Why Some Lawyers are Invited to Speak (and others aren’t)

There’s a reason some lawyers show up at the podium so often, and it’s not because they’re great performers. They show up on panel discussions, leading breakout sessions, and even as keynote speakers. They become household names in our professional circles.

Have you ever wondered why you’re seeing a particular mediocre speaker so often? Why does this person keep showing up on the program?

I often wondered how the same folks showed up on the stage so often, before I figured it out. I was perplexed, because far too often those repeat presenters at continuing education programs and other professional events weren’t particularly great speakers. They got the job done, but they were pretty dull.

How does it happen? How do they get picked?

Here’s what they know that you don’t

There’s a secret they know which you might not know–yet.

I learned the secret when I ended up on the program planning committee of my local bar association. I try never to volunteer for anything, but I was asked to help organize a continuing education program, and couldn’t figure out a tactful way to extract myself. We had to put together a dozen speakers for a two-day program. It was a daunting task for someone who had never done it before. We needed speakers, and lots of them.

And that’s when the phone calls and emails started coming in.

Before the onslaught began, I figured we’d spend dozens of hours recruiting speakers; I assumed I’d committed to a big, burdensome project. However, over the course of the first two days, we filled ten of the twelve slots. The speakers magically appeared, popping out of the woodwork. We did have to hustle a bit to find speakers for two tough topics, but most of the slots were taken before I’d even figured out what was happening.

Then, a few months later, I had a chat with a friend who led the program committee of his Rotary Club. His was a big club with a few hundred members. He’d committed to line up one speaker per week for six months. I figured that was a tough task and that he’d be calling lots of people and pestering them to speak.

But his story paralleled my experience on the CLE program planning committee. He didn’t have much trouble filling his speaking slots either. He rarely had to hunt down a speaker. They were hunting him down instead.

Speaking slots are viewed by many as an opportunity for exposure. Lots of folks are looking for the chance to get up in front of a group. Some of them know the secret to getting the slot for themselves.

The secret these wanna-be speakers know is that most speaking slots go to the people who ask to speak.

An action plan for generating speaking invitations

Sure, the volunteer speakers pitching for the roles aren’t going to replace Tony Robbins if the group has that kind of budget. But most bar associations and Rotary Clubs have no budget at all. They’re just looking to get someone up in front of the group–for free.

Groups need speakers and speakers need groups. It’s a perfect match. The only people who don’t get speaking slots are the people who don’t ask for speaking slots. If you want to speak more often, you need to ask more often.

Once you understand how often the speaker is someone who asked for the opportunity, you realize that this is not something to wait around for, if you want to get up on the podium.

Before I gained my insider knowledge into the world of public speaking, I assumed the best approach was to wait until someone took notice and invited someone like me to speak. I was naive. I had no idea how these things really work.

Your chance to be the speaker will come to you when you go out and make it come to you. You’ve got to get in the game and start soliciting these chances to get in front of the crowd. It’s a jungle out there. The other folks aren’t waiting to get noticed.

I’ve now coached quite a few lawyers through garnering speaking roles. Some have developed very sophisticated pitches. Some have taken it further and turned their volunteer speaking into paid speaking.

Getting speaking gigs in 5 simple steps

Once you realize that speaking engagements go to those who pursue the opportunities, you simply need to get started. Try following these five simple steps:

1. Plug yourself into the network of program planners in your city. That might mean getting to know someone at each of the local Rotary Clubs. It might mean getting engaged as a volunteer with your bar association. It might be as simple as hunting down an email address for everyone involved in program planning in your area. Once you start looking for the right people, you’ll quickly find them.

2. Approach the program planners and make your pitch. Offer to help meet their needs by tailoring your offer to what they require. Explain that you’ll do the work, so that they can deliver on their promises. Be flexible about meeting their needs and find a way to accept their requests.

3. Develop a more sophisticated pitch if you want to increase your opportunities. Every lawyer treats these pitches differently, but those who want to maintain exposure on the podium keep samples of prepared materials on hand that they can email to planners. Many create a special section of their website devoted to speaking and link to it in their email pitches. Offering the planners some video of you speaking makes an organizer more comfortable with taking a risk on a new speaker. One lawyer I worked with booked a small auditorium, hired a videographer, invited all of her friends, and created a sample speech on video that she could use on her site to pitch her speaking skills. Her ‘crowd’ roared their approval at the close of her speech.

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4. Tailor your speech to meet the promise you made in your pitch. Many lawyers start their quest for speaking engagements by writing the speech. Wait–start by getting the bookings. That’s what makes this a successful project. Don’t worry, you’ll get the speech done before you walk up on stage. But, if you require yourself to have the speech done before you start pitching, then expect procrastination to kick in and your date with destiny won’t happen. Pitch first, write later.

5. Turn each step I’ve detailed into a well-documented system. Once you’ve got it all figured out, you can assign it to a marketing assistant who can keep up with changes in your community, pitch constantly, and offer something new with each cycle. Many groups have the same speakers return year after year. With a smooth-running system, that speaker can be you.

Rocket fuel for a breakthrough to greater heights

I’ve just shown you how to book yourself solid with speeches. This approach works. You’ll be speaking as often as you’re willing.

But wait: there’s more.

Mediocre speakers are what most of us are used to, and accept. I can specifically remember the great continuing education speakers I’ve heard after having accumulated more than 400 hours of ongoing education over decades. How do I remember the great ones? It’s easy, because there have only been a handful. Most of the speakers I’ve heard have droned on and on, and I spent most of their speech playing games on my phone.

But once in a while–whether it’s at a CLE or a civic group or some other program–a speaker steps up and blows me away with their message, their delivery, and their presence. They make me laugh, and cry, and think. I find myself seeing the world differently by the time they finish. They’re amazing. We’ve all had those experiences.

Those amazing speakers didn’t start out being that great. They transformed themselves by preparing, practicing, getting coaching, and borrowing ideas from others. They engaged in an aggressive pursuit of excellence. These speakers don’t have to solicit speaking engagements like the rest of us: they’ve done the work to deserve being pursued.

Use your speaking opportunities as a chance to grow. Learn from the experience. Become excellent. That’s how you’ll exponentially increase your speaking gigs. Being extraordinary at speaking–is extraordinary. You’ll stand out. You’ll be the recipient of a steady stream of speaking invitations.

Be clear about your goal–it’s not usually more speaking

Speaking is not the final destination for most lawyers. It’s easy to get caught up in the process and forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. Keep your eye on your particular goal.

For most of us, the goal is a better law practice. We’re stepping out into the speaking universe in order to gather more clients, either directly or through referrals. It’s critical that we keep our eyes on the prize.

You may seek to become one of those lawyers who keeps showing up on the podium, and I encourage you in that pursuit. Speaking is a great way to position yourself as an expert, an educator, a thought-leader, and an authority. You’ll grow your reputation with every appearance.

But be sure that your speaking is calculated to achieve your larger goal. Seek out the right audience, deliver the right message, and follow up in a manner consistent with your objectives. Your goal probably isn’t just more speaking engagements for their own sake. Your goal is likely more of the right clients, more of the right referrals, and more of the right attention from the right people. Stay conscious of your personal goal, and stay focused on using the power of speaking to get where you’re going.

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