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How to ‘seal the deal’ on that speaking engagement

Your firm's members may have excellent credentials as speakers -- but it seems that many less-qualified people seem to end up on the conference programs and in the industry luncheon schedules. How do you ‘sell’ your firm's members to decision-makers in organizations, to get their place on the speaker’s podium? Here are my ideas.

To see how this works, let’s imagine an engineer with a strong level of expertise in the field of high-level residential design. She wants to get onto the podium at some conferences of property developers, to show that she has what it takes to make their properties into stars.

Do your research

First, you need to research what conferences and meetings there are available. If she's not an experienced speaker with a track record showing good audience feedback, I suggest you start with finding small, local groups -- maybe an industry luncheon --  so she can build credibility and experience.

Find whom to approach

Then, you need to approach the organizers of the event, by means of an e-mail. It’s vital that you find the right person to approach. Many organizations are staffed by volunteers, and these may change yearly or even more often. So it’s best to call first and ask to whom you’d send a presentation idea. If it’s a well-run organization, this will be far from an annoyance to them -- they need to fill a speaker schedule, and are always looking for people to give relevant presentations.

Prepare a query letter

A “query letter,” to borrow a term freelance writers use, is a mini-proposal for your engineer's presentation. It doesn’t need to be long; about a single screen in e-mail. It should contain four points:

  • What’s your proposed topic? A brief summary, two or three sentences, is all you need. In this case, maybe, “How dazzling design can make your property THE address to have!” Don’t try to cover too much in your proposed speech; you’ll likely have between 30 and 60 minutes, that’s all.
  • Why would attendees be interested? Show your engineer's understanding of the issues the audience is facing -- maybe a softening market, a need to manage costs so they can’t go all-out for amenities like they used to, and how sheer show-biz pizzazz can make a development successful
  • What are some of the points the speaker will cover in her speech?  Four or five bullet points, just to demonstrate that you have thought through your topic, is all that is needed.
  • Why is she the right person to do this presentation?  The organizers will want to be sure that she's a good presenter, but more to the point, does she know what she's talking about? List her qualifications and experience, plus any speaking experience.

Don’t give up! Persist!

You may need to send the query more than once, and to more than one person. Follow up with phone calls, maybe more than once. Send them evidence of your expertise -- such as articles you’ve written, other presentations, your blog. Getting speaking engagements can be frustrating, and most people give up too easily. Persistence is key to getting onto that podium.

Carl Friesen

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