Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Best Exercise is Walking

How getting up and getting out can really boost your MarCom efforts

One of the least expensive, and most effective way of communicating about your organization is as old as campfires in the hills.

Think about how you learn about new restaurants to try, new movies to see, new bands to hear, new networks to check out. In most cases, even in our hyper-connected age, word of mouth is still the most trusted communication, especially for recommendations. Sure, we all use Yelp and TripAdvisor, but don’t you usually ask your friends, too?

Getting up from your chair and getting out of the office to talk with people is one of the most cost-effective marketing arrows in your quiver.

There are a million opportunities to get out and tell people about your organization’s great work. Most are free to very inexpensive. A few require larger investments, and as with any other MarCom purchase, you need to evaluate the potential ROI.

In my last job, I had my assistant call all of the local Rotary, Lions, and Elks clubs, as well as Chambers of Commerce, offering my services as a presenter at their frequent luncheons. Our goal was one presentation a month, and after a few weeks she had easily lined up those presentations for me. Not only did they directly bring in new business from people who were unaware of our organization (a nonprofit social enterprise) and its great work and mission, but it enabled me to make a few long-term connections that have proven beneficial. The cost of this? A few hours of my assistant’s time and a few hours of my time. And generally speaking, I got a free lunch out of the deal.

An added benefit of these lunch-time talks was the rehearsal time they afforded me. Most top marketers are frequently required to make presentations on their organization and its programs. The Rotary lunch talks got me ready to talk to our funders and donors. They helped me see what descriptions made the best impressions, and how to best talk about what we did. The frequent talks showed me which jokes worked and which programs created the greatest empathy. And because I generally had a slide presentation as part of my speech, the frequent repetitions helped me fine-tune that, fixing slides that didn’t flow well, or that people didn’t seem to understand. And after you do this a couple of dozen time, your stage fright will disappear, or at least becomes controllable, and your presentations will get better and better.

Finally, the questions that always came after the prepared remarks revealed how well I was communicating, which concepts were easy to grasp and which were confusing, and what parts of our program really resonated with people. All of this was incredibly useful information. And a great opportunity to hand out business cards and some brochures.

Is that a badge in your pocket, or…

Of course, one must include conferences and conventions in your marketing efforts. They are great opportunities to meet lots of people by giving presentations, but also by simply being there. There are dozens of conferences every day – and you could spend your entire career on the road attending them. But if you pick the top two to four conferences each year and attend those, you’ll make dozens of new connections and spread the word about your organization while learning new tricks to help your work improve.
Speaking at conferences usually involves one of four presentation options: Panels, Breakout sessions, Plenaries (to everyone), and Keynotes.

Panels are conversations between two or more people on a specific topic. Audiences like these because they get a multitude of opinions and expertise addressing a specific issue. Organizers like them because they enable a lot of people to talk, and usually each speaker brings in income for the conference organizer.
Panels can be a good way to present information, but they have a few drawbacks. Unless the moderator has good control over the panel, you can get a runaway speaker situation, where one presenter monopolizes the time available. This can be especially annoying when that presenter is not very good, or is boring and uninteresting. Another hazard of panels is poor moderation in general. The panel moderator needs to know enough about the subject to be able to ask interesting and provocative questions, and to be able to keep the panelists on topic and on time. Panels are especially good because they give you an opportunity to get feedback from the audience. The question-and-answer period after a panel presentation is usually the most useful part of the presentation, and almost always the most interesting.

If you are asked to moderate a panel, be sure you understand the topic and the presenters as well as possible. Call the panel members beforehand, preferably in a video or audio conference so that everyone can talk together, and discuss  the topics you want to cover, the order of the speakers, how long each of them has for an introductory speech, whether or not you want them to use slides, and how much time you have overall. Well-run panels can be really interesting for the audience members, are great way to meet other experts in your field, and can be very rewarding.

