Public speaking is not something that accountants are known for or that they would consider as a career alternative. However for those brave souls that are not afraid of addressing large groups it does offer a unique opportunity to attract new clients. Bryce Sanders from Accountingweb analyses public speaking as a marketing activity and provides useful tips on how to get started:
Before You Start
As a CPA you have a major advantage. You are seen as a credentialed, qualified professional, not a salesperson. Your profession delivers credibility. Now you need a product.
1. Size Matters. For each topic, develop 15, 30, 45 and 60-minute versions. You will need to conform to someone else’s imposed timeslot.
2. Three Minutes Max. That’s the length of most people’s attention span. Your presentation should have several three-minute ideas. If one isn’t relevant, they zone out and wait for the next. Most people will walk away with something.
3. Use Visuals. PowerPoint slides with photos, charts and graphs are great. They help hold people’s attention.
4. Ask Questions. We are used to classroom learning or watching TV. Shut up and listen. The audience relates better if you engage them.
Next we need a product, in this case packaged seminars. Consider two routes:
1. Timely, Tax-Related Topics. This is your bread and butter. Choose some subjects that can be easily explained in simple language. The government is always tinkering with the tax code. What do these changes mean for most Americans? What about small business owners?
2. Non-Business Topic. You have a hobby. You restored a 1967 Ford Mustang. You renovated your brownstone. How did you do it? What challenges did you encounter? This makes a great 20-minute talk with slides. It can be easier to book because it’s entertaining. The host introduces you along with your professional credentials. This shows you are not an auto body shop owner or contractor seeking business. Audience members like you. They rationalize: “She must be a great accountant if she has the time and resources to devote to this hobby.”
Getting Those Bookings
Now you have topics. Time to get those audiences. Here are several ideas:
1. Homeowners Associations. It’s likely your area has several. Some states require licensing. This makes them easy to track down. It’s also likely your city’s municipal website has a section listing community associations and contacts.
2. Churches and Religious Institutions. Start with your own. A tax-related subject would have appeal to the congregation. The institution might benefit if treatment of charitable contributions is addressed. If your talk is a hit, your local clergyperson will likely tell others about you. More bookings should follow.
3. College Alumni Clubs. Schools usually have a network of informal alumni groups across the country. It helps maintain a bond with the college and serves as a local platform for fundraising. Often the local clubs meet for monthly luncheons and often need a speaker. You are a graduate. You belong to the club and attend those lunches. Volunteer your topic list. If you are a hit, it’s likely other chapters will want you too.
4. The Different Wrapper. Plan a public seminar—it’s free publicity. For example, one financial advisor who belonged to a local nonprofit decided to do a seminar on socially responsible investing. It was done under the umbrella of the nonprofit and members of the public were allowed to attend. A local nonprofit hosting a talk on socially responsible investing is news—indeed, it made the front page of the weekly newspaper.
5. Chamber of Commerce. It’s likely you belong. Business owners are an ideal market for your message. Yes, other CPAs got in first. Not all are comfortable speaking in front of groups. Some aren’t ambitious enough to market a speaking engagement package. You are motivated. The Chamber is always looking for events to deliver value for its membership.
6. Professional Associations. You may not be a cardiologist, yet doctors still pay taxes. Physicians and other professionals often socialize through local specialty medical societies. Scan using those words and find the local affiliates. Visit their websites and click on the event tab. Look at the luncheons or dinners they have held and the speakers featured. This can give you a good idea if a CPA would be a good fit.
7. Service Clubs. They also need speakers. You might belong, which puts you on the first rung of the ladder. Some might require membership before speaking, others not. If your own service club likes you, they will probably tell other chapters to bring you in.
You have topics and potential venues. Start looking at whom you know and their local affiliations. Could they get you in or make the necessary introductions? There are lots more organizations on your list. Develop a personalized form letter telling your story. Include a list of topics and why they are interesting. Mail your letters. Follow-up afterwards. You are on your way to getting on the speaking circuit!