Most salespeople and small business owners are all too familiar with cold-calling; purchasing leads; sending out mass direct mail and email pieces; and using print, radio and TV advertising and other common methods of lead generation. However, becoming a niche expert and taking that expertise on the road in the form of speaking to groups and organizations is seldom considered.
The natural fear of public speaking is a deterrent for many, but most salespeople simply have not considered the possibility. When we think of a speaker, most of us envision someone with grand ideas speaking to the most crucial events of the day-or maybe someone who has lead an extraordinary life, regaling the audience with tales of high adventure. If we do think of business experts as speakers, we tend to think of names such as Jack Welch, Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar or some other high-profile guru who commands tens of thousands of dollars per appearance.
Those sorts of people may be the most visible, but they are, in fact, the tiny minority of speakers. Literally tens of thousands of organizations in the US need speakers on a regular weekly or monthly basis. A large percentage of these organizations are actively looking for businesspeople that have a message that will appeal to the majority of their members-and you could be that speaker.
You need not be expounding on the evils of the Democratic takeover of Congress, or the how badly the Republicans have governed, or the great coming economic downfall of civilization as we know it. You do not have to be a stand-up comedian or a storyteller on the level of Garrison Keillor.
Speaking for local groups and originations only requires you to have information that is relevant and interesting. A realtor client of mine became an expert in the minutiae of every neighborhood in her city and began speaking to groups about the transitions taking place in the city-which neighborhoods are on the verge of taking off, and which in decline. Her presentation is laced with statistics but also stories and history, with fact and prediction. Within a matter of several months, she became the "go to" person when members of audiences she had spoken to began to think about buying or selling their home, because she is recognized as the expert on where to move, where to build and where to avoid.
Another client of mine, a business insurance broker, began speaking about the issues that businesses in his city face in terms of risk. His presentation centers on crime, employee theft, and upcoming city ordinances that may affect business, and other, unexciting aspects of risk management. Although he is a likable and entertaining man, his presentation is hardly worthy of an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Nevertheless, he has information that is of interest to other businesspeople. Moreover, he, like the realtor, has become known as expert in his field. Businesspeople come to him first because of their perception of his extraordinary knowledge of both business risk and how to manage it and the local issues facing businesses.
Neither of these people is exceptional in the sense that they have led extraordinary lives or have mythical business prowess. In fact, the business agent has only been in the insurance business for a couple of years. However, both recognized the power of getting in front of groups and presenting themselves as experts. Their average audience is fewer than 40 people. Their average talk is less than 20 minutes, and each speaks less than four times a month. Nevertheless, if they speak three times per month to an average audience of 35 people, they are in front of about 1,200 per year as "the" expert in their field. Moreover, many of these people are potential prospects.
How do you become the expert? First, find something about your business that will be of interest to a broad range of potential customers. Concentrate on areas that could give your audience information on potential risks or opportunities that could expand or enhance their life, open new doors, or increase or protect their wealth. Once you have found an interesting niche, connect it to your local market. The realtor deals only with local issues and demographics, but the insurance broker mixes general risk statistics with local business-related issues. He takes mundane national statistics and brings them home, to a more personal level.
Do your homework on both your subject and your public-speaking skills. Hone your presentation so that you are confident and do not have to speak with notes. Work in front of a mirror until you have managed to eliminate all of your nervous movements. Go over your presentation-both verbally in front of a mirror and in your mind as you drive-until it becomes second nature. Check and recheck facts and figures.
Join the Toastmasters. Most of us probably think of the Toastmasters as simply an organization that will improve our public speaking skills. It certainly will. However, it will improve your leadership skills also, not to mention your interpersonal skills in general. Most every community has at least one Toastmasters club within reasonable distance. In addition, in a city of any reasonable size, you'll probably have several options of meeting days and times as there will probably be several clubs from which to choose.
Then, once you have mastery over your subject and yourself, get the word out to groups, organizations and associations that cater to your prospects. Send a self-promotion package and follow up with a phone call. As you begin to set speaking engagements, more will follow.
Keep your material fresh and up-to-date. Look and act like a professional. Within months, you'll have gained the reputation of an expert, the image of the guru, and the self-confidence to match.
There are few opportunities to influence potential prospects as powerfully as you can through speaking to them in a forum where you're "endorsed" by an organization or association they belong to. Becoming the objective educator and expert has far more power and lasting impact than any marketing or advertising you can possibly do.
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