by Don Hutson, CSP, CPAE
There is no question that professional presenters are facing a formidable challenge in speaking and training today. The new decision-makers have many faces, each requiring special attention and care. Corporations and associations are under extreme pressure to stage great conventions, implement high-quality training initiatives and to develop strategies that create maximum value for their constituents. To add to the angst, today’s consumer is highly jaded, tougher to impress and under-whelmed by what was previously considered an impressive presentation.
No matter what business or with whom you are trying to connect, the investment in service, communication and authentic relationships will advance your efforts beyond previous norms in this new marketplace.
So how do we communicate with clients? The answer is: the way they prefer — and make every interaction loaded with value for them! Different types of communication tools work for different people. Our goal is to communicate with them in ways that resonate with their personal preference. This means we may have to hurdle the techno curve and become adept at using the latest technology products that are available, as well as become master communicators.
Another consideration is that a meeting planner probably doesn’t want to spend 30 minutes on the phone with you (no matter who you are) if you call the planner outside of his or her decision-making window. So, how can you be successful with phone communication?
You may want to consider the following before calling meeting planners:
- Attempt to find out as early as possible when they will make decisions on speakers for their next meeting. This may require a different script on your part. Open communications with verbiage that addresses serving their needs, like: “We are currently doing some long-range planning and wanted to find out when you typically look to secure presenters for your next meeting. On what dates will you be requiring current information?”
- Ask the question early and put them in your follow-up system for an appropriate time to call back. Schedule your calls early enough on the calendar and depend on an accurate follow-up system to remind you about the call back. It is always better to refer to your previous call with specific notes, so that you can follow up professionally. It demonstrates dependability, accuracy, high interest in them and a good level of tenacity.
- Inquire what communication medium they prefer. Some people favor e-mail communications while some may choose the telephone. Asking them how they prefer to be contacted is not only gracious, but provides the suggestion that you are actually interested in serving their needs in the manner in which they prefer.
When you call them in their “window,” you will undoubtedly have a more receptive prospect.
Are you still trying to use cold calling to secure bookings? If you are, you understand it is a tough way to make a living! With the birth of caller ID and voice-mail, chances are you have found it is pretty tough to connect on the phone. The percentage of call-backs from voice-mail messages from an unknown party is low and can be discouraging. However, with a small shift in the initial contact, you can enjoy more effective results.
Focus developing more of a relationship than a series of self-serving solicitations. You will be able to comfortably forget “cold” calling and dramatically increase your response by switching to “warm calls.” There are several ways to cultivate relationships without the in-person touch, and here are a few activities to consider:
- If you are looking to establish a new contact, find out if you know anyone who has worked in or for the company. Getting a referral is truly the fastest and simplest way to get in the door.
- Once you can use the name of a mutual contact, send a letter or e-mail with a request for a short and specific phone appointment on an agreeable day and time. Include the referral of a mutual contact when possible.
- Prior to the phone meeting, confirm with a handwritten note or e-mail and review the reason for the call.
- Ask how you can support his or her needs. Is she in need of an expert in a specific field? A study or white paper that may help their company? A new innovation on meeting planning you might share? Find ways to service first and nurture a relationship that can be mutually beneficial.
- Follow up after the call with a thank-you note and enclose a message or item of interest: an article, a small book or a small gift will get his attention. If you’ve asked some personal questions, you might learn that your contact enjoys coffee or tea. Take the opportunity to send your thank-you note with a “coffee break” in the form of a small gift. A cup with your logo, a small bag of high-grade coffee or a cookie can make an impression that others miss.
- Set up your contact manager to remind you to send regular communications. Include articles you have written, national articles that may be of interest to them or a new book that speaks to their needs. Look for ways to become a valuable resource.
Become Fascinated and Fascinating
There is a distinct need for presenters to become more highly advanced in every aspect of the platform. We must dedicate ourselves to becoming better communicators who deliver riveting content. With the advance of global communication, our abilities to effectively craft a powerful message requires us to study and hone the most effective methods and strategies to create a “WOW” experience for all involved.
The question to ask ourselves is this: How much of our time are we devoting to advancing our expertise? Our delivery? When was the last time we checked on our ability to re-live rather than to re-cite materials and stories that help punctuate the principles we are paid to deliver?
Today’s audience member is empowered and has access to information unimaginable in previous times. Our credibility is constantly on the line. Are we delivering what we promise? How accurate and creative is our promotional material? There is little room for error when presenting in this new discriminating marketplace.
In his book, Purple Cow, Seth Godin refers to how jaded the consumer of today really is. If you’re not remarkable, you are invisible. How much have you invested in yourself to be considered “remarkable?” How fascinated are you with your subject matter, your expertise, your own growth or the service you provide to your client? How are you addressing the challenge of refining your skills to be so uniquely your own that you can claim to be remarkable?
If you are thinking that being remarkable is only gleaned from years in the business, you are in for a surprise. The consumer today isn’t as impressed by a presenter that has a vast level of experience. Whether a meeting planner or a member of an audience, this person’s goal is to have an exceptional experience. So whether you’ve been around for years or are new on the block, the focus is all about them. To impact them positively, we must address their needs with presentation skills of quality and depth.
Change or Die
I was recently thinking that having been a professional speaker for more than 30 years might be more of a liability than an asset for me! We are all creatures of habit, and it is difficult to discard some of those good stories that aren’t as applicable as they were years ago. One of the most stimulating things for me now is to develop and utilize new material. This is especially gratifying when it is developed in response to a specific need of a new client. It is what keeps me fresh and fired up after all of these years.
I don’t know who said it, but I love the line, “People change when the pain not to change exceeds the pain to change.” Until it hurts really bad, we tend not to change. The experts are now telling us that the knowledge mass of the human race is now doubling every four years. What if we had to completely recycle all of our content every four years?
By the way, to what do you attribute the success you have enjoyed? Is it your content or your delivery that gains invitations for you? For most of us, it is probably both, the combination of which makes you effective. I am convinced that we need to always be working on both.
Here are a couple of suggestions for you: Go through all of your content and ask yourself, “If I were to eliminate 25 percent of my content, what segments or vignettes would go?” and “Based on what my clients have been asking for and needing, what new content do I need to develop?” Here’s another one: “When did I last retain the services of a speech coach?” If it has been a while, think about it. If we don’t change and improve, we are assuring our own eventual obsolescence!
Another critical piece to the puzzle is your Web presence. If we are behind the curve technologically or attempting to market ourselves with ‘80s and ‘90s methodologies, our image and our engagement count will suffer. Do you have quality streaming video on your Web site? Are you a student of the search engine dynamic? All of these issues impact our strategies, our marketplace image and our results.
Now that we have talked about changes, let’s discuss the changes we would like to see our audience members make. Are they really going to do anything different after your program? The odds say no. Habits are so powerful that they are hard to break for any of us. It has been said that, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken!” So, how can we tilt the odds in our favor?
Dr. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, says, “The central issue is seldom strategy, structure, culture or systems. Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” Perhaps delivery is just as important (if not more so) than content. We could have fun debating that one for hours. At any rate, we can all acknowledge that behavior change is a tough one. The reality is that the best shot we have at making a difference and facilitating change is to have cutting-edge, pertinent content coupled with a terrific delivery.
My colleague, Dr. George Lucas, says it well … “Any day in which we learn nothing new is a day in which obsolescence has won!”
Don Hutson, CSP, CPAE, is CEO of U. S. Learning in Memphis, Tenn. He was the third president of NSA and was on the founding Board. Reprinted from http://www.nsaspeaker.org Sept ’05.
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