You've been invited to speak at an upcoming event...
Someone thought enough of you, your company, and your expertise to give you the stage...
Now, you have to deliver in a way that not only gives value to the audience, but also builds your business...
What do you do?
Set The Stage
- You should be speaking on a regular basis. You are a leader of your consulting business. You are also the "rainmaker" of your business. It's your job to attract the larger clients and close big sales. (Aren't you involved in every major sale you company makes? Well then you might as well set the tone, right?) You should be in the speaking business and it should be an active part of your marketing mix.
- Second, you may not be paid to speak. Not every profitable speaking engagement involves payment up front. There are many ways for an unpaid speaking opportunity to end up becoming a profitable one. The most important part is that you consider your audience. If the audience fits your target, you should strongly consider saying yes to the engagement.
- Third, speaking publicly is not about YOU speaking. You've been invited to entertain, inform, and add value to the audience. Be very careful of allowing your excitement (or anxiety) of being on stage drive you to preparing the wrong message.
Note: Consultants are known for over-coaching, over-training and overwhelming their audience. Slow down. Think clearly about what your audience needs to hear. Share those insights.
Who Is In The Room?
In most cases, you can define your audience in terms of their comfort with the topic. Are they beginning, intermediate, or advanced?
Beginner - whether CEOs or college freshmen, everyone is a novice at something. If the audience is new to a topic you should focus on the basics, fundamentals, and the challenges of getting started.
Intermediate - these are people with some level of experience, but wouldn't be considered experts. They are familiar with the basics and need the "next step". Help them understand their options. Show them case studies and examples of the different routes they can take.
Advanced - the "pros". They are probably certified in the topic or have other advanced education. These are the first people to tell you they have "X years in the field". Don't let that intimidate you. An easy approach is to present the new, hot trends and build discussion around them. Before you prepare any material, ask the meeting planner about the audience's comfort level with the topic. This sets your baseline.
What is Their Common Problem?
You may learn that your group fits a very tight profile with similar characteristics. Or you might learn that your group fits a wide range and your job is to "connect" them to the topic. In either case, you need to "speak to the center of the room". In other words, you need to identify the one, BIG problem the majority of the room will have in common. Build your presentation around that premise.
For example: Let's say you are a personal shopping expert (image consultant) advising the audience on how to buy a high-end pair of shoes. You have all three levels of people in the audience.
- Beginners are trying to get started. They have never bought an expensive pair of shoes before. They don't know where to shop, how to much to pay, or where to begin.
- Road warriors are challenged in the journey. They have bought a high-end pair of shoes before with "hit or miss" results. They have one pair of shoes that has turned out to be a good purchase, but they have bought two others they would rather not tell anyone about...
- Experts are looking for something new. They chose between four different pairs of high-end shoes before coming to hear you speak. They like high-end shoes. They buy high-end shoes. They want to know where to get more high-end shoes.
What do these (seemingly disparate) groups have in common? Answer: Each needs a process for buying high-end shoes. Beginners need a process as a place to start. Intermediates need to improve the inconsistency of their current process. Advanced users want a process with better and faster results.
Now you can being to structure the actual presentation.
Format Your Presentation
How DO you structure a winning presentation?
Common Mistake: Do NOT begin your presentation like most conventional consultants. The conventional consultant spends the first 2-5 minutes winging it with loosely connected tidbits about "their background". They begin with where they went to school, how long they've been in business, name-dropping clients they've worked with, etc. It's unfocused. It's boring. It's not valuable to your audience. Prepare a little better. I'm giving you an outline now.
This is the place where you will have the most amount of attention and respect from your audience. Don't fiddle around. You've just been introduced and the audience is prepared to listen for about 30-60 seconds (and then decide if they want to hear any more). Hit hard with a clear, well understood promise.
Example: Here is an introduction example for the image consulting expert
Hi, my name is [Susan Smith]. I've been in the [image consulting] business for  years. My work with clients typically involves [personal shopping for executives] and [wardrobe selection for special events], but I didn't start out as a "fashionista" in fact...
(Transition into a short story that focuses on the one BIG problem you came to solve)
When I got started I could barely [shop for my own shoes]. I didn't know how to [start shopping for a pair of fancy shoes], let alone [how to consistently choose the right pair] or [which stores had the best selection]. I understand the challenge and that is what we are going to focus on [how to buy a fancy pair of shoes and always get a great deal].
(See what I did there? I just spoke to the beginner, intermediate, and advanced ALL at the same time. No boring war stories. No name dropping. No stuttering. No bad jokes. Best of all, I have made a clear, bold promise that speaks to the middle of the entire audience.)
Note: Tell the truth. Coventional consultants feel the pressure to impress (and therefore embellish) a story. Coveted consultants know that the truth is always more compelling. If your story doesn't sound like this, don't force it. Tell your authentic story, whatever it is. Simply make it plain that YOU didn't always know what to do and you can appreciate THEIR challenge in not knowing what to do.
