How to build your influence through community speaking

By Dwight Bain

One of the fastest ways to become established as a regional expert is through the process of offering community workshops and seminars. After speaking to hundreds of these type of groups through the years I've made some wonderful friends, as well as experienced some remarkable opportunities by volunteering time to add value to others. Yes, I said volunteer, since you don’t get paid in dollars to give a community speech, but you can be well paid in other ways. How? Through influence, network, multiple referrals into your business, opportunities to give full fee presentations to other groups and wider media exposure, especially on the Internet.

Still, there’s another huge benefit to you- free advertising. Consider how much you would be willing to pay in advertising dollars to be featured as an expert in front of a group of key decision makers, successful business people or community leaders? I suspect a lot because of the incredible return on investment of being in front of key people who have the capacity to hire you or refer you to other key people in the community who can. Treat these opportunities like a public audition that features you in front of 15-30 people who can meet you to learn more of your desire to help in your area of expertise. And the best news is that you don’t have to pay to be in front of these community leaders, but you do have to be strategic.

There are opportunities to give community presentations every day in your backyard if you know where to look. These events often take place during a breakfast or lunch time on a weekday all over your town. Consider the following as a sample of the type of groups in your area that need communicators to get your thinking started about targeting the key groups looking for you right now to line up as the speaker at their next event.

___Business groups such as a chamber of commerce or industry
___Service or Civic Clubs, like Rotary, Sertoma, Lions, or Kiawana's
___Medical groups, like nurses, interns, residents or hospital committees
___Networking groups, like BNI, Focus International or Babblebee
___Faith based groups, like churches, ministries or the retreats they sponsor
___Health groups, such as the American Heart Association, Hospice or Red Cross
___Political or Political Action Committees, (PAC’s) focused on issues
___Emergency Services, like police, fire, EMS groups or safety committees
___Professional Women’s groups like American Business Women’s Association
___Women’s Clubs or community groups like the Junior League or Curves
___Athletic groups like master swimmers, soccer clubs or hunting groups
___Education groups like parent/teacher organizations or school volunteers
___Fraternal Orders, like the Elks, Eagles, Moose, or Fraternal Order of Police
___Senior’s groups, usually found at senior centers or retirement centers
___Youth groups, sponsored by churches, Youth for Christ or Jr. Achievement
___Parenting groups, especially young parents or those with a child in distress
___Trade Associations- which requires a longer explanation, since there are over 22,000 professional trade associations in the United States.

Most of these trade associations have a national, state and local chapter pushing the number of professional associations into the multiple thousands in every region of the country! Each level has to have a speaker at every event and writers for their monthly newsletters and websites.

This creates a HUGE opportunity for communicators to make a positive difference. If your background is in education, look for teachers associations. If it’s in real estate, look for realtors or brokers associations. If it’s in giving care for the elderly, look for agencies on aging or the professional associations that care for the aged.

You don’t have enough time to speak for every group, but you will have the time of your life if you can get in front of the right trade association and knock their socks off with a great presentation. Plus, at the local level these are always going to be free talks, but if you can ‘wow’ your audience, you can often be suggested to speak at the national trade association’s annual meeting and they do pay speakers at that level. So it pays to always speak as if you were giving the most important talk of your life. Excellence always comes back to bless you after it blesses your audience.

These groups need your input, they need your expertise and you need to help. It’s a perfect fit, so begin searching now to find the groups where you can make the biggest impact and once you have identified your key target groups, then make some calls to see who’s in charge of scheduling speakers to begin the process.

How do you find them? Search out your local newspapers under community events, do web searches on specific topics, or ask around to see who belongs to community groups, which are always looking for effective communicators.

Here are a few important principles to keep in mind as you begin to reach out to make a positive difference using the strategy of community seminars that serve others while positioning you as an expert.

1) It’s not about marketing- it’s about the message
The goal isn’t to market you, your book or your services… it’s about the message to help answer people’s questions, solve their problems and basically give information to help make their day or week go a little better. You want to give as much user-friendly content away in your presentation as possible. If it ‘smells’ like selling- it won’t work. You have to really care about your audience and helping make their lives work better. To quote motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “You can get anything you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” If you have a book, you could use it as a door prize. If you have business cards, you can leave them in the back, or another technique is to offer a special report via email in exchange for a business card or email opt-in. This rapid follow up builds your e-list, (which should NEVER be shared or rented in my opinion to respect the privacy of those who trust you), while showing that you are a professional who believes in giving as much away as possible to build value into every presentation you give. You can build in a very mild marketing follow up, but only after giving a ‘killer’ presentation that adds greater value to each member of the audience. Remember, if you ‘wow’ them, they will find a way to find you for their future events. Mostly give a great speech and somewhere have a business card, or memorable way to share your website with the audience and then let the power of your presentation plant the seeds that will grow into them remembering you for their next paid event.

