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How to Use Speaking Opportunities to Build Your Brand

Thought leadership is dominating B-to-B marketing. In a recent survey more than half of marketers said their No. 1 objective is to position their company as a thought leader in their industry. To leverage this type of influence, marketers tap into the talent, passion and knowledge within their organizations to answer the biggest questions on the minds of their target audiences.

A key strategy in thought-leadership marketing is public speaking. Speaking to an audience gives organizations and their thought leaders a stage to demonstrate expertise, gain credibility and engage target audiences. The result is the opportunity to develop and nurture relationships in a neutral, nonsales environment. In addition to building brand awareness, this tactic creates an unmatched level of trust that can drive valuable business opportunities. Perhaps most important, speaking engagements can drive qualified leads directly into your sales funnel.

“If done right, speaking can create a visceral reaction to your brilliance,” says Vickie Sullivan, a market strategist for thought leaders. “People never forget how they feel in that moment. And that memory is what makes thought leaders top of mind.”

Speaking engagements take a lot of planning. Here are the basics:

There are many opportunities for experts to speak at industry events, conferences, webinars and podcasts, but finding the right ones requires an investment of time and research. Contact associations in your industry to identify upcoming conferences and meetings that require presenters. Ask who is responsible for booking speakers, and after you’ve done your homework, reach out to them. Check association websites for conference themes and speaker presentation guidelines. Additionally, there are organizations that sponsor webinars, and their event coordinators are almost always looking for qualified speakers. If your organization is new to speaking, start out small. Consider local chapters of larger industry groups, local business groups or charities that could be interested in your insight.

Before pursuing a speaking opportunity, it is important to pick one or more relevant topics for the audiences you will be addressing. Often, speakers who only have one topic to offer miss a chance to be considered. Just like everyone else, meeting and conference planners like choices, even if they are similar in scope. When developing a proposal for a conference, webinar or other event, include these key components:

Engaging title: Make it short, catchy and interest-generating. Also, give the audience a hint at what they will learn or how they will benefit from the presentation.

Presentation overview: Develop a one-paragraph summary and include a bulleted list of the key points you will cover in your speech. This information helps meeting coordinators determine the value of your presentation and the appropriateness of the topic for their audience.

Identify the benefits: Every presentation needs to give participants a reason to listen or attend a specific program. Whether they gain new information that will help them perform better on the job or further their education and personal or professional development doesn’t matter as long as the benefits are clearly stated and relevant.

Include a profile of the audience: This is one area neglected by many speakers, yet it is essential for meeting planners to know that you understand the profile, interests, priorities and concerns of those who will be participating in the event.

While some presentations are academic in nature, most are not. That’s why it’s important for speakers to understand their role as storytellers. Creating content that has a beginning, middle and end helps audiences make the connection from the spoken word to the significance of the story after the presentation ends. Stories not only simplify content, they also create more visual images and connections and inspire audiences in ways that straight text does not.

According to Marty Jacknis, president of Opportunity Maximizers, the goal of a presentation is to establish a standard of excellence. That includes: “appropriate content, context, tone, pacing, belief, passion and enthusiasm.” His tips to presenters include:

· Know the audience and speak their language.

· Start strong and provide an aha moment or interest-grabber.

· Utilize props and visual aids when available and appropriate.

· Educate and appeal to the audiences’ desires, issues and opportunities.

· Have a goal in mind, and make sure you and the audience understand what the desired outcome is.

Sullivan agrees that connecting with the audience is essential to a successful presentation. “If time is available, always try to use a demonstration with an audience member to showcase your skills. You are far more attractive once people see your brilliance in action,” Sullivan says.

It’s not enough to have a solid presentation if it is not delivered well. Roy Chitwood, former president of Max Sacks International, says, “The sign of a true professional is one who has the humility to prepare.” There is no greater truth in public speaking. You can be the world’s foremost expert on a specific topic, but unless you know how to communicate in a logical, interesting and engaging way, you are likely to lose your audience. Practice, practice, practice. While it isn’t always essential to memorize a speech or presentation, it is important to understand the fundamentals of delivery:

· Make eye contact with the audience. It demonstrates professionalism and trustworthiness.

· Visit the stage and check the equipment before your presentation starts.

· Conduct a dress rehearsal with colleagues or others who will provide honest feedback.

· Develop professional charts, graphs, slides or other visual aids and handouts so that participants can follow along and take notes if they choose.

· Offer a takeaway at the end of the presentation. Sullivan recommends a white paper, original research or special report in exchange for attendees’ e-mail addresses. This allows presenters and their organizations to keep in touch and nurture leads.

To be effective, presenters need to be adept public speakers. For those professionals who are not inherently high-caliber presenters, resources are available to develop the skill. Organizations such as Toastmasters International are geared toward aspiring speakers and provide the opportunity to practice and obtain feedback. Additionally, speakers can put themselves in a variety of situations that require public speaking. These may include cross-training a group from another department or volunteering to speak at team or company meetings.

Technology is also an excellent tool for speakers. Record practice sessions and actual speaking events and refine body language, speaking patterns (including the use of “uh,” “um,” etc.) and content accordingly.

Consider taking courses through the National Speakers Association toward the goal of becoming a Certified Speaking Professional.

After your presentation is over, make sure you acknowledge the event sponsors or the individuals who extended the invitation to speak. Send a thank-you note as well. Ask for feedback. Provide a way to contact you with additional questions or interest in your products or services. Then the real work starts.

Use the speaking engagement to further your marketing goals. Leverage social media to further increase brand recognition, enhance thought-leadership positioning and enhance a competitive advantage. Upload a video of the presentation to YouTube and on your website. Tweet about it. Post quotes or portions of your speech on Facebook. Blog about the topic. Develop the content into an article and get it published. Add the information to your press kit.

Speaking is a powerful platform for increasing your visibility, credibility and name recognition in your marketplaces. While it can be time-intensive to identify opportunities and prepare presentations, it’s worth the effort.

About the Author |Gerri Knilans

Gerri Knilans is president of Thousand Oaks, California-based Trade Press Services. As marketing communications strategists, serving organizations of all sizes and types since 1995, the company provides writing, media outreach and general marketing support to help companies accelerate growth and to increase visibility, credibility and name recognition in their marketplaces. For additional information, please call 805 496–8850, visit, or send an email to



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