Identify (and solve) challenge A, B, and C
You've made your topic clear. In this example it's "how to buy a fancy pair of shoes and always get a great deal". Now it is time to identify and solve three challenges they are bound to come up against as they work toward this goal.
In the case of our image consultant here are some possible challenges to cover. You would choose the best from this sample:
- What are the popular manufacturers of high-end shoes? (What are some manufacturers I haven't heard of that make great shoes?)
- How can I test the quality of the shoes before I pay for them? (What are some immediate signs of poor shoe construction I should always look for?)
- How much should I consider paying for a high-end pair of shoes? (How much is too much to pay for shoes?)
- Where are the highest quality shoes sold? (Where are the secret bargain places to shop?)
Choosing only three challenges gives your presentation enough content without overwhelming the audience. If you only have a little time you can just list the challenges and provide quick guidance around each. If you have more time you could use each problem as a conversation prompt to engage the audience. Keeping your outline tight allows you to be flexible when you present. Hopefully, you can see that it is very possible to give a robust presentation delivering on multiple levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) once you understand who the audience is and the problem they have in common.
Conclusion and call to action
Remember, you didn't choose to speak at this event just to hear yourself talk. You said "yes" because you believed addressing the audience would be good for your business and the audience. And so and this point in the presentation you've made a very clear promise and you made good on it. Your energy, engagement, and clarity is going to inspire members of the audience to inquire about what happens next. Give them the opportunity to inquire about a next step.
Common Mistake: Do NOT end your presentation like most conventional consultants. The conventional consultant ends the presentation with their last slide of content having no conclusion, recap, or connection back to the main idea. It's like saying, "I'm finished with my slides so this presentation is over."
Instead, remind the audience of why they came. Remind them of what you just talked about. Remind them that they may have some "holes to fill" in their own process. Then simply offer an appropriate next step for those who are interested. The simplest way to do this? Repeat exactly what you said in the introduction and add a simple call to action.
Example: Here is a conclusion (and closing) example for the image consulting expert
Thanks for your time, again my name is [Susan Smith]. I've been in the [image consulting] business for  years. My work with clients typically involves [personal shopping for executives] and [wardrobe selection for special events], but I didn't start out as a "fashionista" in fact...
(Transition into a short story that focuses on the one BIG problem you just solved.)
When I got started I could barely [shop for my own shoes]. I didn't know how to [start shopping for a pair of fancy shoes], let alone [how to consistently choose he right pair] or [which stores had the best selection]. I understand the challenge and that is what we focused on in today's presentation: [how to buy a fancy pair of shoes and always get a great deal].
(Transition into your appropriate next step.)
For a few of you a light bulb has gone off that you need some help with [refreshing your wardrobe]. I'd love to help. I'm passing around survey forms now so that you can give me feedback on today's presentation and also identify yourself as being interested in my [personal shopping] services. Let me tell you a bit more about it...
(Tell the audience about your program and then take questions on anything you covered during your time.)
All you have to do at this point is hand out your simple feedback survey and the people who are interested in taking a next step will absolutely make themselves known. No hard selling. No sketchy tactics.
Where most of us blow it. (I really do mean "us". I've blown a few follow-up opportunities myself.)
Common Mistake: You don't consider follow-up in your presentation planning. You prepare for the glory of the presentation and bask in the glow of a job well done. But once you leave live event space it's back to business as usual and you don't follow-up correctly with the connections you just made.
Let's do better. There are a number of ways to follow up and it depends most on the specific call to action you made during your presentation. Still, here are a few examples of what is possible.
Deliver your free consultation. If you have a consultation package prepared you might have offered a free consultation as the introduction and opportunity to take payment. Set the free consult on site and mark your calendar with the appropriate date and time.
Send a free gift. Even if an audience member is not prepared to make an immediate purchase she may still be interested in hearing more from you. Give her that opportunity. Give her an incentive for joining your list and provide an easy way for her to provide contact information. When the event is over be sure to send out the gifts your promised.
Send a thank you note. If you sold a consultation package the day of your presentation send out a few thank you notes once you get back to your office. This doesn't have to be a complex undertaking. Just buy a few blank cards, write a personal note (you will know who they are...they just bought from you!) and put them in the mail. Bang, you just did something, 90% of other consultants don't do.
Hopefully, we agree that speaking opportunities are good. You should DO them. Now you need to begin the preparation process. I've done my best to lay it out simply so you can rock out your next engagement. In fact, I've put a little bonus together if you would like to get started now. It includes:
- Full mindmap of this post in multiple formats – MindMeister, Freemind, Mindmanager, and image file
- PDF transcript of this article with each of the templates so you can use them in your next presentation