It’s weird. Professional speakers, who are often paid thousands of dollars to give a one-hour talk, are expected to “sell from the platform” – that is, encourage audience members to go to their product table at the back of the room to buy their books, CDs, DVDs, notepads and promotional items using a short commercial at the end of their talk. The problem is that when the pitch goes on too long, it can backfire.
But as a free speaker who is typically compensated only with a free meal or a small gift, you are not supposed to sell at all. Why? Because you were invited to speak by a particular group; you were not hired by them. It is understood that you are there to educate, engage and entertain that group, not take the occasion to promote your own agenda.
The problem is that you ARE there to sell something, and you should expect the investment of your time, effort and money in securing and giving your presentation to pay off in terms of product sales, new clients, referrals, or some other form of financial return. Here are six ways you can encourage your audience to take action on your behalf without turning them off:
1) Change your thinking: Think of sales of your products as a way to nurture your relationship with your audience, rather than as change in your pocket. The only reason people will buy what you have to offer is because your talk touched them or taught them something, and they want to take you home with them. Buying your book, CD, etc., allows them to do that.
2) Remember that nobody likes to be sold, but everybody loves to buy: Pitching is offensive, but persuasion can be pleasant. Rather than trying to sell products, your mission should be to encourage people to want what you have. Since they came to hear you, they are already interested in your topic, and when you respect their intelligence and don’t pitch or push, you’ll find they will be interested in you and be more inclined to linger afterwards.
3) Have a drawing using a sign-up form: Pass out a sign-up form for your ezine (email newsletter) and draw for a copy of your book, CD, or a free consulting session. As you give it to the winner, tell them and the audience that you’ll autograph their copy – and everyone else’s – at your table after your talk.
4) Incorporate your product subtly into your talk: I recently heard an author who excerpted an exercise from her book and had the audience totally engaged by it. During her talk, she would occasionally refer to her book by saying, “This is on page ______” or “This is in the chapter titled ______.” It was extremely effective and completely unobtrusive.
5) Be realistic: I wish I could tell you that you can expect X% of the audience to buy your products, but the fact is that each speaking engagement is unique, and so is each audience.
When I was doing a lot of speaking for my book Secrets of the Hidden Job Market: Change Your Thinking to Get the Job of Your Dreams, my experience ranged from making no sales to selling 44 books in 30 minutes. Same talk but different audiences.
6) Think relationships: Since people do business with people they like, your goal is to develop relationships with those who may have an interest in what you have to offer, and to encourage them to refer you to their friends. Your speaking success won’t be measured in product sales, but rather in the business that comes later.
So the next time you get up in front of an audience, don’t see them as prospects; think of them as people who are there to hear you share with them something they want to know. And very shortly you’ll discover why speaking is the most cost-effective way to generate business for your business.
Janet White is a 40-year veteran of business to business public relations, marketing and sales. Her diverse career includes being a reporter for Newsday, operations assistant at WABC-AM in New York when it was the # 1 radio station in America, 12 years as a commercial real estate writer and publicist in New York and Dallas, and 14 years as a sales rep for mobility, custom rehab, bariatric and patient handling medical equipment.
In 2010, Janet came back to her public relations and marketing roots and established The JW Speakers Agency, Dallas/Fort Worth’s only booking agency for business owners who use free speaking as a way to increase their exposure, broaden their network and bring in new clients, and emerging speakers who need guidance on building their speaking business. http://www.jwspeakersagency.com