Ask the Experts

I Hate Public Speaking! Is It Worth the Effort?

By | Dec.15.14 | Ask the Experts, Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Legal Marketing

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.

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4 Responses to “I Hate Public Speaking! Is It Worth the Effort?”

  1. Chris Hargreaves
    15 December 2014 at 6:48 am #

    Great thoughts here from the team!

    Public speaking is a huge hobby horse of mine.

    Personally I love it. Many other people loathe it with a passion. In that sense, it’s a lot like anchovies….

    I think one of the things for attorneys in particular is that frequently the public speaking invitation relates to a topic that the individual attorney simply doesn’t care about. As a result their preparation, content and delivery are lackluster.

    If, as a speaker, you can tweak the topic into something genuinely interesting to you, about which you care – your performance will be significantly improved, and generally better received as well.

    So my tip – try speak about stuff that actually matters to you.


  2. Debra L Bruce
    15 December 2014 at 8:59 am #

    I agree with most of the opinions expressed in this post. I especially want to reiterate the admonition not to expect immediate results. How often have YOU engaged someone right after hearing them speak once? For someone to hire you right away, they must have an immediate unmet need for the services you are offering. It’s more likely that the need will come later, and they will remember you if your name keeps popping up in authoritative publications and speaking engagements. Although occasionally a speaking engagement will result in a prompt new client engagement, I’ve been hired many times by someone who said they first heard me speak long before. The record (so far) is seven years before!

  3. Bob Weiss
    15 December 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Most lawyers are poor public speakers, and should avoid speeches even though it is a demonstrately effective tactic. Marketers must be sensitive to each individual attorney’s strengths and harness that lawyer’s style so the lawyer can be effective. Most good speakers are lousy listeners. Most good listeners are great at one on one conversation, for example. Get those lawyers in the right spot doing the right thing.

  4. John Hightower
    15 December 2014 at 11:33 am #

    A lawyer who doesn’t like public speaking should have thought of that before he or she decided to enter the field. Being a lawyer without doing public speaking is akin to being a fireman without wearing protective gear or an astronaut who doesn’t like to wear a space suit.

    Having said that, any lawyer who doesn’t like public speaking should do some self-analysis about why he or she doesn’t like it. And then he or she should get in contact with a professional who can help him or her address what the source of dislike (more likely to be discomfort, not dislike).

    The most likely source of the dislike is stage fright. There are ways to overcome that fear.

    The second most likely cause is self-consciousness. There are ways to overcome that cause as well–mainly an attitude of concentrating on getting your point across instead of focusing on how you look or sound.

    I agree with the observation that one shouldn’t do a marketing activity that one doesn’t “enjoy”–because that will “leak” into that activity. But the biggest way to solve that problem is not to avoid the marketing activity, but to change one’s attitude about the activity.

    “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
    –William James