As the holidays approach, there will be many opportunities to meet and greet, and collect business cards. One might think the more the merrier.  But not so fast, there are reasons to not start a variation on a baseball card collection (some of you may remember when such a collection was a big thing).

What got me thinking about business cards was the marketing meditation of last Friday in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals by my friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick strategic communications. It states:

“Always have an excuse to collect a bunch of business cards. During a speech, mentioned some great article you can send them. ‘Please leave me your business cards and I’ll see to it that you get the article.’”

Over the years I’ve given similar advice at my marketing seminars.  I go one step further and invite participants to come up and, in case they are out of business cards, put their name on a pad of paper placed up front.

The reason I agree with the tactic mentioned for speeches, is that it is more difficult to come away with contact information in order to follow up with a large audience. So, I see no reason for not gathering as many business cards as possible in that setting.  At a minimum it will help you build up your database.

However, I have a different view about gathering as many business cards as you can in a networking situation. At a networking event, presumably you have more face time, and can determine more readily the persons you would like to follow up with. Further, you don’t want to be seen as a gadfly who walks around the room asking for business cards with no purpose in mind.

After either event, following up is often the biggest problem for lawyers.  Grabbing a bunch of cards really means little, because often lawyers merely throw them in a drawer when they get back to the office.  I suggest that you focus on coming away with a half dozen or so cards from people you want to follow up with.

Then make sure you follow up with those people you obtain cards from.  Suggestions might include sending a handwritten (preferably) “nice to meet you” note, or at least an email, to continue the dialogue and possible set up a lunch, if the person is local.  The goal is to build on the relationship and your network.

Collecting business cards from strangers is a good business development tactic, but not if you don’t follow up, or have no strategy on how to capitalize on them.

No matter how many times you have given the same basic talk, always practice before giving it the next time.  I have given a similar marketing speech many, many times.  Occasionally, I have not practiced beforehand and I fell flat.  I was uncomfortable, and at times, tongue-tied.

So, I never give a talk without adding something new, and practicing my speech out loud for a couple of reasons.  One, to see how long it will really take; and secondly, to hear how I sound.

Marsha Hunter had a recent  post on Attorney at Work on “Perfecting Your Presentation Skills” that addressed the topic of practicing before speaking.  She suggests three simple steps:

  1. Shut your door and set a timer for 10 minutes. (I prefer to give my entire talk with slides as if I was actually presenting, even if it takes me an hour or more.);
  2. Stand up and speak for the 10 minutes;
  3. Ask yourself how you did. (The exercise helps me identify areas that are weak, as well as the strong points in my presentation.) Repeat the process for “as long as you can.”

Some may prefer Hunter’s approach over mine, and that is fine.  At least you’re not winging it.  I agree with Hunter’s statement “Being prepared, super-prepared and even over-prepared is a good thing.” Professional speakers practice and are prepared, others wing it.

When I am going to give a talk to a trade group, such as a Bar Association, I ask for the opportunity in advance to speak to the conference leadership or members who will be in the audience. The reason is simple, I want to find out what they want to learn, and take away from the session.

In other words, I’m trying to figure out the answer to the often unspoken question from prospective audiences everywhere: what’s in it for me?

Whether you call it by its new jargon “thought leadership” as Sally Schmidt does in a post this week on Attorney at Work, or the more commonly recognized terms – writing and speaking, both are excellent ways to educate your target audiences and raise one’s profile regarding one’s expertise. That is why both are on my top 10 list of marketing tips – Nos. 6 and 5 respectively.  It is always a good idea to give ‘em what they want.

But first, you need to ask your prospective audience.  In Schmidt’s post, she gives the example about an author writing about the sale of a dental practice. She suggests that a good way to go about that is to ask other dentists who have sold their practices for advice. You could ask them about their experience, and what they would do differently.

So, when you are writing or speaking, it is a good idea to meet the expectations of your audience (ask the editor in the case of publications).  The result is that your expertise will more likely be remembered by those you hope to attract as clients or influential referral sources.

One of the key ingredients for a successful speaking engagement is to be nervous as hell before you start.  It does not mean you should be trembling in your shoes, but if you are not a little on edge, you will generally fall flat.  At least that’s what happens to me. If I am very comfortable before I begin to talk, I generally come off poorly due to my overconfidence.

This is what I preached to my son when he was getting ready for oral argument in his trial advocacy course in law school. He did very well (OF COURSE).  Now that he is a litigator, he reminds me of that advice a few years back, and tells me that it helps him today to deal with his nervousness prior to a trial or hearing. (Nice boy to say his father’s counsel actually helped.)

This all came to mind when I saw an article on Attorney at Work by attorney Ruth Carter this week.  She provided some good tips that bear on this nervousness factor. Her advice, which she says changed her speaking life, is to remember “everyone (in your audience) wants you to do well.” Also, your focus should be on doing a good job for the audience’s sake.  And the way to do that, in my mind, is to be as well prepared as possible, practice even if you’ve given the same speech before, and expect (even welcome) that edginess that will give you the best chance of being on your A game.

Carter says she tries to “focus on speaking slowly and keeping my message concise and entertaining so the audience will remember it.” She concludes that when she focuses on that the “audience gets what they need and everything else seems to fall into place.”

Sound advice!  I hope it helps you do well next time you give a speech.

Whether you are making a pitch to your boss, a client or prospect, or a speech to a more general audience, credibility is a crucial ingredient. Joey Asher reminds us in an article on of the importance of ethos in any presentation.

