Speaking “Opportunities” – What is their REAL marketing value?

If they’re paid there’s your fee plus whatever extra you may get down the line. If they’re unpaid or, even more scary, you’re being asked to pay for the opportunity to speak… that needs a lot more careful consideration, I’d have thought…

I’ve just come off the phone from talking with a friend. At one point she mentioned that she had to put together a 15-minute talk about empowerment (through her area of expertise) that she’ll be delivering to a group of about 500 in a week’s time. No money involved. Trouble was she wasn’t sure how she was going to address the subject, which is unlike her…

It sounded like a potentially good opportunity to me, so I asked her to tell me more about it and that’s when it started to become a bit like pulling teeth…

Me: Who are the 500 people going to be?
F: Mixed gender, various ages I guess

Me: Closed or open group?
F: Open

Me: Employees? Self employed? Redundant workers? Business start ups?
F: Er, a mixture, I suppose

Me: What’s the occasion?
F: Something that’s going on in (name of town)

Me: What kind of event is it? What’s its purpose? Why would people attend?
F: Don’t know. There’ll be stall holders there and several speakers. The stall holders are each being charged £10 and attendee entrance is free… That’s all I really know. I only met the organiser for the first time yesterday and we just hit it off… She’s sending me a flyer.

Me: Well, why don’t you give her a bell, tell her you’re preparing your bit and and ask her to take a couple of minutes to give you the low down on these points? I’m sure she won’t mind.
F: Yes, that’s an idea.

Me: It’s the only way you’re likely to get any kind of feel for the target audience in time to tailor your talk to their likely needs… Now, get off the phone – you’ve work to do! :-)
F: Okay, ‘bye…

The importance of research

I’m not about bursting anyone’s bubble but I know what it’s like to put a lot of effort into preparation to speak to X amount of people at somebody else’s event only to discover you could have sat round a kitchen table to chat with the the number who actually turned up! :-(

And I’m well aware of the fact that people will say they’ll turn up to a freebie without even really thinking it through: there’s no binding commitment to that. If it’s raining on the day or ‘something better’ crops up you won’t see them for dust…

So a couple of minutes after I’d put the phone down I was searching the Internet for the women’s group I thought my friend had mentioned that her new contact runs. After a couple of false starts I found the website and the event next week is being promoted on the home page…

  • The event is for new and small business owners
  • 3 of the speakers are talking about different aspects of Social Media: Facebook, Twitter and Blogging
  • The other 4 are on Funding, Finance, Self Employment and Bookkeeping

I then Googled the venue which has 4 rooms with a combined total capacity of approximately 170 people – to accommodate everyone: stallholders, speakers and attendees…

The likely value of this particular speaking “opportunity”?

The answer, I believe, lies entirely on what my friend expects to get from it, directly or indirectly.

  • If it’s clients from attendees, I’d say she’ll be lucky if her audience on the day is made up of 50 to 100 new and small business owners and some mates who’ve ‘come along for the ride’, rather than the 500 mentioned.
  • From my own experience, owners of new and small businesses “have short arms and deep pockets”, as one of my Scottish friends would say 😉
  • But the event is likely to be covered by the local press – as one of the speakers she might get a mention.
  • A bit like at a networking event, she’ll be making contact with a whole bunch of new people, each of whom might know somebody who might be a potential client.

And at the end of the day, another pal of mine pointed out to me that his speaking career was effectively launched at his first ‘gig’ where only two people turned up!

What are your thoughts or experiences you’d like to share?

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15 Responses to “Speaking “Opportunities” – What is their REAL marketing value?”

  1. Anita says:

    Hi Linda,

    I couldn’t think of anything to ‘add’ to your wonderful post sorry… BUT I wanted to say how much I admire you and your expertise. Thanks for sharing your tips, info, and the many things we can learn from you.

  2. Hi Elaine
    From my point of view your input figuratively raps on the knuckles all of us who’d say: “Oh, but I don’t have printed books”, “My stuff is all online”, “Everything I do is tailored to the individual client” and so on…

    If I understand you right it’s:

    If a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing well – and, in speech making, that means leaving behind more than a fleeting impression and a boring business card… 😉

  3. Great post Linda and excellent comments. Research is pretty much the key to understanding the value, even if it is just to practice for a future event. One thing I would suggest is to distribute a free handout – even if it’s just a sheet with the salient points from your presentation and your conatct details.

  4. Hi Ida
    Your contribution does make me think about how often flattery (and the implied opportunity for a bit of free marketing) is used by event organisers to keep costs as low as possible. From your point of view, as far as I’m aware, you don’t use your profile to make money for yourself, only for the women in Uganda. So darned right you should get your travelling costs covered, minimum!

