Speaking regularly on your topic or industry establishes you as an expert and can lead to more business opportunities. Creating demand for your speaking service and business can be challenging, however.

Our readers supply three steps for creating demand for your speaking services. You can follow all of the steps to maximize your speaking opportunities, or you can succeed by applying some of the recommendations. If you want to work on your public speaking skills, Toastmasters is a well-respected organization and has a location in most cities. The library and bookstores have plenty of books providing public speaking tips.

Or, if you're already have all the speaking gigs you need, skip ahead to the new marketing challenge. Another reader asks how to educate clients about the online sales cycle—going beyond increasing traffic to raising conversion rates. Click here to offer your advice.

Previous Challenge

In our last question to you, Flora asked how to establish herself as a speaker.

Friends, Romans, countrymen... let me be your speaker

I've been offering seminars and training in the gift basket business for the past ten years at large and small tradeshows. I'd like to book more engagements each year and expand beyond this niche into speaking and training on broader, small-to-medium business topics. I investigated joining a speaker's association, but I need to have proof of many more paid engagements than I currently have to meet the minimum requirement. How does a speaker go about getting more engagements including meetings, conventions, seminars and tradeshows?

— Flora, owner

Take these three steps to boost your reputation, know-how and abilities:

1. Establish your expertise.

2. Do self-marketing activities.

3. Go local.

Step 1: Establish your expertise

Many readers say the first question to consider is this: What is your topic or industry? As Kathleen Roberts, marketing and presentation coach with Decisive Communications, says, "Marketing people always ask a love of probing questions." Like a true marketer, she poses many questions:

A 20-second description that includes your topic area and the intended buyers is essential. In building this essential message, these ideas could help. Begin by analyzing yourself and your background/career.

  • What have you done?
  • What do you believe?
  • What do you know?
  • Which industry do you like best?
  • Which audiences identify with you best?

Now, what is YOUR own unique message (or expertise or skills)? Describe the value. How is it special? Who needs to hear it? Why should they pay you for it (define the value with others' results)? Be clear and succinct.

Selling anything (especially seminars) today, equates to "what problems can you solve?" and "Who liked what you did?" Asking, "How do I find new markets?" may not be the right question. Instead, THINK DEEP. Clients will always be most motivated by their own needs, problems and concerns. How can you help?

If, you've performed with success in the computer hardware market, then ask: Who do they buy from? Who do they know? What other events do they go to? Now you have great leads. Expertise is valuable and easily transferable within related communities and you gain expert status that makes you different. In this era of specialization, lack of clarity, appearing to be "all things to all people" will, sadly, dilute the value of your core message (or business).

Differentiation helps buyers in the decision making process; remember, they have a lot to choose from. The idea of differentiation will keep you focused too; it forces you refine "your own story," your experiences and not be tempted to jump on the latest, hot topic. Walt Disney said, "The more you are like yourself, the less you are like anyone else." A valid message, that is well crafted with a unique style and viewpoint, will build a reputation that will have THEM seeking you out.

Douglas Kwong, e-commerce marketing intern at Allegro Medical, recommends going back to the basics with SWOT:

Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and play towards your strengths. Market yourself to groups that may be interested in your seminars. If you let it be known that you are a speaker with credit in your field, groups will come find you. People always pay attention to those they feel are credible speakers.

Linda Kazares, president of ConnectedIn Media, Inc., relies on planning:

The first thing I do to expand business is to develop a plan, set a goal I can accomplish and then drive to make that plan happen. Then I identify the industries that I want to become known in. My next steps are two-fold. In addition to evaluating a speaker strategy, I'd start to write articles for e-newsletters and print. For instance, most associations or trade show producers have programs and often want good content to add value in the publication. Get well known in that industry.

Make sure you post your articles to your Web site so when there is a search for a speaker in your topic, your name will come up. When evaluating your target clients, ask yourself the following (and add any number of other questions you believe are relevant): Do they pay fees? After all, if they don't then why bother! What type of speakers do they hire? Inspirational, content or industry experts, actors for hire (feed them the lines and they'll repeat), you get the picture.

The next question to follow is naturally: Does my area of expertise or personal interest fit with their model? Then if all is well at that point, I'd put together a detailed profile of target accounts or industries. Identify the key hiring authority. The more you know about what they need, who they often hire and what their pay range is, the better the approach you can design.

Check with people you know to see if any of them know key personnel at the company you're profiling. Then go for it. You can also contact professional speaker placement companies. Very often they add qualified speakers (be ready to prove you're qualified) for no upfront fee and probably a 20 percent fee if they place you. The bottom line is you need an expansion plan and a strategy that you can commit to. It also will take time to build your visibility in the area you want to reach, as well as becoming their trusted source for a qualified and competent speaker.