Breakout and Plenary presentations are a bigger deal than panels, and put you in the spotlight in front of the audience, all by yourself. Breakouts take place at the same time as other sessions, and typically have only a portion of the total attendance, but otherwise are very similar to Plenary sessions. Plenary presentations are usually a half hour to 45 min. long. They require a firm understanding of your topic, a tight presentation that doesn't wander or give people time to get bored, good slides, and confidence on your part. Usually you'll work with the conference organizers to determine what the topic should be, what style of presentation they prefer when you're going to give the presentation, and what audiovisual or other amenities will be available. This is a tremendous one-to-many communications opportunity, and a chance to tell important stories about your organization’s efforts, methods, and impacts.

Keynotes are often among the most highly-anticipated presentations at a conference. This gives you a huge messaging opportunity. Keynote speakers often get featured in the program and receive a lot of attention. As with any important presentation, you want to be sure to talk to the organizers of the conference beforehand to understand their expectations, how long you have, what the stage and presentation area will be like, who you're following and preceding, and any other details that are important.

Before you do any presentation at a conference or even a luncheon be sure to rehearse it. I find it really good to talk to myself, to give the presentation while looking at the slides on my computer, to get a sense of flow and timing. Flow is very important — your slides and your presentation has to move along as if it were a conversation. The best presentations sound like someone talking directly to you, not like someone reading a book. It takes time and practice to get relaxed enough to give a talk like that, and its only possible when you know your material well.

After you've talked through it yourself a few times, looking at your slides and checking how well the flow and timing works, ask a few friends to be guinea pigs and critique your presentation. I always do this before an important talk and find it to be incredibly valuable.

You don't want your friends to be just your friends when you're doing a rehearsal talk and asking for their critique. You want them to point out the things they don't understand, and the places where you struggle with your delivery. You need them to tell you if your talk is interesting, and holds their attention. You need them to be brutally honest with you. This isn’t the time for people to be patting you on the back, and telling you how good you are. (But you are, you’re really good!)

One last thing. Don't make your presentations commercials. Talking in a way that sounds overtly like a sales pitch is going to alienate your audience and make them far less receptive to what you have to say. Your presentation needs to tell the stories that help people understand your topic. It can be all about your organization and the great programs it provides. But don't make it just a sales pitch; tone it down, keep it subtle, and make it interesting. When you get people engaged with your stories, they'll be eager to learn more, eager to help, and eager to donate.

I recently saw an online conversation that started with the question, “How do I get my development director out of the office and talking to people?” don’t let your boss ever ask this question. Whether you’re in development, MarCom, or general management, get up off your chair and go tell your story.

In summary, here  are a few of the types of places you can make presentations with a few thoughts about each type of venue.

Good for
Hallway conversation at a conference

Getting to know people.

Practicing your elevator speech

Getting the latest gossip

Learning about things before official announcements

Making friends and allies

This can be the most important time at a conference

Practice your elevator speech before you go.

Notice how people react to your elevator speech and refine it as needed.
Talks to service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Chamber of Commerce, etc.)
Getting the word out to local people.
Creating new supporters
Practicing your presentation skills.
Wonderful practice opportunity – get your presentation down.
Great way to get info to the community.
Good place to meet local who will support your mission.
Panel discussion at conference

Opportunity to be seen and have your story heard

Be seen as equal to other presenters (increased status)

Providing short comments on a topic

Learning from other panelists while presenting

A way onto a conference program.

Usually a larger audience than a service club.

Meet other presenters who may be good to know.

Low-risk way to get feedback and test your messaging and presentation before a larger, more sophisticated group.
Plenary presentation at conference
Providing long-form information to an interested audience.
Establishing authority and the importance of your topic/organization.
A bigger audience, with higher expectations than at a panel presentation.
Keep your talk general enough to appeal to everyone.
Be sure you rehearse until it becomes effortless.
Keynote presentation

Captivating an audience with the strength of your personality and the importance of your cause..

This is the big time, be sure you are ready.

Remember: a plenary talk is often as much about entertainment as information.

A great way to introduce new ideas, plans, efforts.

By virtue of place, your status increases.

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