    I love the final point you make and wonder if an organiser’s inability to answer your question is because, maybe, it’s one that is so rarely asked by speakers? :-(

  5. You raise some interesting points Linda. Unless you work out what’s in it for you you risk being out of pocket. On a personal note I used to feel flattered that I was asked to speak but a conversation with Karen Skidmore concentrated my thinking on this. I have to ask why I should give my time for free and at the very least recover my travel costs. At a recent event an organiser was surprised that I had asked them for my travel cost. My response- you have told me that the person you had in mind to speak at this event has dropped out so you need me to step in last minute. I had not budgeted to travel to London on that day so do you think it is fair that I spend money that I did not plan to spend for your benefit? The organiser did see my point and paid up.

    I al also amazed at the fact some of the organisers can’t provide the answer to -WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR AUDIENCE GET FROM MY PRESENTATION?

  6. Sarah Arrow says:

    I agree with Jane that if you are looking to make back of the room sales you must have a product to sell. To many speakers get up and speak and then are approached after and have nothing to sell.

    On a personal note, if an author has a talk I go and listen. If I like what they say I’ll buy a copy of their book. I recently bought a copy of Lara Morgan’s More Balls Than Most because I loved the way she spoke on stage. She was funny, practical and sold directly from the stage in a charming manner. She was hard to refuse and I knew I’d love her book.

  7. Thanks, Bryan and Linda!

    Bryan–love the tip about videotaping, and I’m going to do that.

    Linda, thanks, as always, for your lovely support. :-)

  8. Hi Jane
    I think what you’re particularly highlighting – and it’s a good one to remember as it applies to ALL marketing activity – is know why you’re doing it and what you’d like as the outcomes, in order of importance.


  9. Jane Hatton says:

    I think it depends on what you are seeking to gain from the presentation. If it is speakers’ fees, then you have to be really well known in your field. If it is back of room sales, then you have to have products to sell. If it is onoing sales of services then you need printed material for them to take away with them.

    I do speak as often as I can (not without difficulty – I have to be transported lying flat to the venue and then have a maximum of an hour to stand with back brace and crutches, not being able to sit!) but my goals are varied. If I’m speaking to disabled job seekers my goals might include helping them gain confidence in job search skills, to recommend they register on Evenbreak, to re-inforce how attractive they are to employers. If I’m talking to employers I’m aiming to promote the benefits of employing disabled people, and possibly encourage them to advertise their vacancies on Evenbreak.

    The Evenbreak-related goals are very easy to measure, but the other, more important goals are much more difficult to quantify – but no less important for that.

  10. Hi Bryan
    And thanks for the very useful input – great advice! :-)

  11. Thanks for the freebies, Suze :-)

    And yes, regarding merchandise: A friend of mine always manages to sell some of his books when he does speaking gigs.

  12. Mary, I can remember one of the early speaking gigs I did in support of my book; I had about four people come up to me afterwards and say that I must come and speak for them. Two years later I`m still waiting!

    If you have the opportunity for post-talk sales all well and good, but in my experience gigs with little or no fee are only good for practice and gaining experience. To maximise their value to you and make them worth doing I suggest you do the following:

    1] get the agreement of the organiser to video the gig. You will need a friend to man the camera for you while you`re speaking. It pays for you to be able to see what the rest of us are looking at when you speak!

    2] When you get the footage home, wait a day or two if you can before you view it. Watch it straight after the gig by all means but a few days later, when your adrenaline levels have returned to normal, will enable you to view it dispassionately.

    3] Make notes. Critique your performance and be honest with yourself. What worked and what didn`t? What can you improve for the next one? And if you`re feeling really brave get someone you trust to critique it for you!

    4] If you feel it shows you in a good light edit down the best bits into short clips and put them on YouTube with a link from your site. Not only are you much more likely that way to come to the attention of some paying clients, it gives you an additional incentive to do well at the gig!

  13. One way to cover your costs and make a bit with these unpaid speaking gigs is if you have some sort of merchandise to sell “back of room.” This isn’t as common as it used to be now that most people deliver their stuff electronically, but if you have printed books or booklets on your topic you can sell them to attendees and usually they will put their hands in their (albeit deep!) pockets! Happily for us authors there is still some élan about a hard copy book signed by the author…

    As for collating material for a presentation, you might like to check out these articles from my site as you’ll find them useful:





  14. Thanks for contributing, Mary and you’ve made some brilliant points.

    If your posts are anything to go by I’d imagine your talks will be easy on the ear, informative and have some great stuff for people to go away with and put into practice! :-)

  15. I think you gave your friend some very good advice . . . and ended up doing the online research she probably should have done. :-)

    I’m planning a couple of speaking opportunities at the moment. One won’t pay anything (I’m organizing it myself), and the other won’t pay much. But both, I think, will be good opportunities to speak directly to my target market, get their e-mail addresses, give them some valuable free info, and start communicating with them about paid offerings.

    I wouldn’t be doing these gigs if I couldn’t prepare the info very quickly. And my business is new, so I want people to know who I am.

    I also have the opportunity through these gigs to learn more about what my audience wants. So yeah, this year it’s worth it to me to makes these presentations.

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