Step 2: Do self-marketing activities

Self-marketing is tough for many because it means selling yourself. But there are ways to do it without feeling like you're selling something. One reader recommends creating your opportunity to speak by holding a seminar or event. Many cities have free or low-cost publications where you can advertise your event or services. For example, Chicago has a publication called The Reader.

Tamara Halbritter, freelance writer and editor, offers four tips for getting more speaking gigs:

  1. Advertise your services on your Web site because people may not know that you are a public speaker (show a video clip, if you have one); also, as you get more engagements, put them on a calendar of events on your site.

  2. Make sure your partners, coworkers, alliances and friends know you are a public speaker for meetings, conventions, seminars and tradeshows. Then ask which associations or groups they are members of and which tradeshows their companies attend. In addition to learning about more places you can offer your services, your cohorts may invite you to speak at their events, and you will not have to pay a membership fee.

  3. Ensure your message is refined, then write a press release about your expertise speaking on a particular topic and pitch it to local publications with an audience that would benefit from hearing about what you have to say. You can send this same release to the aforementioned associations for their publications. You can also find out when specific conventions or tradeshows begin planning their schedule and submit your news release before speakers are hired. Whenever you submit a release (by email or snail mail), be sure to send it to a specific person and follow up with that person to make sure the release was received and to introduce yourself.

  4. And most importantly, be sure you are armed with promotional materials every time you speak. Hand out your business cards/fliers before and after you speak; and for a personal touch, as you hand out the promo item, write a discount amount they will receive if you speak at their event. Also, bring your promotional materials to events you attend, because they will be good places to network about your services as well.

Readers suggest targeting schools, companies that hold seminars, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, continuing education, chambers of commerce, business groups and corporations. Find meeting planners at companies that fit your profile. Collect as many testimonials as you can.

Less obvious ways of proving your expertise without outright selling your expertise include publishing and submitting articles to publications that run your byline and contact information. If you have a Web site, make sure it's polished. If not, get one.

Step 3: Go local

Some people think too big and go for big, national publications or media. Yet one reader targeted a local resource and ended up on national media. Mark Robertson, MBA, MM, shares his experience:

The best thing to do now is to think of a speaker's "hook." Something compelling that will get you interviews with the local media. Many years ago I did improvisational story telling and got on national media through a radio station interview. All I did was create a one-page press release. Afterwards, keep in touch with the station so that you are recognized as an expert on that particular subject.

Also you can do a two-stage speaking session. The first is to offer local, free speaking sessions at a library, church, university or college. At that session, offer further in-depth paid seminars. Every time you speak, hand out survey response cards. These survey response cards cover people's opinion of your speech and topic, but more importantly they should include a space for a name and email address. Keep these people on your list and informed of new speaking events. Also in the email, ask if they know anyone else who would be interested in what you say.

Tamara Halbritter says, "If the speaker's association is too expensive, join other associations or think about the groups that you are already a part of and see if they might be interested in having you speak. Even if some of the gigs you get are for small groups and do not pay much (if any), they will lead to other gigs."

Julie Shapiro of Gotdot proposes several ways to build a portfolio by starting locally:

Try a local magazine and place a notice about your upcoming event. Many of these kinds of publications will run this for free in their local events calendar. You can hold your event at the local library often for free or at community centers for a minor fee. If you do this regularly, you can build a steady following and increase your portfolio. You may also want to contact local networking business associations and offer to give a talk on various topics.

By following the aforementioned three steps and their related activities, you'll find people requesting your knowledge and talents as a speaker regularly. In addition, Free Publicity is a short, fast-read book that provides tips on how to get free publicity. Jeff Crilley, a local news reporter, authored the book. You can't ask for a better resource to tap into to find out how to get more attention.

Can You Solve This Challenge?

"Feed a starving crowd"—educating clients about online sales

Direct marketer Gary Halbert's advice is "Look for a crowd of starving people," which is certainly the biggest and best thing you can do to market your services online. But what if you have a starving crowd who want your services, but for you to provide true business value (i.e., attributable bottom line profit) you need to "educate" your clients that your initial work (Web traffic generation) is only the start, and conversion is the key. No doubt it's a problem that many people encounter—how do you "educate" your clients about the online sales process in the most effective way? 

— Tom, Director

Even if your crowd isn't starving, 200,000 MarketingProfs marketing gurus ready to cook up hot stuff for you. Share a marketing challenge, plus you'll get a chance to win a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.