It’s understandably difficult to think about growing your business in volatile times such as these — but it’s essential that you do so anyway. As discussed in my past few columns, building or re-building your business necessitates that you carve out time both for “defense” and especially “offense” activities. We’ve already considered offense activities such as asking existing clients for referrals and more assets to manage, and creating strategic alliances with other professional advisors such as CPAs. This month we’ll consider an excellent way to acquire new clients and generate new business even in tough markets, and that’s the offense activity of giving group presentations.

An Invitation to Succeed

In our CEG Worldwide coaching programs, we differentiate between “public seminars” and “group presentations.” The critical difference is that public seminars are sponsored by the individual giving the talk, while group presentations occur in the context of an existing association or group which invites you to come and be their speaker. As an invited speaker, you automatically have enhanced positioning and credibility, as well as the subliminal — and in some cases explicit — endorsement of the inviting organization.

Start by contacting local groups and associations, such as chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs, as well as other organizations where your ideal client prospects are most likely to be found. Look first to professional groups, such as cardiologist or dentist associations, or to small business owners or real estate developer groups. And while you might at first think that it would be difficult to get a speaking engagement and attract an audience in today’s market, the reality is quite the opposite. In fact, it’s fairly easy to get an audience today because people of all kinds and at all levels of wealth are desperate for ideas, strategies and solutions.

As for the actual subject of your presentation, do not talk about investment opportunities per se, but instead focus on wealth management strategies and solutions. Individuals today need to re-think their entire financial situations, so you can deliver the most value — even in a short talk — by focusing on the specific challenges your audience has and by offering specific insights and solutions to these challenges. It’s critical, then, that you do as much in-depth research about your group’s needs and challenges as you can. You want your ideas and solutions to be relevant, to resonate, and to be immediately applicable to your audience. In this way, you’ll greatly enhance the value of your presentation, and the likelihood of gaining affluent clients from your presentation will increase ten-fold.

Preparing For Your Talk

To get the most out of your presentation, give the best talk you can possibly give. While not everyone can be a charismatic orator along the lines of Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King, there are still a number of easy and effective skills that you can practice and learn. First, once again, make sure you do ample research and prepare effective wealth-management-oriented solutions targeted to your group.

Second, prepare a handout. You can use projected slides if the right equipment is available, but it’s crucial not to over-rely on PowerPoint. What’s more important than what your audience sees and hears in real-time is what they take home, so you want to give them a handout that they can take notes on. (Adults learn in three different ways: aurally, visually or kinesthetically. Approximately 44 percent of adults are kinesthetic learners, which means they learn best when they have something to hold onto, something they can write on and make their own.) Ideally, you’ll have written a white paper that you can use as a handout, and even more ideally, your talk will be on the subject of the white paper, which will reinforce your positioning as an expert. If you do use slides, keep them simple, make sure the graphics are large enough to be seen, and keep the points you’ll make tightly tied to your overall theme.

Third, make sure that ahead of time you practice, practice, and then practice. Absolutely nothing substitutes for actually giving your presentation in front of a live audience, so gather your staff, your family, and your friends, and then stand up in front of them and do your best. (Going through your slides in your mind is an extraordinarily poor substitute for giving your presentation live.

Make sure you make at least one video recording of yourself giving your presentation in front of others, and then review that recording in a very specific way. (Ideally, you’d also discreetly record yourself in the venue and on the actual stage where you’ll be presenting.) First, since virtually no one likes the sound of his or her own voice, you’ll want to turn the picture off and just play the sound so you can get used to hearing yourself. Until you get past cringing at the sound of your own voice, you won’t be able to learn anything useful from your recording, so make yourself sit there and listen until you’re fine with it. You’ll probably notice that you make a great number of verbal faux pas, but in most cases, your audience won’t hear them because the human brain is programmed to correct ordinary speech errors and fill in the blanks.

After you are used to your voice, turn the sound off and the picture on, and then fast forward through at 2X speed. Doing this will enable you to look closely at your body language and pick up the kind of repetitive motions that become crazily annoying to an audience, e.g., jingling change in your pocket, readjusting your tie, pulling up your pants, biting your lip, and so on. The third time through, play the voice and picture together. Take notes on your voice, your clarity, your pace, your movements around the “stage,” and anything else that stands out.

Since most groups will give you between 25 and 45 minutes to speak, it will take you three to four hours to make a video of your presentation in front of a practice audience and then review it as described here. This may seem like a lot of time, but since the whole idea is to position you as an expert, building your presentation once and using it many times will be time very well spent.

Giving the Talk

Every presentation is different, of course, but there are some general rules of thumb that you’ll want to follow. First, never overtly promote yourself or your company. You’re being given the chance to speak so you can offer education, insights and solutions, so overtly trumpeting “John Smith Management Company” will only turn people off. Second, you want to nevertheless position yourself as an expert in solving the unique challenges of your audience. Again, this is why it’s so important to do your research ahead of time. Third, keep a pull marketing approach in mind; that is, aim to have your presentation catalyze the desire of audience members to seek you out for more information and a subsequent individual meeting.

Put differently, you want your insights and solutions to be so clear and compelling that in and of themselves they function as a call to action that will pull your audience towards you and have them seeking you out after the presentation. To this end, always have business cards available. It’s a cardinal sin — a mortal sin even — to make a presentation and forget or run out of business cards. And when an audience member asks for your card, make sure you ask for one in return. Be sure, as well, to have a follow-up approach in mind, such as saying “I’ll be sure to send you more information in the mail,” or “I’ll give you a call to schedule an appointment later on.”

Finally, if you’re speaking to a large group, always stay for the social time after the presentation, and always come early if that’s how the event is set up. If you have to sit through a couple of other speakers before the social time, well, that’s a small price to pay. Many people are reticent to ask questions in public, but will be wiling to approach you later on during informal social time with their insights, feedback, questions and requests to meet with you individually.

Whether it’s a large group or an intimate one, make sure that you position yourself as an expert, that you’ve done your research, that you offer sensible wealth management solutions to your group’s challenges, and that you never directly promote yourself or your firm. If you do all this, and have your handouts and cards at the ready, then more likely than not you’ll generate substantial new business.

Patricia J. Abram is a senior managing partner with CEG Worldwide in Florida; see www.cegwordwide.com.