One of the challenges I’ve had in getting speaking gigs to the people I most want as clients is one that you may be facing as well – what you want to talk about is not always what they want to hear.
That’s because you’re not the same as your clients. You have your field of expertise, which is in a different world from theirs -- and you’re trying to reach into THEIR world and show them that you can meet their needs. That makes you an “outsider,” someone they may distrust, and be concerned that you’ll just use the podium as a chance to make a hard sell.

So how do you convince meeting organizers that you have something to say that is relevant to the people who will be in the audience?

It helps to understand that conferences, luncheons, breakfast meetings, meetups and other such gatherings tend to be organized along one of four different axes.
  • Industry events -- for sectors such as mining, retail, renewable energy, airport operation
  • Professional events – for lawyers, engineers, Human Resources professionals, environmental compliance officers and others
  • Regional events: based on business in a specific city, state, region (Pacific Northwest; Southeast Asia) or other area with common interests
  • Cause-related events: driven by a specific interest – maybe infrastructure renewal, stakeholder relations, or social enterprise
Some events are a combination – lawyers in the oil and gas sector based in Houston who are interested in controlling fugitive emissions from hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford shale formation, for example. Sure, that’s really narrow, but depend on it, those people influence a LOT of budgets and are well worth reaching.

Organizers for these events want presentations that are specific to their interests. They want a potential conference-goer to look at the conference program and say, “I’ve just got to get to that presentation. There’s no way I’m going to learn about that subject in any other venue.”

Here’s where this gets sticky. Let’s visualize an organizer (let’s call this person “Carol”) who is looking for speakers for a renewable-energy conference. And you’re a specialist in remote sensing, which is interpretation of imagery from satellites and aircraft. Increasingly, aircraft are being replaced by drones and satellites, and you want to discuss some of the new trends in applications for drones.

But here’s the thing. People going to a renewable-energy conference want to learn about wind turbines, solar arrays, geothermal boreholes, and wave/tidal power. They don’t care about drones. At least, not yet – but you hope that after they hear your talk, they’ll come rushing up to you, begging for your business card, hoping you can help them.

But you need to get that chance first. So how do you make your drones sound relevant enough to renewable energy, so that Carol will book you for a presentation?

Several ways. They all relate to “intersectionality,” which is a word that is common in discussions of racial and gender politics, but is still rare enough that Word puts a red squiggly line under it that says “There ain’t no such word.” But there is. There are several ways to intersectionalize (another red squiggly line!) your speech topic, so that Carol, and her attendees, will understand the connection.

Here are some techniques you can use to convince a meeting organizer, even one in a world that’s very different from your own, that your speech should be added to the lineup.

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1 Fitting your message into the organizers’ needs

One way to build that connection is to show that your presentation topic can help the organization meet its needs.

Many conferences have “tracks” or themes, so that people interested in one particular aspect of the topic can follow those interests. Carol’s conference might have tracks on “Finance and permitting,” “Construction,” and “Maintenance.”

Since one of the applications of drones is checking solar arrays to see if they need cleaning or damage repair, show Carol how your presentation can help her fill the “Maintenance” track at her conference. Drones can be a low-cost, reliable and verifiable way to inspect solar arrays, even located remotely.

To do this, look for descriptions of events that the organization has hosted before (Google is amazing for that), and find topics they’ve done before, but not recently.

For example, airborne drones can check the condition of access roads to wind, solar and geothermal sites, looking for washouts and downed trees. They can do this at low cost, and on short notice – such as just after a storm, so that repair work can start right away, to keep the road serviceable. If you find that there have been presentations on access road construction and maintenance before, that’s your clue that Carol may be looking for more on that topic.

Some professional organizations have educational requirements – and it’s a good thing that engineers, lawyers, accountants and other people doing work others depend on, are required to keep their knowledge up to date. So, show how your topic can help them meet those educational requirements.

As an example – I’m a member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, and each chapter is required to have presentations on each one of six “domains of practice” at least annually so that members’ knowledge is well-rounded. I’m able to tell the chapter’s Board that I can help them meet one of those domains. You should look for similar opportunities.

It is sooooooo much easier to fit your idea into Carol’s idea of what the event should look like, than trying to convince her of something new.

Just an aside – having a recommendation from someone in that industry or profession can be a great way to gain Carol’s trust, and to give that person something credible with which to approach other people she needs to convince.

2 Newsjacking: wrapping your talk around news they can use

Of course, “new” sells too. Particularly if you’re aware of news that will affect the world of the people you want to serve.

Once again, on the topic of “drones meet renewable energy,” it could be that environmental regulators have started to develop new rules around protecting surface water from potential contamination by spills related to geothermal energy production. This is important because often, the deeply-sourced groundwater tapped for its thermal energy is just bursting with salts, metals and other contaminants, which could be harmful to aquatic species if it gets leaked.

