Special to CONTRACTOR
If you have ever been asked to speak to a group and declined because you felt fearful or unprepared, you are like the majority of today’s professionals. Yet, groups and meeting planners continuously look for qualified speakers, often without much advance notice. This is what happened to a longtime Texas cattle rancher, Mary Sue Koontz Nelson.
A local community leader asked her to tell her stories to a group of friends she was having over for lunch. Nelson accepted the challenge and wrote a speech about her life on the HK Ranch. The group of friends turned out to be 1,800 people at a large hotel. As it turns out, Nelson and her stories about being a ranch owner and bull breeder became highly sought after.
Most people don’t lead exciting, celebrity-filled lives on a ranch with cowboys, rodeos and Argentine millionaire bull buyers. However, most people do accumulate memorable life and work experiences.
If you’d like to turn your contracting experiences into a talk, some basic methods will help you get started. These are the same methods that professional speakers use to develop material. You can use them to increase your visibility as an expert and to promote your contracting business. Who knows? You may even become a sought-after motivational speaker like Mary Sue Koontz Nelson.
List topics that are easy for you to talk about. What topics are easiest for you to discuss? Think of areas that you simply enjoy discussing or that your business associates frequently ask your advice about. Think of the things you do everyday and the lessons you’ve learned over time.
For example, you could talk about working with general contractors, teaming with major architects, or growing your business. Remember, the key is to start with what’s easy. Contrary to popular belief, it should be easy, not laborious, to write the talk.
Collect stories. Collect stories and examples and write them down as soon as possible. You tell stories to your friends and associates every day and to your family at the end of the day. Record them. You can make notes in your personal data assistant, on a tape recorder or note pad. They don’t have to be major events—just authentic experiences from your life as a contractor. For example, the next time you have a memorable meeting, are inspired by a comment or have an unusually memorable customer service experience, write it down.
Once, after a long, rather ordinary day, I arrived to pick up an order from my printer who promptly announced that I was the winning customer of the day and that my order was free. Happily surprised, I asked why I was selected. He replied, “Oh, we pick one person every day and you’re it.” I wrote down the story immediately; what a great example for customer service seminars!
Be aware of current events and trends. If you’re not aware of what’s going on around you, including what people read, watch on TV, listen to on the radio, or search on the Web, you won’t have a topic that grabs immediate attention.
Publicists and journalists are masters at discovering developing trends. Professional speakers will tell you that one of their biggest responsibilities to audiences is to stay on the leading edge.
You can be a trend watcher too. Watch what aging Baby Boomers are doing with their homes or businesses, how contractors are adapting to the growing Hispanic work force, how the downturn in the economy is affecting your consumer, and the continual renewal of the Internet.
Read publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Futurist, and Fast Company magazine. Watch cable channels and TV programs geared to the age you want to address: high school teens, young professionals, or semi-retired older citizens. Look in the “meetings and conventions” section of your newspaper to see how other speakers are positioning their topics for groups and associations.
You can then align your topic to the trend. For example, you could discuss “how the economy affects today’s long-term decisions,” “how to network online with the contracting community,” or perhaps “how to manage a business in semi-retirement.”
Develop three to eight key points about your selected topic. Listeners will forget most of what you will say. Therefore, in developing a talk, don’t make lists of 27 ideas. Keep your points to a minimum. For example, you can use, “Four Keys to Success in Contracting,” “Eight Tune-up Tips for the New Hire,” or “Six Scheduling Mistakes I’d Never Make Again.” You can then insert your stories to illustrate your key points.
Consider a unique way to package the topic. If you’re wondering about what makes you unique, go to a bookstore and see how authors repackage the same topic over and over. They just give it a new slant. Here are some examples of creative packaging of rather mundane topics:
- “What Contractors Know About Your Safety (Your Building, Your Plumbing) That You Don’t”
- “Starting a Plumbing Contracting Business: How to Take the Plunge”
- “Dollars and Sense: A Contractor’s View on Low-cost Plumbing and Heating Maintenance”
- “RSVP: How to Respond to Your Customer”
Once you’ve prepared a talk, you’ll be ready to accept the next time a community leader, career fair coordinator, or meeting planner calls. Most talks range from 30 minutes to one hour and include time for questions, which you’ll enjoy because you’ll know you’ve sparked an interest in your field. Few things are more rewarding than an appreciative audience that has come to hear your unique perspective and expertise.
Ten Questions to Get Started
What is easy for me to talk about?
If I had a regular newspaper column, I would call it…
What have I spent most of my life doing?
Where is my wisdom?
What do people ask me advice about?
What current trends am I aware of?
Which trends affect my business?
What could I give a lot of examples of?
What do I have the strongest opinions about?
I could most easily fill a book about my experiences with…