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How to Get Started in Public Speaking Want to promote your business through public speaking? Start with these steps.

By Christopher Witt

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you're starting out in business, the most effective andleast expensive way to market yourself is by word of mouth-yourmouth.

"Even if you can't afford to do any marketing,"says Pamela Truax, co-author of Market Smarter, Not Harder,"you can promote your business by getting out and talking topeople."

For Truax, the most important speaking opportunity is the"elevator speech"-what you say at mixers and networkingopportunities when people ask what you do. Like any good speech, itrequires preparation.

A successful self-introduction follows these steps:

  • Let the other person talk first. If you express interest inothers, they'll be more receptive to what you say. You can thentailor your comments to their concerns.
  • Cite the benefits-to the listener-of your productor service. The most appealing benefits are saving time, money oreffort.
  • Hand out your business card.
  • Prove your claim with statistics or a testimonial. "Myproduct saved ABC Co. $25,000 in six months." "Thedirector of sales at XYZ Co. credits my training program withimproving her department's performance by 10 percent over atwo-year period." Be specific, concrete and honest.

From start to finish, your self-introduction should last no morethan a minute. Your goal is to inform and arouse interest, not togive an exhaustive (and exhausting) infomercial. Be prepared to saymore if someone expresses interest.

Speaking Out

Speaking to clubs, civic groups and nonprofit organizations isanother way to promote your business. Each time you speak, you meetpotential customers, network with professionals, establishcredibility and gain free publicity. (Clubs such as the Kiwanis,Rotary and Lions are always looking for good speakers.)

Rich Manuccia had been a personal fitness trainer for 13 yearswhen his business coach convinced him to give public presentationsto attract new clients. In the past two years, he has spoken toseveral different groups: Kiwanis clubs, weight-management groupsat community hospitals, a health fair and even a gathering ofnuns.

"Few of the speaking engagements paid me anything,"Manuccia says, "but they put me in front of potential clientsand referral sources. People are still contacting me as a result ofthose talks."

At a speaking engagement, follow these steps:

  • Be focused. Tell people how to do something-one thing.
  • Slant your subject toward your audience. Keep the basic contentthe same, but tweak it 10 percent (usually by adapting yourexamples and stories to your audience). Examples: "How to LoseWeight and Keep it Off-A Program for Professionals Who Travel"(or "for the Confirmed Couch Potato," etc.).
  • Be brief. Stay within the time limits your host suggests. Ifpossible, speak for 15 to 20 minutes, then take questions from thefloor.
  • Be simple and direct without being simplistic. Tell stories andgive examples.
  • To get your speeches noticed, send press releases to localnewspapers, trade journals and business publications.

Spread the Word

Once you feel confident about your presentation skills and yourexpertise in a particular field, consider speaking to professionalorganizations. Doing so has all the benefits of speaking to clubsand nonprofit organizations--and then some. It connects you withprofessionals in your field, establishes your credentials as anexpert and generates free publicity.

Nancy Jensen, president of Medical Care Connections Inc. in SanDiego, has built her medical public-relations company on theeffectiveness of professional presentations in two ways.

First, she promotes the services of physicians and chiropractorsby helping them give presentations to professionals in theworkers' compensation field. "Insurance adjusters attendthe seminars to keep up to date," says Jensen, "and inthe process, become personally acquainted with the health-careprovider who's giving the talk. These seminars are one of ourmost effective marketing tools."

Jensen also promotes her own business by speaking toprofessional organizations. As a result of a speech she made to astatewide convention of ambulatory-care-center administrators, shepicked up a major new client. "It also gave me credibility andrecognition as an expert," she says. "Now I getappointments with people who otherwise might not normally return mycalls."

When you address a professional organization, you can speaklonger--from 45 minutes to an hour--and in greater detail.Distribute handouts that highlight your central points, and be sureto include your name and phone number so people can contact youlater. The same rules apply: Be focused, slant your talk to youraudience and send out press releases.

You may not be able to afford a major marketing campaign, butyou can't afford not to promote yourself and your business byspeaking on your own behalf.

Learn More

For more help, check out these books:

This article originally appeared as"Speak Up" in the February 1998 issue of BusinessStart-Ups magazine.

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