Asher succinctly points out four simple tips to boost your credibility on such occasions:

  • Develop relationships in advance. It’s always a good idea to build relationships with decision-makers (asking for more details about their needs is one way), especially before making a sales pitch. Also find out prior to your presentation to a trade group what your audience wants to hear by conducting phone interviews with several members beforehand. Then you can refer to them by name when you present – great ethos there, I’ll tell you from personal experience;
  • Don’t read notes. Know your talk or presentation well enough that you don’t read your material. It doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a peek at your notes now and then, but the important thing is to have as much eye contact as possible. And eye contact is absolutely necessary to ensure listener attention and retention;
  • Allow lots of questions. It’s a good idea to encourage questions, and as many as necessary. It “shows an openness that makes your audience believe in you” according to Archer; and
  • Respond with short, crisp answers. I certainly agree that shorter answers are more credible than long ones. Responding blah, blah, blah or yada, yada, yada only results in boring, boring, boring. Not to mention a credibility gap as the questioner shuts down.

Pretty simple tips, but extremely important from the standpoint of gaining ethos for your presentations.

You might ask how I could make such a statement when most dogs, including my Chocolate Lab Sugar, spend most of their day sleeping. Normal people wouldn’t think that you could learn a lot about developing business from spending 90% of your time viewing the inside of your eye lids.

But, ALAS, Joey Asher does just that in his insightful article that appears in yesterday’s Small Firm Business newsletter. He shares some public speaking tips he picked up from his dog Balou.

They include traits that both Sugar and Balou share:

  • Displaying a lot of passion,
  • Making great eye contact,
  • Winning love by giving (tons) of love.

As Joey points out, Balou (and you too can) “do a lot wrong (and get away with it) if you establish a great rapport.” You can overcome a lot of things that might be wrong with your speech, if you have established a great connection. Pretty smart stuff from a dog that sleeps all day.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to speak to a trial lawyers’ bar association. Not having a lot of experience on the plaintiffs’ side of marketing, I decided the best approach would be to get some insight into what the organization was hoping to learn about marketing. Accordingly, I asked my contact if I could speak to several of the groups’ members to get a better idea of what their expectations were, and what specifically they would like me to address during my speech. I did and got some very good ideas prior to my appearance. Actually, that is a good approach to any workshop or seminar presentation.

John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing has a post he calls "A Workshop Secret Weapon" in which he points out the advantages of this strategy. They include:

  • your presentation is more likely to be well received,
  • you will gain "some great insight in what you need to present," and
  • you will already have developed a connection with some of your audience, and can use part of the earlier conversations in your presentation.

So, prior to your next speaking engagement, take the opportunity to use this not so secret tactic to increase the impact of your presentation.

A comment to a recent post of mine led me to a book about overcoming America’s No. 1 Fear – public speaking. The title of the book Stage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear by Mick Berry and Michael Edelstein got my attention. It isn’t the same as “writer’s block” or in my case “Blog Fright,” as in I’m suppose-to-do-a-blog-post-today, and haven’t done it.

There isn’t anything that compares to the pure terror experienced by some people when they have to get up to speak before an audience, especially a bunch of strangers. I love public speaking, but I remember my fears when I first started doing it – very, very stressful to say the least. And I learned over the years that if I don’t experience some trepidation before I get up to speak, I usually fall flat.

Although I don’t usually promote other people’s products here, the book sounded interesting enough to mention. If you don’t want to spring for $10 (or even less) on Amazon, here are sources of some free tips that may help overcome stage fright for those that experience it.

They include:

There are many who say when it comes to speeches, as for a lot of things in life, less is more. I’m not sure whether that’s based on lousy speeches, or by keeping it short, it’s easier to get your point(s) across more effectively.

Whatever is the case I think brief is better when my priest gives a short homily; and although you may think it’s because I want to get out of church quicker, that is actually not the case. I actually think he is a much more dynamic speaker and I remember his points better, when he doesn’t try to cover too much. 

So, when I ran across Ernie the Attorney’s post yesterday about this thing called Ignite I had to take a look, since Ernie is truly one of the earliest and most respected pioneers in the legal blogosphere. It appears that this Ignite movement, which involves people giving speeches no longer or shorter than five minutes in length and with 20 slides advancing every 15 seconds, is gaining in popularity. A chapter has formed in Ernie’s hometown of New Orleans.

My head is still spinning from the dizzying video highlighted on the Ignite site. But it is entertaining to say the least. My only concern about the upcoming Ignite event in New Orleans that Ernie mentions is that the multiple presentations are scheduled from eight to 10 PM (after a cocktail party starting at 7 PM) is how dizzyingly these presentations will come across.

The important point of all that is is to think about how to make your next speech short, simple, and memorable. Maybe the principle behind Ignite might help set a fire under your audience.  

Here’s an interesting idea worth trying. Tom Antion over on Great Public Speaking suggests making eye contact with individuals  in the audience and hold it for 4 seconds. I think that four seconds is a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time. So, maybe 2-3 seconds.

His point is that if you do so, you are more likely to make a personal connection that will get people to come up to talk with you after your speech. That’s a good thing, as a meaningful relationship may develop as a result. I can see how making eye contact with half a dozen people or so during your talk could have an impact on those people and make them feel special – if not overdone, of course.

Tom also suggests trying this out with your next five speeches. You should notice the difference in the reaction of your listeners by then. And let’s face it, if you do get people to take advantage of more one-on-one contact with you after your speech, the likelihood of your speech producing results sooner rather than later is very good.