By Steve Markman, President, Markman Speaker Management
Whether you are an internal PR person or a PR agency professional, speaking engagements can be powerful awareness-building tools—and you should be using them.
Standing out from the crowd, regardless of your organization’s industry, is a huge challenge. How can you meet this challenge? Many companies and organizations have recognized the value of holding seminars at which their executives make presentations. The problem with these seminars is that, more often than not, the attendees are existing customers, clients or individuals who are already familiar with the firm.
Companies need to expose their expertise to prospective customers and clients. What is a proven method of accomplishing this objective? By speaking at public forums a great deal of exposure is created – at conferences, seminars and forums held by independent event organizations, associations, professional and industry trade groups, and academic institutions and think tanks.
There is much evidence that public speaking often results in the attainment of business, by providing increased awareness of the company in general and specific subject areas in particular, to an audience of potential customers or clients. Presentations about industry trends or “how-to” talks can make a large impact on the audience.
Speaking opportunities for executives and managers represent a strong marketing, public relations, and business development tool for the following reasons:
- Attendees get to learn about a firm’s expertise firsthand and can interact directly with the speaker immediately before or after the presentation. An attendee asking for a business card can be the first step to obtaining a customer. The press in attendance also present opportunities for added exposure.
- Gaining increased visibility in vertical/industry sectors or broad-based areas that the firm has determined is in need of greater exposure.
- The company gains “advertising” by having its name and the executive speaker’s name published in the agenda of thousands of brochures and promotional announcements mailed or emailed by event organizers.
What should an organization be doing to get its executives and managers out on the speaking circuit? Take the following eight steps:
- Decide which product or service area(s) the firm should be targeting for increased visibility. This can be an established line of business where the firm speaks from a position of strength and is known as a “go-to” firm for a particular area. Conversely, presentations can cover an area that is just getting off the ground or at an early stage in its development and needs some fast exposure to let potential customers know about the newly offered products or services.
- Get the right speaker on board. Proposed speakers should be experienced executives and, preferably, experienced speakers. Small-to medium-sized organizations should nominate their CEO or other senior executive. Large organizations can also nominate staff at the director or manager level, depending on the criteria of the speaking opportunity. Make sure that there are executives in those areas committed to the idea of making public presentations. Some will resist the idea of taking time away from other business activities so make sure that you have their full support.
- Speak to the right audience. Thoroughly research the events for which representatives of your firm can be proposed as speakers, as solo presenters or as panelists. There are so many events taking place on so many topics, frequently simultaneously, that you’ll need to choose diligently in order to maximize the time and expense associated with speaking. Identify speaking engagements whose audience represents the customers and industries your organization wants to reach.
- Develop a proactive speaker placement program. It’s fine to evaluate unsolicited speaking opportunities. However, having someone dedicated to the task who will aggressively identify opportunities, develop relationships with event organizers and write and submit speaker proposals, should lead to an increase in the frequency of speaking engagements and thus increased visibility for the executives participating and the firm as a whole.
- Decide on the geographic area to target for speaking engagements. Locally, regionally, nationally or even internationally. There are hundreds of speaking opportunities held worldwide every year.
- Create high-impact presentations. Audiences want to acquire actionable information they can take back to their organizations. They don’t want to hear that your firm is the leading firm in this or that subject area. A solid, informative presentation that is purely educational and does not promote a product, service or company will create instant credibility and obviate the need for a “sales pitch.” A presentation that turns out to be a sales pitch will ensure low evaluations by the audience and a one-way ticket home from the conference organizer. The speaker who gives a sales pitch is duly noted and rarely invited back, oftentimes tainting the entire company in the eyes of the event organizer.
- Learn the process for submitting a speaker proposal to the event organizer. Follow the format established by the organizer for writing a presentation abstract, submitting bios and speaker expertise, previous speaking experience information, and, of course, meeting the proposal deadline date. Make sure you tailor the abstract and the bio to each speaking opportunity so that they fit the objectives of the audience.
- Follow up continuously and persistently with the event organizer to help your company or organization stay above the noise, since you will often be competing with several other companies for the same speaking slot.
Even if speaking engagements are successfully attained, be sure to maximize the engagement by ensuring that the presentation has a shelf life. Always come armed with “takeaways,” including handouts. The handout could be a reproduced article written by the speaker or a white paper on the subject at hand, always making sure that contact information is at the bottom of the handout so people can follow up with the speaker.
You might also want to have a colleague attend with the speaker, to take advantage of the networking opportunities at an event. Press releases, either before or after a speaking engagement can attract potential clients, especially when the release contains information that demonstrates the firm’s expertise in a particular area. And last but not least, bring business cards … lots of business cards.
By developing an effective speaker placement program for you or your organization, you will have taken a big step in meeting its marketing, public relations, and business development objectives.
Steve Markman is President of Markman Speaker Management (MSM; www.markmanspeaker.com), a Needham, Mass.-based speaker placement firm established in 1994. MSM is used by corporate executives and professional service firms from numerous fields, including consulting, technology, law, consumer goods, financial services, life sciences, and manufacturing. Speaking engagements are obtained for clients in strategic events held worldwide. Mr. Markman writes and lectures frequently on the subject of obtaining speaking engagements for use as a business development, marketing and public relations tool. He has over 27 years of experience in the speaker industry. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or (781-444-7500).