By Contributing Editor Jennifer Nastu
Speaking engagements increase your visibility and bring in paying clients, but lining up gigs is challenging. We talked with Philippa Gamse, professional speaker and president of Total 'Net Value, Inc., on landing coveted speaking slots -- and how to make the most of them. -> Step #1. Three ways to pitch:
o Write for association publications
Find associations geared toward your target audience and consider joining. Go to a few meetings to get an idea of what you can offer members.
The key is to offer an informational, not promotional, program.
A good way to hone your message, get a foot in the door, and make a name for yourself within the association is offering articles to their newsletter.
"They're always looking for content," Gamse says. "Write a brief article in your area of expertise, like how to select products in your market area. If you get it published, you can go to the communications person and say, Did your readers enjoy it and, if so, would they enjoy a presentation?"
Getting someone to suggest you as a speaker to the event coordinator is even better than articles.
"If you speak to a local audience, like the Chamber of Commerce, ask if anyone belongs to a professional association that might be interested, and ask if they'd refer you to someone there," Gamse says. "That takes it up a notch."
o If you don't have an "in," make a phone call
Become familiar with the event you're pitching. Then call the director. Tell them who you are, what your expertise is, and ask, "Would you be interested in a proposal from me?"
"I never submit anything cold," Gamse says. "I want to have a conversation."
If the director advises you to fill out a request for proposals (RFP) on the Web site, try this: "It would really be valuable to me to have five minutes of your time before I fill out the form so I can tailor my proposal to best meet your needs. Here are three directions my talk could take…. Which do you think would be most useful to your audience?" -> Step #2. Five tips for an irresistible proposal:
o Use a catchy title that tells what attendees can expect to hear.
o Keep it short -- a couple of paragraphs at most.
o Begin one paragraph with: "In my program, participants will learn…" followed by bullet points that detail benefits of your talk and what people will take away with them.
o Include further selling points: handouts, testimonials, successful programs you've done for other audiences.
o Include a bio, credentials and experience, and a brief sentence about why you're qualified to give this talk.
If a company has an RFP on their site, follow their guidelines but be sure to include all the above info. -> Step #3. Writing the speech
o Craft your speech so you're not overly promotional.
"Just do your best stuff without even talking about the fact that it's a commercial," Gamse says. "You can tell stories, you can drop names."
The phrase "I was working with a client and…" makes it clear that you're a consultant or otherwise have something to sell, says Gamse. "Talk about the industry you work in, talk about the work you do, but not about why they should buy it. That should be obvious."
o Have handouts
Handouts might include a resource listing, a bio sheet with contact info, articles or reprints. Anything, in fact, that adds value.
"I went through this whole phase saying that my handouts are on my Web site and I'm saving trees. But now I think, people want something they can write on, and you can put your name on it," Gamse says.
People tuck handouts away for future reference. Gamse has had people call her out of the blue as much as two years after a speech because of a handout.
Three things to bear in mind:
1. The events coordinator will want your handouts months ahead of time. "I'll produce something fairly generic, an outline that has details I can change."
2. Include copyright and contact details on every page.
3. Decide where you stand on your own intellectual property. Gamse is often asked if the association can reprint her handouts or post them -- sometimes that's even included in the contract.
"I won't sign those contracts without a separate agreement about copyright and time limits on the material," she says. On the other hand, "if you're marketing, you might want everybody in the world to see it and you don't care. But you need to decide what your own policy is."
o Answering questions
Never withhold information in the hope that someone will engage your services to learn more. That's just tacky. Gamse tells of hearing a speaker who answered a question with, "I don't have time to answer that but you can buy my book."
"At least answer the question, then say, 'By the way, if you want to know more it's in my book,'" she says. -> Step #4. Wrapping it up
Gamse finds it useful to end with a question: "What were the light bulbs for you?" she asks.
Another might be: "What's the first thing you're going to go back and do in terms of what you've learned today."
"It's a good barometer for how well you've done your job," she explains. You'll learn the parts of your talk that resonated and those that need clarification.
It serves your listeners, too: they get a summary of the highpoints of the speech which helps them remember what they've learned. -> Step #5. Make the most of your follow-up
Gamse has attendees enter business cards into a drawing for a free hour of consulting. These names go on her mailing list and she follows up with them with an email thanking them for being in the program and giving them the chance to ask further questions. She then asks:
-What really resonated with you?
-What would they like to have heard more about?
-What did she leave out?
"Hearing you're a great speaker is fine, but I want to hear what the value is," she says.
If she hears something good, she asks if she can use it for testimonials in future proposals.
Of course, she's careful to let people know that they'll be put on her email list, and that they can get off the list at any time. And she's very careful to follow through, if they ask to be removed.