Jan 14, 2009

Marketing Through Speaking Engagements

Virtually every guide on marketing a law firm recommends speaking engagements as an effective way to generate clients. Unfortunately, there's usually not much detail provided on how to secure a speaking engagement -- particularly if you're a newer or less experienced lawyer -- how to select an appropriate venue, how to choose a topic, or how to get the word out about your talk.  So that's the focus of this week's post: How to make the most of speaking engagements to market your practice.

Before I get to the how-tos of speaking engagements, I'll spend a little time discussing the marketing benefits of speaking engagements.  First and most importantly, speaking engagements give you a chance to personally interact with prospective clients without having them feel pressured to retain you, as they might at an initial consultation.  Personal interaction also lets clients can get a sense of your demeanor and personality, factors that are often relevant to their decisions.  Second, speaking engagements are efficient, because they give you a chance to make contact with multiple prospects all at once.  Third, speaking carries a public-spirited component -- it's a way to market and educate the public at the same time.  Fourth, speaking engagements give you an opportunity to reach out to existing clients and reconnect by inviting them to hear your presentation.  Finally, when you speak, many will perceive you as an expert and thus, speaking events can enhance your reputation and elevate your visibility within your markets.

So how can you find speaking opportunities and make them pay off?  Below are some tips.

1.   Identifying your target audience

Before organizing a speaking engagement, decide what types of clients you want to target.  If you're interested in representing high-worth estate clients, giving a talk at a CLE to other lawyers isn't likely to have much impact, since most lawyers aren't likely to refer lucrative cases to you.  Likewise, speaking at a public library in a lower-income area won't generate the leads that you're seeking either.  Consider the audience you want to attract, and pick your speaking venues accordingly.

2.  Finding a place to speak

Don't wait to be invited to speak, or you might find yourself waiting indefinitely.  Instead, take a proactive approach and identify opportunities.  Once you've decided which audience you want to target, do some research on where these groups congregate.  One colleague of mine handles legal research and writing on a contract basis, so she actively targets busy lawyers, focusing her speaking activities on bar associations.  Other attorneys who I know who handle IP or corporate matters send speaking proposals to trade associations. 

But formal, established groups aren't your only venue.  There are multiple, less casual groups  that share similar interests -- from high tech to women's or grandparents' issues to finance -- which often publicize their events in mothers' magazines, local papers, or online at Meet Up.  These groups are often desperate for speakers and would welcome an inquiry.

Finally, you don't have to limit yourself to any kind of group at all.  You could try to organize your own event that you could put on at a local coffee shop, bookstore, or library.  If you serve a remote or high tech audience, you could consider an online seminar or webinar.  The one disadvantage to sponsoring your own speaking engagement is that you'll have to spread the word on your own instead of relying on another group to advertise the event.

3.  Choosing a topic

Try to identify timely or provocative topics that will attract your prospects' attention and make them want to attend.  For example, instead of offering a talk entitled, "The Basics of Estate Planning," why not propose the topic "Estate Planning: Can You Do It Yourself -- Without a Lawyer?"  This title injects some controversy -- to use a lawyer or not -- and gives you a chance to educate an audience about the importance of a lawyer for certain estate planning matters.  Other timely topics -- at least right now -- include foreclosure, consumer credit, divorce and alternatives (since the economy is causing stress on marriages, but also making divorce too expensive), and trend talks about the new presidential administration (e.g., "How the Obama Administration's Employment (or immigration or antitrust) Initiatives Can Impact Your Business and How You Must Plan for Them").

4.  Materials

A speaking gig provides an opportunity to give away materials with your contact information to propsective clients.  Consider useful tools, such as "checklists for estate documents" or "steps to incorporation."  You should also use Microsoft's PowerPoint software or some type of supporting materials during your talk.  One caveat: Be sure to take the time to stamp a copyright notice on your materials.  Some lawyers will steal your materials and pass them off on their own.  A copyright notice should prevent the most blatant abuses at the very least.

5.   Getting the word out

When it comes to publicizing an event, all the usual advertising suspects apply, from email to direct mail (which can be costly), small notices in local newspapers, posts on your website and blog, as well as other blogs whose readers might be interested in your event.  You can send out a free press release on sites such as Free Press Release.  Use your speaking engagement to invite current clients and colleagues whom you want to impress, and ask them to bring friends as well.

As a further draw, offer some freebies, such as a door prize or a free consultation.  And be sure to include free refreshments, even if it's just a few sodas and pretzels, or donuts and coffee.  Mention refreshments in your invitation materials -- after all, everyone loves free food, and it doesn't add much to the cost.

6.  The actual speaking event 

If you're being hosted by another group, follow their rules.  Submit all material in a timely manner and show up at the time requested.  If your host doesn't mind, see if you can stand at the entrance and greet guests as they arrive or mingle with them before your talk.  It's a nice personal touch that makes people feel welcome.

Practice your talk beforehand so that you can deviate or cover other topics without losing your place.  Of course, don't read prepared text -- even if you stumble, you'll engage audiences more when you speak extemporaneously with notes as a prompt rather than reading from your notes verbatim.

After your talk, take the time to wait around to answer all questions and to collect business cards.  And if you're speaking at a hosted event, see if the sponsor will allow you to circulate an evaluation sheet or seek testimonials from participants.  You can use the feedback to refine your presentation and to promote your next event.  

7.   After the talk

Chances are, you won't engage clients right on the spot.  That's why the follow up to your talk is so important.  First, always be sure to record your presentation, even if you do it with your own, hand-held digital recording device.  That way, you can make recordings available to participants as a courtesy, and also distribute the presentation for marketing purposes later on.  Second, follow up with everyone who handed over a business card or expressed some interest in your service.  Third, list your talk on your website and on other directories where you've posted your profile.

As with any other marketing tool, a single speech -- just like a single article or a single blog post -- in and of itself likely won't amount to much.  But making speaking events a regular part of your marketing portfolio can help attract clients and, in the long run, enhance your reputation -- which can lead to more business.