Think Before You Say Yes! To Conferences and Speaking Requests

02.06.19 | Posted By: Susan Duncan

Our last post, Be Intentional About Personal Marketing and Business Development, provided reasons for and tips on how to become more intentional about business development.  One aspect of business development that can become very time-consuming and expensive is attendance and speaking at conferences or seminars.  Before accepting invitations to speak or requesting approval to attend a conference, it is important to ensure that specific conferences and speaking engagements will in fact advance your business development or professional objectives.

 

The Value of and Reasons to Attend Conferences:

 

There are a number of reasons you may want to attend a conference:

  1. Perhaps the most important is that top clients plan to attend and ask if you are attending.  Doing so would allow you to spend some good social/non-work time with them there and they can introduce you to others you don’t know.  The most effective and easiest way to get hired by your next client is to be introduced by an existing client — this provides a natural opportunity for an introduction and immediate credentialing.
  2. Another good reason to attend a specific conference is for networking more broadly with other clients, referral sources and prospects, preferably after you have confirmed that they plan to attend.  Speakers and other experts who serve on panels and give presentations can also serve as fertile resources for information on trends, provided you have a targeted strategy to meet and network with them.
  3. Attending a conference is often a good way of getting to know the association’s executive team and program planners for future speaking opportunities. It also helps to evaluate the ROI of a future sponsorship.
  4. There may be one or two conferences you or someone from the firm must attend to “be seen” to be considered a player in an industry.  This also could be a regional conference where there is a political or professional reason to be there and absence could send a negative signal.
  5. If you are gearing up to become an expert in a new, emerging niche or need to keep up with your area of expertise, certain conferences can be an effective way to learn/stay updated on area of law or industry to develop or maintain own expert knowledge.
  6. Being a good team player is always important in a firm. Occasionally, your practice group leader or marketing manager asks/expects you to attend on behalf of the firm (but this still deserves some evaluation and discussion as to whether you are the best or only person to do this.)

 

Conference Checklist:

 

  • Which 2-3 conferences will I attend this year and why?
  • How will this conference help me achieve a specific objective in my business plan for the year? Which objective (specify:)
  • Which clients have I contacted about whether they will attend? Whether they consider this a “must attend” event and why?
  • Who will attend the conference?
    • Other specific clients?
    • Specific prospects?
    • Specific referral sources?
  • For what primary purpose do clients attend this conference?  Social networking?  CLE? Leadership role?
  • What percentage of attendees and speakers are lawyers in competing firms?
  • Are the client/prospect attendees in decision-making positions?
  • Is the conference in a location that is:
    • Where a few clients are based so you can make visits to them while in the area?
    • In a convenient location so that the travel logistics are easy?
    • In a location where you can tie in some personal time with friends, family or a vacation?
  • What special networking events are scheduled?
  • Is there room to schedule my own smaller group networking events, e.g., a breakfast, cocktail reception?
  • Will I make the necessary time to do the required prep and follow-up:
    • Get the registration list in advance
    • Meet with others from the PG or firm who are attending the conference to develop a plan of action for each client/prospect
    • Reach out to clients and prospects to see if they will attend
    • Schedule breakfasts, dinners, sporting events and other times to get together while there
    • Be committed to my objectives while there (don’t spend more time on client work and crises back in your hotel room)
    • Do the requisite follow-up: send e-mails within 48 hours, invite to connect on LinkedIn, add to firm list and InterAction or Outlook, etc.
  • If I cannot be sure I will give it the time and attention it deserves, can I identify another partner or Of Counsel/Senior Associate who might benefit from this opportunity?

 

 

The Value of and Reasons to Give Speeches at Seminars/Conferences:

 

When clients are asked to rank the effectiveness of lawyers’ marketing activities, speeches and seminars continue to be among the top on their list.  The reason is that prospective clients can be educated but also gauge a lawyer’s expertise and personal style.  Speaking publicly can be one of the most effective ways to communicate your expertise if you are doing so to the right audience about the right topic.

There are a number of reasons to seek out or agree to a speaking engagement:

  1. You are able to promote your expertise in a new or existing niche for which you seek greater visibility and name recognition.  If you select a topic that is timely, has not yet been presented many times before and is one about which you have deep knowledge and distinct experience, you can become known as a thought-leader to a targeted group of decision-makers.
  2. Some lawyers speak because it forces them to get or stay up to speed on a topic or area of practice.  Having to research recent case law or regulations in a niche helps them provide better service to clients at the same time as getting some visibility.
  3. If you have found a speaking opportunity at a venue that you know clients will actually be in attendance, it allows you to confirm your credentials and your “style” to prospects and clients and confirms for clients that they made the right choice in hiring you.
  4. Agreeing to speak or being moderator of a panel allows you to invite 2-3 clients or key referral sources to join you on the dias.  Clients often appreciate opportunities to build their own credentials and visibility too.
  5. Finally, as with conference attendance, you may accept an invitation to speak to be a good team player – your practice group leader or marketing manager may ask/expect you to fill a speaking role on behalf of the firm or another partner asks you to fill in at the last minute (but this still deserves some evaluation and discussion as to whether you are the best or only person to do this.)

 

Presentation/Speaking Checklist:

 

  • On what topics will I speak this year that will advance my reputation in a niche?
  • Have I selected a topic that is a unique or new angle that defines the issue in the audience’s terms? How does my topic solve a client problem or present an opportunity?
  • On what topics are clients most interested?
  • Which clients have I run my topic idea by to gauge their interest about it?
  • Is this invitation to speak on one of those topics?
  • Is there a client I can invite to co-present with me?
  • How will this speaking opportunity help me achieve a specific objective in my business plan for the year? Which objective (specify:)
  • What is the purpose of this seminar? Do many attend in order to obtain mandatory CE/CLE credit (could mean a lower level of attendee)?
  • Who will attend the presentation?
    • Specific clients?
    • Specific prospects?
    • Specific referral sources?
  • Are the attendees in decision-making positions?
  • What percentage of people in the audience are likely to be lawyers in competing firms vs. people who can hire you?
  • How will I prepare for my presentation – make it interesting, short and practical? If I am filling in for another lawyer who had to cancel but had already prepared the PPT, will I rehearse and adjust it to my style?
  • During my presentation, what additional back-up information will I offer to send afterward if attendees provide me with their business card?
  • Will I make the necessary time to do the required prep and follow-up:
    • Get the registration list in advance
    • Reach out to clients and prospects to see if they will attend
    • Review the program agenda to see what events will occur prior to and after my presentation; determine what else I will attend and make the best use of my time with focused networking
    • Do the requisite follow-up with follow-panelists, the program organizer and others I meet: send e-mails within 48 hours, invite to connect on LinkedIn, add to firm list and InterAction or Outlook, etc.
    • Will I leverage my presentation afterward by:
      • Posting it on LinkedIn and to LI Groups
      • Sending out via Twitter
      • Adding to my web bio
      • Convert it into an article and/or client alert
      • Doing a webinar
      • See if other organizations would want me to speak on the same topic
    • If I cannot be sure I will give it the time and attention it deserves and I am not sure whether the audience will be decision-makers, can I identify another partner or Of Counsel/Senior Associate who might benefit from this opportunity?