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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

Public Speaking Is Great Public Relations

Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

P ublic speaking is a credible, cost-effective public relations and marketing tool, especially when your best prospects are part of a narrow, vertical market.

Lecturing or giving presentations at public events, industry meetings, conventions and conferences is a widely used PR technique used to promote products and services. When you speak, you immediately establish yourself as an expert. If your talk is informative, well-developed and well-delivered, you establish yourself as a knowledgeable representative of a credible company with which audience members will want to do business.

A speech puts you within handshaking distance of your prospects, which offers a leg up in today’s business environment, where much of our communication is via fax, e-mail or videoconference. Meeting prospects face to face certainly sets you apart, firmly planting your image in their minds. And when that meeting takes place in an environment where you are singled out as an expert, that image is much more powerful.

Find A Forum

Unless your company is sponsoring its own seminar or event, you need to seek out forums where your prospects will be in attendance. Check trade publications and websites for announcements of industry meetings and conventions. Trade journals run preview articles of major shows, expositions and meetings months prior to the events. When your company receives an invitation to exhibit at a trade show, find out whether seminars or breakout sessions are offered, and how you can sign up as a presenter.

The earlier you make the contact, the better. Annual meetings and national conferences generally are planned eight to 12 months in advance. Local and regional meetings typically book speakers three to four months ahead of time.

Most conference managers are receptive to speaker proposals because they’re anxious to fill the agenda. The best approach is to prepare a short outline or description of your speech and submit it to the show manager or association executive in charge of the breakout sessions. Make your speech timely by tailoring it to current market conditions, the theme of the meeting or the group’s special interests.

While your goal is to sell your product or service, you also want to select a topic that educates your audience. The presentation should not sell your product directly, but rather indirectly by positioning you and your company as the expert and the source of information for your particular product, the problem it addresses and the solution it offers. It must be an objective, informative talk that gives useful information, not a sales pitch or product presentation. A soft-sell approach works best, presenting the issue your product or service addresses rather than the product itself.

Prepare Your Talk

In preparing your talk, the most important consideration is not to exceed the time allotted. The conference planner will dictate the length of your presentation, but here are some good rules of thumb.

Luncheon and after-dinner talks to local associations or business groups usually last 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to leave at least five minutes at the end for questions.

Breakout sessions at regional and national conferences typically run 45 to 75 minutes. For a one-hour talk, prepare a 45-minute presentation, leaving time at the end for comments and questions.

Executive speeches usually last about 20 minutes. A typed, double-spaced page will take about two-and-one-half minutes to deliver, so an eight-page typed, double-spaced manuscript should cover your 20-minute talk. That’s approximately 2,000 words, with most of us speaking at an average of 100 words per minute.

While some speakers insist on using index cards, they aren’t recommended for those who get nervous or are not experienced speakers. Too many nervous speakers fumble with note cards, get them out of order, and then lose their place and train of thought. If you must use cards, number them so the number can be seen easily with a downward glance.

Continue Promoting

As with any marketing effort, it takes several contacts before you make the sale, but you can turn a one-shot speaking engagement into an ongoing promotional effort. For example, when conducting a workshop, ask every participant to place a business card in a basket for a prize drawing at the end of the evening, and then add those names to your postal and e-mail distribution lists.

Now that you have your attendees' information, they need yours. Prepare a handout for each participant. The most effective handout expands on one of the points in your talk - giving much more detail than can be covered in your allotted time - or is a reference guide that includes books, a glossary of key terms or technical data related to your topic. The most effective method of distributing your handout is to hold it up, refer to it and its contents during your speech, and tell the audience you have plenty of copies and they can come up after the talk to get one.

Pre- and post-speech promotional opportunities also are available, but you may have to negotiate for some of them. Most conference planners are willing to trade promotional opportunities for a free speaker. In exchange for your presentation, be sure to ask for a list of members or conference attendees, and ask that your literature be included in the conference packet. You also may negotiate feature articles in the association's newsletter or magazine in advance of your speaking engagement to build interest in attending your session. And, if breakout sessions are being audio- and/or videotaped, you can ask for a complimentary copy of the tapes in exchange for your talk.

After your presentation, talk with the newsletter editor about running all or part of your speech in the post-show edition for the benefit of those unable to attend the conference. Offer to write additional articles to reinforce your presentation and gain ongoing exposure for your company's product or service.

Public Speaking Rules Of The Road

Deb Sofield, a member of the National Speakers Association and an executive speech coach, offers these five tips — taken from her Power of Presence™ corporate road show — to help public speakers conquer their fear and become more powerful speakers.

Open your talk with an unpredictable personal story. It’s best when you can begin your speech with something the audience has not heard from other speakers. Try to come up with a personal story related to the audience, its industry or a current event that relates to their business. That, of course, means you must do your homework and know something about the group you will address. A good line or a joke also can be a good opener, but if you’re not a joker, stick to what you do best.

If it isn’t funny, don’t use it. “I am sad to report that most people are waiting to be offended,” Sofield said. “If you’re going to use humor in a speech, make certain the story, anecdote or joke is funny with all listeners. I personally stick with material from Reader’s Digest.” Sofield suggests testing the joke with friends and co-workers for laughs. If the story is dirty, off-color, questionable or offensive to some religions, ethnic or racial groups other than Martians, leave it out.

Master the power of language. Master the king’s English, using clear, simple and expressive language whenever possible. Make every word count, and be careful about using current slang and modern newspeak. Here are newspeak examples that Sofield suggests should never find their way into your speech: empowerment; rightsizing; reprioritize; facilitation; paradigm; futurism; benchmarking; new tomorrow; value-driven; feedback; visioning; win-win; quality time; team player; synergy; strategic; interdependence; programmatic; new millennium; impact; impacted; and impacting. A few other newspeak terms that are tired, overused and somewhat meaningless include surreal, outside the box, state-of-the-art and cutting edge.

Speak with power through your posture, language and volume. Make certain your voice conveys authority. Women especially need to be careful not to let their voices rise at the end of a sentence as if they’re asking a question rather than making a statement. If you hear your voice starting to rise, stop and take a breath, and it will automatically put you back in your right voice range. “If you’re not careful, subtle voice inflections will undercut your authority and leave the listener wondering if you really know your material,” Sofield said.

Take up space. Sofield preaches that Powerful People Take Up Physical Space™. When speaking, use large gestures to illustrate your words. People often remember more of what they see than what what they hear.

November/December 2005