Work the Room When Speaking in Public


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You’re a lawyer who’s accepted an invitation to speak and the speech is ready to go. It’s now show time. Are you are ready to reap the benefits?

The primary benefit of any speaking engagement is not the speech itself. Rather, it is the opportunity to interact in person with members of a select audience of clients, potential clients and referral sources.

A lawyer/speaker who arrives at the venue at the last minute, reads through a speech without pausing for audience involvement, and then rushes from the room to the next appointment is making a huge mistake. Speaking engagements offer valuable opportunities for personal interaction before, during and after the actual speech.

A few days before your speech, try to obtain a list of attendees. Review this list and target individuals you would especially like to meet or greet. Do some research on them.

Before the speech

Don’t spend your time reviewing your notes for the umpteenth time. Instead, stand near the entrance and introduce yourself to those entering the room. Alternatively, circulate through the room thanking audience members for coming and asking them to tell you a little bit about their work.

After a minute or two, excuse yourself and greet someone else. Act like the host at your own party. This tactic falls within almost anyone’s comfort zone.

During your speech

Invite questions from the audience. Questions break up the monotony and change the pace of even the best prepared speeches. Your answers to questions demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge and expertise beyond your prepared notes and slides. Very specific questions allow you to invite the questioner to chat with you about their problem during a break or after the presentation.

After your speech

Stay in the room or the hallway outside the room to hand out cards, answer additional questions and even make appointments with prospects. Leaving the venue right after a speech — even to pick up your child from day care — is an egregious act of marketing malpractice. Schedule your day accordingly.

(photo: Shutterstock)


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  • A reminder is merited here not to engage in in-person solicitation except to the extent permitted by ethics rules. “Handing out business cards” to non-attorneys, except upon request, would constitute an ethics violation as well as a way of telegraphing ethical lassitude.

    As for “even to pick up your child from day care” or your use of the term “prospects”, I really don’t know what to say. Glengarry lives.

  • In the context of a seminar, where the attendees have voluntarily shown up and perhaps paid for the privilege of being there, I doubt it would be considered an improper solicitation in most jurisdictions to give a nonlawyer a business card during a discussion immediately before or immediately after the seminar. Model Rule 7.3, cmt. 1, refers to contact with a person who is “known to need legal services.” It seems unlikely that at a seminar the lawyer would have known that someone needs legal services unless the person had just voluntarily told the lawyer about his or her problem, in which case the lawyer did not initiate the discussion of the legal problem. The solicitation rules are somewhat restrictive, but not that restrictive. Of course, the rules in your jurisdiction may specifically prohibit such conduct.

  • Jack Russell Terrier

    I’ll show you improper solicitation.

    My dear fellow lawyers has everything to do with the circumstances. Stopping people in the street to provide legal services compared with meeting people at a seminar where they will already know (or should if you are guest speaker) that you are a lawyer and entirely distinct. With the latter not being improper by any stretch of the imagination (with the lawyer’s caveat) subject to your regulatory authority restrictions!

  • Hi Roy! Great tips! Roy is a great speaker. And I train speakers, so I don’t say that lightly (no, he’s not a client, just a colleague).

    Roy, I have a few additional suggestions:

    1) it is always better to walk around the room to introduce yourself than to stand at the door, where you may accidentally end up creating a receiving line and you will be pressured to move quickly.

    2) when you walk around the room, try to meet as many people as possible, without missing, of course, those at the top of your list as Roy suggested. I can usually get to between 25 and 50 people in the 40 min before a program (there are always early birds). Sometimes I grab them as a group of three or four sitting together, even if they don’t know each other.

    3) Introduce yourself as the speaker and ask them at least two questions:
    a) in what area do they practice (unless it is obvious based on the seminar topic)
    b) what were they wanting to get out of the seminar. This is important as it gives you information about who your audience is and what their needs are. The first rule of good public speaking is to meet your audience’s needs. If you can’t find out about your audience in advance, than working the room is your last opportunity to meet them and find out what they want/need before you speak. Then you can adjust your presentation as appropriate to their knowledge base, skill level and needs.

    4) if you want to really impress people as a speaker, create a seating chart/sketch of the room when you get there – before anyone else shows up preferably. After you meet one or two people, wander back to the podium or table with the chart and add their first names and a note about their practice or interests. Do this, back and forth, for as many people as you meet. Then use the chart and bring up attendee’s names during the presentation in the context of a relevant topic. Of course you don’t want to embarrass them by saying “so and so wanted to know about.” Instead you say something along the lines of “I was chatting with Faith over there about the increase in IP law in her practice and it ties directly into my next point on… ”

    When you work work audience members into your presentation in a positive manner, you will appear more in tune and in touch with your audience. Again, it breaks down the barriers between speaker and audience, and it actually helps your audience feel good will towards you, subconsciously, which translates into liking your presentation. Of course you don’t want to over do it, but try it and see how well it works and how it helps you as a speaker.

    Why do all this instead of sitting at a table with a bunch of other presenters chatting with them, or standing at the podium fumbling your notes while waiting to speak?

    First, people are forming their opinions of you – the first impression – the moment they see you and you walk in the room, or up to them. So if you walk up to the podium, and ignore your audience until you start speaking, that sends one message (usually the message is “I’m more important than you” or at least “I’m too important to talk to you.” If you walking up to audience members and introduce yourself right away, you send an entirely different, more accessible, more friendly and more likable message.

    Second, you break the audience-speaker barrier down and it makes for a more lively presentation overall. Generally audience members will like you more to begin with, be more favorably disposed to your presentation, and ask more questions. This all happens when you take the time to do what Roy mentions above.

    Third, you will also be more likely to get referrals down the road because you begin to establish a one-on-one relationship this way, instead of a speaker on many relationship.

    Fourth, if you are using this speech to expand your network, be sure to get cards of anyone that says something of interest to you to follow-up on later – i.e. to send them an article, have lunch, and develop a relationship. At this point I am talking about another attorney you meet, and I am not addressing the ethics issues mentioned above.

    When Roy was using the marketing/sales term “Prospects,” he was really using shorthand to describe those people with whom you can create relationships down the road, that may eventually turn into clients or referrals.

    In a speaking situation, look at your audience as a group of people with whom you can potentially create business oriented relationships, not instant clients. That takes the selling out of the networking aspects described above, which is important because networking is not selling and selling is not networking. And speaking should never be selling. Frankly, these days I prefer to talk about “networking” as “creating relationships” as it is a better descriptor overall.

    Roy – I have a Free Public Speaking for Business Development webinar on my homepage that talks about what you suggest above and a few other tricks, as well as how to get speaking engagements. Would you like a copy to share with your subscribers?

    Hope you’re doing well! Sorry I missed you at ACLEA this year. — Faith

  • just like working your contacts!