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Ask the Experts

I Hate Public Speaking! Is It Worth the Effort?

By The Editors

Question: I hate public speaking, but I do it because I’m told it’s good marketing. But when I take days to prepare for a single speech that brings me no new business, I’m inclined to refuse the next invitation. What am I not getting about public speaking as an effective marketing tactic?

Ask the Experts from the LMA

Marguerite DowneyMarguerite G. Downey: Don’t refuse an invitation to speak simply because you dislike doing it. The show will go on with or without you. Turning down an invitation denies your firm and gives your competitors a chance at the spotlight. If you must pass on a speaking opportunity, recommend someone else. By suggesting another speaker, you are being thoughtful of the event organizers.

Think of public speaking like you would any other marketing endeavor — it is a method to encourage long-term opportunities by showcasing your expertise. The benefit is that you are the star of the show. If you agree to take on the challenge, remember that this event is not just about getting business. Your role as a presenter is to be a knowledgeable communicator and educate your audience.

When it is time for your presentation, be sure you are the first one in the room. Shake hands, ask for business cards and find out why people are attending. After your speech, encourage your audience to follow up with you. If there are additional presentations after yours, stay and be an active listener for another speaker. Never take the attitude that you will arrive at the time of your speech and then leave immediately afterward.

If time is a major concern for you, consider web-based platforms to minimize travel and avoid the need to stay for a conference.

Whether the presentation is web-based or in-person, do reach out to people who attended your session and connect with them on LinkedIn as well.

Marguerite G. Downey has nearly 20 years of experience with international business development. She is the director of communications and client services at Adduci, Mastriani & Schaumberg, LLP, in Washington, D.C. She is the former president of the LMA’s Capital Chapter, leader of the Solo/Small Firm SIG and a member of the Strategies magazine editorial committee. 

Tina EmersonTina Emerson: As with any marketing tactic, patience is key. You can’t expect a single speech to result in the phone ringing off the hook. The same goes for any single article or advertisement or sponsorship. However, consistency in every approach can produce great results if done well.

Public speaking isn’t for everyone. Even though it can be good marketing, it will not be if the speaker is not effective in his or her delivery. If you’ve concluded that you are a great public speaker and are extremely knowledgeable on the subject matter, you might want to rethink where and how often you are doing your speaking. Perhaps your audience isn’t quite right for the services you provide. Perhaps this is the first time the audience has seen you, and they don’t know you very well.

The point is that results come when you have targeted a market and are speaking directly to their needs. To simply take the podium and go for it is okay, but it’s all noise if no one is listening. Also, one appearance isn’t going to accomplish much. You must be a frequent presenter, a thought leader and an active participant. Engage with the crowd. Before you make the effort to speak at them, make sure you speak with them — know their business, hear their concerns. Only then will your presentation efforts be more relevant and absorbed by your audience.

If public speaking isn’t your thing, concentrate your marketing efforts in writing and submitting articles or contributing to a blog. Still, though, you must target that audience and put your time in the right places. Whatever you decide is your strength, do it and do it consistently.

Engage with your audience in person or online and always follow up.

Tina Emerson is marketing director at Rogers Townsend & Thomas, PC, a full-service firm headquartered in Columbia, S.C. With 15 years of B2B communications experience, she leads the marketing and business development efforts for the firm’s offices in North Carolina and South Carolina. She is a member of the Strategies magazine editorial committee. Follow her on Twitter @tfemerson.

Ian TurvillIan Turvill: Never engage in a form of marketing you hate. If you do, your misgivings will leak through in your every action, and there’s no chance you’ll attract new clients. That said, public speaking certainly remains an effective tactic. It can put you at the center of people seeking the expertise you have to offer, and the fact of your selection as a speaker reinforces your credentials.

There are several tactics to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of speaking.

  • First, speak at conferences or events where your target clients are present — and not just other outside attorneys. Don’t teach other lawyers how to compete with you!
  • Second, repurpose the same content for multiple presentations. This is entirely plausible if you target conferences for non-overlapping industries, for example.
  • Third, instead of preparing a presentation, consider moderating or participating in a panel — it’s much easier and a great way to strengthen relationships with other panelists.
  • And finally, follow up afterward. If someone gives you their business card, ask to meet or talk over the phone, and keep in touch so that you remain “top of mind.”

I know public speaking works. Just do it right and love it — or don’t do it at all.

Ian Turvill is chief marketing officer at Freeborn & Peters LLP in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @IanTurvill.





The Legal Marketing Association provides professional support and education as well as opportunities for intellectual and practical information exchange.


Categories: Ask the Experts, Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Marketing
Originally published December 15, 2014
Last updated April 14, 2018
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