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Most lawyers want to exploit the opportunity to showcase their expertise by speaking before a group of potential buyers or referral sources. Whether this occurs at a conference, a self-hosted seminar or webinar, or participating in one hosted by another organization, the key to success lies in your ability to control a handful of critical factors:

Who will attend? 

Unless it's the right audience, you're wasting your time and deluding yourself that you're marketing.

So, what's the right audience?

People whose circumstances make it likely that they'll face the demand-triggering, door-opening problem you solve. With a little thought, you can profile them and identify the organizations and channels where they're reliably found. 

(Forget about "I'm new to public speaking, and this will be good practice." You don't practice on game day, and it's disrespectful to the audience and host. If you need to practice, join Toastmasters.)  

What's the topic? 

Your topic must be based on a compelling enough business problem to command the right audience, preferably a strategic one that earns the attention of executive decision makers. If it's mostly implementers, think hard. When you consider a potential problem-topic, think about its strategic, operational, and economic consequences (the Cost of Doing Nothing). Is this something that stakeholders must take action to solve, or is it merely a good idea for them to take action?

Who else should you share the stage with, if anyone? 

If you're participating in an event organized and hosted by another, they'll decide this question; if you're the host and organizer, you get to decide. The decision is based on balancing values: impact, distribution, and draw.

If you present alone, you'll establish more thought leadership for yourself, but you'll also bear all the risk of distributing the message and drawing an audience. If you're not confident about the distribution/draw part, you may be better off co-presenting with a client, referral source, or a well-known, non-competing peer who has the resources and support systems to promote the event.

For example, if you're relatively unknown, and plan to talk about structuring alternative investments to minimize risk, you might be smart to partner with an expert from Morgan Stanley, whose sterling brand conveys credibility and legitimacy that, comparatively, you may lack.

How much must you give away? 

The purpose of any public speech is to prove the need for the audience to consult with someone like you--not to showcase your genius. You're there to stimulate demand for your category of service or solution. A general guideline is to give away unlimited amounts of "what" content, and a modest amount of "how." By "what" I mean "Here's what you should do," which consists of categorical advice.

Here's an example that we've all experienced. A fitness expert defines the problem of running out of mental energy mid-afternoon at work. She gives you categorical advice, "Increase your protein intake and reduce carbohydrates, and do small exercises just before lunch." That's the "what." She doesn't, however, give you detailed "how" advice, e.g., high-protein shake recipes, or explain how to combine foods at lunch to avoid the post-lunch crash. That detailed advice is what she sells. 

Unless you have a history of getting the majority of your work from competitors' conflicts, and expect that trend to continue, I'd discourage speaking at legal profession events, particularly those offering CLE. Why alert your competitors to a demand-driving issue you've discovered, or educate them how to exploit it, or teach them how to solve a problem? Instead, identify and get yourself on the agenda for industry conferences populated by the people who actually buy what you sell.

How to structure a hosted seminar to greatest advantage

There are two keys to education/marketing seminars:

  1. The issue must compel attention from a group that you may not ordinarily have access to, e.g., senior executives at companies that fall within target parameters you've established.
  2. Speak about the underlying business issue that drives demand for your category of legal service, not the technical legal issue that defines your response or action.  

By showing up at an issue-driven seminar, attendees confirm that we have gotten their attention and that the subject is of interest to them, but that is no guarantee of action. Remember that in 30% of selling situations, No Decision is the winner. That's usually the result of the Cost of Doing Nothing being low, or the affected stakeholders' inability to reach a decision. Your seminar goals are:

  • prove the need;
  • convert intellectual interest into an "action imperative;" and
  • have potential buyers walk away convinced that they really must do something about this problem, so they'd better get some good advice. 

Only then can you try to make yourself the preferred source for that advice.

These guidelines are effective no matter what medium you're communicating through. Whether in-person seminar or conference presentation, webinar, or education session hosted by a client, your purpose and strategy is the same.

Mike O'Horo

Do you know how to get the most out of the weeks leading up to your presentation? With RainmakerVT's online course, Expanding Your Network from Your Desk, you'll learn how to simultaneously test your planned content and expand your network to include prospects who acknowledge having your demand-triggering problem. 

If your marketing effort begins and ends with your speech, you'll never get anywhere. Here's how to make it the starting point and foundation of a successful campaign.