So, there is a need to frequently monitor geothermal installations, particularly the pipelines that connect wellheads to the central plant, to discover and deal with leaks promptly. If you can show drone-based monitoring to be a solution – maybe daily inspection flights – you may be able to get onto the program as a speaker with news that matters.

You can learn more about the topic of newsjacking in post #67, but for now, here are the essentials:

  1. Find new issues that are likely to affect your potential clients (in this case, audience members) – new regulations, new technologies, new laws, recent reports and studies – and describe the news
  2. Show why it matters to your audience members – how it will help them or harm them
  3. Give your informed opinion on how the events will play out over time
  4. Make your recommendations on how they can avoid problems as a result of the news, or access a benefit

Newsjacking speeches work best if you can mention in your title a specific law or other hard-news event – “Helping you meet Regulation 423,” for example, would help ensure that anyone affected by Regulation 423 (whatever that might be) would want to attend your event.

3 Case studies show how your world can help THEIR world

Your speech needs to show that your knowledge and skills can help them get results in their world. One of the best ways to show that is by showing it – via a case study about how you used your abilities to get results in their context.

This is particularly powerful if you can get someone who represents the people in your audience to co-present with you. This can take some arranging and maybe some expense if you’re paying for their travel, but it just ROCKS from a business development viewpoint. Here’s why:

Your presentation has more credibility. Audiences are used to case studies that sound more like infomercials, and which are about as credible. If your client is standing alongside you, supporting what you’re saying, your message is seen as being more reliable.

It’s a stronger presentation – your client will have insights into what worked and what didn’t, and particularly what the process meant for them. I promise you, you’ll learn something from what your client says.

You’re more likely to get attendees to choose your event, and to pay attention – because it’s likely that they already know your co-presenter at least by reputation, and this familiarity attracts.

For these reasons, a case study that includes your client is stronger. Of course, they don’t need to be there in person – it’s increasingly practical (and less prone to equipment malfunctions) to have your colleague “present” via video link, shown on stage.

Note that the case studies that are best for getting potential clients to pay attention are those that contain lessons-learned that THEY can apply. They’ll be particularly interested if your case study is about projects of a kind they’re likely to get involved in, in the near future.

You can learn much more about case studies in post #71, “Are you squeezing all five benefits from your case studies?

4 How-to-work-with speeches help your commodity service stand out

The fourth and final way I have for getting acceptance for your not-quite-right speech idea – one that is not exactly in the mainstream of the organization’s usual flow of topics -- is the content type I call the “how-to-work-with” (HTWW) content.

I’ve discussed this in a video, as well as several blog posts. Here’s how it works.

HTWW speeches work best for a “commodity” practice that your audience buys, generally because it is compelled to under law or regulation. It could include a financial audit, many environmental or health & safety reviews, or a review of its IT security. They may not like buying your service, but they will, and they will also tend to go for the cheapest price they can.

But if you can convince them that you’re able to make their lives easier, or at least that you care about minimizing the problems, they’ll come to prefer your “commodity” offering over that of your competitors.

In our drones-and-renewable-energy example, the “commodity” might be a safety inspection, or a maintenance contract for a solar array. In this case, using drones is just part of inspecting the site to see if repair or maintenance work (cleaning the solar panels, maybe) is required.

So your HTWW speech could be about how drones can add to the speed of response if there are service or maintenance issues, for more effective maintenance that keeps the array as efficient as possible.

Here’s how to construct an effective how-to-work-with speech.

  • Start by thinking about your product or service from your client’s point of view – what problem are they solving? What would they consider a “good” outcome, or at least, a “not bad” outcome from someone of your professional skills?
  • Think about projects you worked on that went exceptionally well – the story unfolded like a dream (the good kind) – and what factors led to this wonderful outcome?
  • Now, consider some of the nightmare projects you’ve worked on, and what factors caused the project to go pear-shaped? Were these factors you controlled, your client was responsible for, and which were due to an outside agency?
  • Write out some recommendations you’d make, if you were advising your best friend, on how to get good results from someone like you.
So you can see, getting yourself in front of potential clients, through niche events that are attended by potential clients, can be challenging. That’s particularly the case in narrow events with a high hurdle of getting accepted as a speaker.

One thing I’ve found to be essential – convincing the meeting organizer – your “Carol” – that you have information to provide, and that it won’t be a sales pitch for your services.

Despite the difficulties, I’ve had some success in getting in front of prospective clients this way, and you can too. If you have any suggestions on how your colleagues can get opportunity to present, please share them in the comments.