can be in a one-line footer on each page or a longer bio slug at the bottom of the last page. On slides, you can include your occupation on the title page, and a brief description of what you do on the last page. Be sure to include your contact information on both handouts and slides.
Finally, when you conclude your talk, invite people to get in touch with you to explore the possibility of working together. Be as specific as possible in your invitation. For example, a web designer might say, “If you need assistance with launching a new website or updating the look of your current site, I’d be happy to help. There’s never any charge for an initial consultation, and here’s how to contact me.”
4. How can I make my work tangible through a demonstration or examples?
One of the challenges of marketing a service business is that people can’t always grasp the tangible results of your work. Whenever possible, don’t just tell them about it, show it to them. A life coach could demonstrate expert coaching with a volunteer, an interior designer could show slides of her beautiful interiors, or a management consultant could share before-and-after statistics for productivity or employee retention.
The most effective way to use examples like these are by integrating them into a learning experience that improves the knowledge or skills of the audience. If all you do is say “This is what I did; isn’t it great?” the audience isn’t learning much from you. But if you share your examples in the context of “This is what I did, and here’s how you can do it too,” you’ll be delivering value.
5. How will I follow up with the audience after I speak?
It’s rare that someone will walk up to you at the end of your talk and say, “I’d like to hire you.” To get the most from any speaking engagement, you’ll want to follow up with the people who attend. If you’d like the opportunity to follow up with everyone, pass a basket to collect names for a drawing and give away a book or CD related to your topic. Or, offer to send people a free report, e-book, or newsletter subscription in return for their contact information.
If you’d rather only stay in touch with those people who are interested in hiring you, ask them to fill out a brief form about their interest, or make a note on the back of their business card. You can also combine both approaches, collecting contact information from everyone, but asking them to check a box or make a note if they’d like to learn more about your work.
For a successful speaking engagement, delivering a well-presented program filled with useful information is essential. But if you want to land clients from speaking, just giving a good talk may not be enough. Every time you get a speaking invitation, be sure to ask yourself the five questions above before you say yes, and you’ll stand a much better chance of making it pay off.