How to develop a speech into a must-attend event

Understanding the audience is vital to a successful speech and growing your reputation within the industry.


Public speaking to potential clients can be a great way to build your career. Clients get an idea of what you're like as a person, and that "speaker" badge tends to pull more weight at industry events. Speaking at events also is something that can add sparkle to your LinkedIn profile and portfolio.

Knowing how to choose the topic that will interest your audience, how to make meeting organizers want to book you, and what will attract key clients will ensure that seats will be filled at your next public speaking event.

Preparing for the speech

First, don't start with what you want to say. Instead, start with what the audience wants to learn.

For example, line up a speaking opportunity to a group of property developers-who would be ideal clients-about the design and delivery of zero energy buildings (ZEBs). At first, the speech might focus on "how" ZEBs are making net-energy consumption affordable and practical. However, to engage the audience, the speech might also need to address "why" they need to invest in expensive ways to deliver the same user benefits when tenants aren't willing to pay for ZEB space.

Focusing on what the audience wants to know about is an important step in speech preparation. For instance, address what this audience is concerned about by incorporating what kind of tenants are willing to pay more for ZEB space (i.e., those who want to attract high-performing employees and boost their public image).

One of the best ways to make a speech interesting to clients is to customize it with valuable news that isn't well-known. I call this "narrowcast" news, which is the opposite of the "broadcast" news that is of interest to the general public and found in major news outlets.

For example, a new incentive program might be offered by the federal or state government that will help tenants meet higher costs for a ZEB building. The speech might talk about the new development, explain how it's different from what was there before, and give recommendations on who is eligible for the program. 

Appealing to the audience

Be sure to have the right keywords in the title and description of the speech-including "ZEB," "zero energy buildings," and the name of the government program. That way, anyone searching for information on that topic has a chance of finding out about your presentation.

Finding "narrowcast" news depends on how much of an understanding you have of your clients' world. Make sure that the solutions you recommend to the audience/potential clients are relevant to their needs and will work for them. Applying research to public speaking efforts will address this issue.

Before you start polishing the slide deck or even writing the speech, find out what new developments are affecting audience members. There are many ways to do proper research including:

  • Carl Friesen, Thought Leadership Resources, Mississauga, Ontario. Courtesy: Though Leadership ResourcesTalking with people in your target market about their concerns and what's affecting them
  • Reading their trade publications-print and online publications, association websites, and prominent blogs
  • Finding influential people and news sources to follow on social media
  • Joining industry LinkedIn groups to identify hot topics
  • Attending industry and professional events-conferences, lunches, meetups.

Don't make the common mistake of focusing your topic on what you want to talk about. Rather, think about the issues being faced by audience members, and develop the topic around ways to help. This way, the audience will see you as someone with ideas and solutions that they can use. 

-Carl Friesen is the founder of Thought Leadership Resources, which helps business professionals build their careers.

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