Prospecting Corner: My business is suffering from a lack of prospects

Q: My business is suffering from a lack of prospects. How can I meet, connect and network with more people without adding too many extra hours to my day?

A: One of the best ways — maybe even the best way — to promote, market and brand your business to a wide range of people in a short amount of time is to seek out public speaking engagements.

Public speaking is an essential prospecting skill, but it can be tough to do. There were days (long ago, of course) where, before a presentation, you might find me hiding under a desk wrapped in a blanket. OK, I’m exaggerating. A little. But some of you have been there or are pretty close to there.

Difficulty notwithstanding, I believe effective sales presentations are one of the best ways an advisor can help people, sell their services and offer insight. And yet most of us don’t deliver them, can’t deliver them or refuse to deliver them.

A foolproof marketing tool

One of the most successful advisors I know does nothing to market his business other than deliver presentations at several universities in his community. He offers a program at night that covers the nuances of planning, annuities, long-term care, estate planning, life insurance, health insurance and taxes. He invites the attendees both at the beginning and end of his program to fill out the accompanying application if they think his services might be useful to them. On average, out of 20 attendees, he ends up with 16 appointments. And he does business with almost all of them. Not bad.

With that in mind, here are 12 ways of overcoming your fears and delivering a great presentation.

1. Know your material cold. If you don’t, you have no business speaking to an audience. I have attended too many presentations where the speaker either didn’t know their stuff or spent the time promoting a product or service instead of presenting useful information. Do the math: One hour multiplied by 100 people equals 100 wasted hours (101 if you count the speaker’s).

2. Be organized in your delivery. Break your content into an order or format that’s obvious and makes good sense. If your audience has to work too hard to follow, they may give up. This is especially true during technical presentations.

3. Project your voice.  When speaking to a group — large or small — pretend you’re only speaking to the back row of attendees. I teach a public speaking class at Rutgers University. In the classroom, I’ll have a student who’s presenting in front of the room turn around so their back is facing the audience. Then, I have them speak so the back row can hear them. After talking to the wall for a while, I’ll have them turn around to face the audience while keeping their decibel level the same. Problem solved!

4. Use silent pauses. As opposed to verbal pauses — the ums and ahs. Take a breath and pause while transitioning to the next speaking point or thought. Silence is also a great way to change the tempo or let a powerful point simmer a bit. Or you can use a pause to put a little pressure on your listeners to answer a question you’ve posed. An audience is often more uncomfortable with a silent pause than a confident speaker, so use it to your advantage.

5. Practice, practice.Obvious, yes. But speakers practice in different ways. A colleague of mine practices for a keynote talk by presenting her speech word for word to an empty room. Others present to a mock audience to gain feedback for adjustments. I just try to know my content, approach and audience and visualize the speech being presented picture-perfect.6. End with a bang. Like a good book, there’s got to be a great ending or your audience will be let down. Your close is your legacy. If they’re the right words, they could effectively sum up your purpose and be remembered forever. (Consider Dorothy’s final declaration: “Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”)

7. Get them involved. Depending on the venue, one of the best ways to succeed with a small group or even a large audience is to make them part of the fun. Ask engaging questions and wait for a response, facilitate an activity, list responses on a flip chart and then speak to each (a good way to show you know your stuff). Even if the audience is not actively speaking, if there are positive nods and eye contact throughout, you’re in good shape.

8. Start with your best stuff. Your best material should be up front. Why? Because if you’re nervous, you’ll be more at ease if you begin with an approach or topic you’re comfortable with. It might be a quote, statistic, or stating a problem. In my case, it’s often a story. Just make sure it’s relevant to the point or topic you’re addressing.

9. Understand your purpose. There are really only a few reasons for anyone to give a presentation: They’re looking to inform, persuade, entertain, commemorate or introduce someone or something. Make sure your language and format is consistent with your purpose.

10. Be confident. And if you’re not, fake it. People are attracted to those they perceive as being confident. Good speakers and presenters put this vibe out. So do great leaders.  How do you build your confidence when speaking? The more expertise and skills you can develop around your topic, delivery and audience, the more confident you will be.

11. Use deliberate body language. Go out of your way to ensure your body language and facial gestures amplify the points you’re trying to make. I don’t think it should be rehearsed, but it should be well thought out and prepared. For example, when I’m telling a funny story, I can’t help but laugh when telling it. More often than not, the audience laughs with me.

12. Remember: It’s all about them. Not you. Your presentation should not be about your products and services. It should be about delivering great information that’s helpful, relevant and applicable. Strong speakers can be very convincing from the front of the room. I believe it’s unethical to use this positioning just to peddle your wares. Instead, use the platform to give sound advice and showcase your knowledge. If you do this and use these same guidelines in serving your clients, you’ll have a solid book of business forever. 

Great speakers are perceived as being experts in whatever it is they’re speaking about. It just takes practice, and the confidence to be open to feedback. Bottom line, your audience wants you to succeed. Follow these 12 tips and you won’t disappoint.Michael Goldberg is a speaker, consultant, author and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting. His book, “Knock-Out Networking! More Prospects, More Referrals, More Business!” was published in March. For more information on networking or to subscribe to Michael’s free blog, The Building Blocks to Success, visit www.TheBuildingBlockstoSuccess.com or http://www.BuildingBlocksConsulting.com.

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