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The Friday Five

Five Things to Ask Before You Say Yes to a Speaking Gig

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Most professionals have a complicated relationship with public speaking — particularly if it is a good business development opportunity. On the one hand, you’re pretty sure you want this gig. It could be the start of something good for your practice. On the other, it can be darn intimidating to stand up in front of a crowd knowing they expect you to be the expert. Talk about pressure!

Start Out on the Right Foot with These Five Questions

It will help you manage your anxiety and do an extraordinary speaking job if you get lots of information up-front. The best time to get the lowdown is before you agree to speak. In fact, based on what you learn, you may choose not to say yes. Here are five key questions to ask right out of the chute, before you say you’re all in.

1. How many people are expected to attend? Depending on your practice focus and topic, you may want as many people as possible present (can you say keynote?) or an intimate number that allows you to connect in a personal way. High-net-worth tax planning? You probably want an exclusive session with a small group of hand-picked participants. Employment law defense practice? I’d hope for a large group of human resources executives to help you continue to build your contacts … which leads to the second question.

2. Will you share the final attendee list and their contact information with me? This is a biggie in terms of new business generation. A speech is merely a speech until you leverage your participation by adding everyone’s name to your contact list and sharing new information and materials with them over time. Maybe next time you will be the program organizer and you’ll send an invitation to those on the list you want to target. In fact, this can be so important, you may want to negotiate for it if it isn’t immediately offered — perhaps a lower speaking fee?

3. Do you plan to ask for feedback on speaker performance and may I receive a copy of the summary? The best way to become an impressive speaker is by speaking, speaking, speaking — and getting actionable feedback. With emphasis on “actionable.”  It won’t help to learn the crowd thinks you are a 3.5 on a 1 to 5 scale unless there is specific information associated with it. Effective conference organizers will ask participants to share comments and specifics in addition to circling numbers on a scale. It is valuable to you to learn you need to do a better job of projecting your voice to the back of the room and repeating the questions people ask before responding to them.

4. Do you require written materials in advance? At the very least, this will help you gauge how much effort will be necessary to excel in this instance. Some programs will require something akin to a scientific paper (10 to 25 pages with footnotes) months in advance, while others merely hope you will bring something to hand out on the day of the event. Of course, it is always best to put something into the hands of your audience. Ideally, written materials will not merely repeat your speech but will provide additional useful information. Also, your name, firm name, contact information, website URL and social media handles will be featured nicely on every page!

5. What do you anticipate will be the hottest question about this topic in the minds of the audience? It never hurts to get a little help focusing your program. Asked this way, you are likely to get some big-picture answers, but that’s what you want. “How can I protect my small business against personal injury risk?” “Can I prevent an employee from stealing trade secrets when she leaves for another job?” “Will passing on money to my grandchildren before I die protect against them paying massive taxes on it?” This way you will be able to craft your own focused answers.

BONUS: A Handful of More Questions to Ask

Where will this take place? What will the room be like? Will I be on a panel or on my own? How much time will I have to speak? Will you compensate me for my time? Cover expenses? Tell me about the best speaker this group has ever had.

More Speaking Tips from Attorney at Work

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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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