2) Build on your communication strengths
If you are passionate about a particular subject, then this is your place to shine, however, if you aren’t really strong on a given topic, then stay away from it. Talk about how to solve problems in the areas where you can make the greatest difference. Usually this will come out of your existing career, or an avocation that you really enjoy discussing. If you are building on a strength the writing and speaking will come easy, and your sincerity will come through to show your audience that you are an expert they can trust to add value to their lives. If you love to tell stories, then build on that strength, if your style is more instructional, then create an interactive hand-out to make it a training time of greater learning.

3) Focus on creative topics to catch your audience
Avoiding financial ruin, getting out of a bad relationship, secrets of living to be 100, fast ways to regain health and wellness, prevention of disease, how to stay out of therapy, when to kick your kids out for good, how speed reading creates lasting wealth, recession proofing your business, how to gain a #1 ranking on Google… basically use a great title to excite your audience that it’s going to be a fun time of learning. Another technique I like to use is a title/sub-title process to capture the right and left hemispheres of the brain, (logical/rational vs. emotional/creative).

For instance, title- “Relationship Renewal” (right hemisphere), sub-title- “How to recover, rebuild and renew with the people you care about most.” (left hemisphere, which is often about a lengthier description of ‘how to’ do what it is you have described in your main title). This way you catch the attention of a much wider audience and your specific topic keeps your own thoughts in line for a more powerful presentation. Remember, you can often give the exact same speech, since you will be going from club to club and group to group, so you can strengthen it every time you give it.

4) Be professional and be prepared
Arrive early, know that frequently you may not get the full time you were allotted due to other business the club may be taking care of, so be flexible. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the easier you can ‘edit’ on the fly to end on time, (which is important since people on a tight schedule will actually get up and leave in order to stay on their schedules. You must finish on time, no matter when you get started). Have a printed introduction in large print to give to the meeting planner that outlines your credentials as an expert and encourage them to read it aloud ahead of time to get comfortable sharing this important information to let the audience know of your background and expertise. Hand-outs are a great way to reinforce your message, as well as add your contact information at the bottom of the sheet. (I’ve found that people will keep these for years if you 3- hole punch them or print on pre-drilled paper, which adds greater value to the sheet by suggesting that it’s important enough to take home and put into a notebook). If you have professional marketing material at a back table, that’s great, but in this communication setting the main strategy is to give an amazing talk first and foremost. Dress one level above your audience and be as polished as you can be for maximum impact since you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

5) Give a great talk and get a lot of great PR
Once you are comfortable with the process and are giving great presentations on a regular basis you can leverage your talks several ways that bring in new opportunities by taking your message to new audiences. Ask to professionally record or video tape your presentation. This can be turned into a new CD, podcast, DVD or online webinar. These can become bonus items to add greater value to your website, or stand alone products that you can add to your shopping cart of online resources for purchase by other groups.

Get quoted by the media, (especially if you send out press releases ahead of time which can be done with online services that offer free press releases), since your local newspapers and television stations have to fill news time and a clever topic given in a public seminar can often lead to media quotes which are quite valuable in establishing you as a regional expert. And don’t forget to ask that someone takes your picture with a digital camera while you are talking, so that you have some ‘action shots’ to use on your website, or with your blog of recent presentations.

The more you think ahead on how to leverage your community talk into a great community event, the more likely you will receive positive public relations and on-going referrals into your ‘day business’. Community workshops add value to everyone involved. To you, to your audience and to those who will meet you in the future because they heard about someone who cared enough to take their message to the marketplace to share with others. Do that long enough and you’ll be the busiest professional in your region… and it all started with a free speech.

I dare you to be the one who adds the greatest value in your regions by sharing the message entrusted to you with the most people possible. And then I look forward to hearing the success stories of how free speeches turned into fee for services because you cared enough to tell your story to some people looking for answers. Get to it!


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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group eNews, at LifeWorksGroup.org, (Copyright, 2004-2008) About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is a member of the National Speakers Association who partners with the media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 150 complimentary articles and special reports at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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