By: RIEVA LESONSKY
Are you looking for a marketing tool that will help you build (or cement) your reputation as an expert in your field, make connections with potential customers and clients and expose you to the important people in your community? Then consider public speaking.
If the mere idea of speaking in front of a group of people terrifies you, you’re not alone. There’s an often-cited statistic that public speaking is most people’s No. 1 fear—surpassing even fear of death! I’ve got news for you: Most public speakers (myself included) still get scared every time they stand up in front of a group. I’ve delivered hundreds of speeches in my career, and I still get butterflies every time.
But it’s worth pushing past your fears because the rewards public speaking can bring to your business are so great. Here are just a few:
Exposes you to new networks of people
Earns you exposure as an expert in your industry
Creates trust on the part of potential customers
Here are six steps to get you started:
1. Set goals
What do you want to achieve? Do you want to get coverage in the media, generate X number of leads or ingratiate yourself with an important organization?
2. Target your audience
Based on your goals, pinpoint the audience you’re trying to reach and research groups or organizations in your local area that attract that type of person. For instance, if you’re trying to market your accounting services to local small businesses, you might want to speak at at Chamber of Commerce, lead generation groups or volunteer for small business organizations like SCORE.
3. Choose a topic
What topics can you talk about that will enhance your image as an expert, be relevant to your audience and help “sell” your services? You’re not doing a hard sell, but your topic does need to relate to your product or service. Using the example above, an accountant seeking to land new tax preparation clients could talk about year-end tax planning, how recent changes in the tax code affect small businesses, or how to reduce your chances of being audited. Whatever you offer to talk about, be sure it’s something of real value to your listeners.
4. Be prepared
Although your speech shouldn’t be a sales pitch, be sure to bring business cards, fliers or brochures you can give to interested prospects. You might also want to place a sign-up sheet at the registration table where attendees can leave their names, addresses and/or e-mail addresses and sign up to get something from you—an e-mail newsletter, discount offer or free information.
5. Start small
I mentioned local groups, because if you’re at all unsure of your speaking abilities, you’ll want to start small. Practice with small groups and gradually build up your confidence before you try to add bigger venues. Have family members or trusted friends watch you practice your talk and give honest feedback, or videotape yourself and watch the tape so you’ll know what you need to improve.
6. Follow up
If you’re shy, your first instinct after your talk is over may be to scurry off as quickly as you can. But after your speech is precisely when you need to be friendly, open and available to opportunities. So hang around, talk to people and get to know the audience.
Once you get confident speaking in front of small groups, try offering to speak at industry events such as trade shows, conferences and panels. The more you speak, the more comfortable you’ll be in front of an audience—and the more your business will grow.