Public speaking can boost an attorney’s reputation and credibility. Delivering engaging presentations on hot topics that are central to your practice can help you build your brand and get new prospects. Additionally, recorded public speaking events can be shared online to multiply the reach of your talk and establish you as an expert in your field.
Hearing a lawyer speak is the best way to determine whether they are knowledgeable, engaging, and persuasive. When a charismatic attorney speaks with passion, clarifies complex issues, and presents original ideas, audience members are very likely to seek the presenter’s counsel or refer acquaintances to their practice.
Additionally, most speaking engagements offer lawyers abundant opportunities to interact with the audience, such as Q&A sessions, cocktail parties, and luncheons. If you speak in front of the right audience, these informal interactions can potentially convert into suitable prospects.
Not All Speaking Engagements Are Equal
Typically, young lawyers dream of speaking at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting, the American Intellectual Property Association (AIPLA)’s Annual Meeting, or another top legal conference. Many would perceive speaking at such prestigious events as the peak of their careers. In terms of marketing and lead generation, however, this would be regretfully misguided. This type of forum usually puts attorneys in front of competitors and peers. If you are looking to expand your client base, speaking in front of hundreds of the country’s top attorneys will be pointless, unless you have a referral-based practice.
Continued Learning Education courses (CLEs) may also appear as great opportunities for exposure and brand building. But CLEs attract a diverse crowd, and they have a limited potential to generate inquiries. Preparing a talk can be time-consuming, and that time is only wasted when lawyers speak in front of generic audiences.
In order to generate leads, presentations have to be delivered in front of a targeted audience. For example, a financial attorney may speak in front of a group of financial advisors (his potential clients) to explain new SEC rules and offer compliance enhancement tips. Delivering value to a targeted audience optimizes the time and effort you have put into getting a slot, preparing your presentation, and traveling to the venue.
Audiences and Goals
Business development opportunities are immense for lawyers who can do a rocking presentation on stage.
Attorneys may accept speaking engagements in order to:
- Reach potential clients
- Reach a group of people who can influence potential clients
- Find brand building opportunities
Trade Group and Industry Events
In the case of big law firms, industry and trade association events are ideal for finding prospects. There are many ways to find opportunities to speak at these events. Whichever industry you serve, subscribing to trade journals will keep you up to speed on upcoming events and suitable opportunities.
The Encyclopedia of Associations is a great resource for finding every single trade association in a specific industry. Doctors’ associations, tech industry groups, financial industry organizations, and other groups are all listed in the encyclopedia, as well as in the Directory of Associations. Naturally, to be able to land a speaking spot at a trade event, you need a long-term strategy in terms of engaging with the trade associations and making connections on the inside.
Looking for Your Target Audience, Outside The Box
If your firm serves a specific industry and are looking for groups of people who are in the same field/profession (i.e., doctors, financial advisors), trade events are the way to go. However, if you are say a divorce attorney, you may service an engineer or a broker, a doctor, or an accountant. You are basically looking for people who need to negotiate a divorce. So, where do you find them?
If you are a divorce attorney in Orange County, for example, you don’t waste your time speaking at generic events. You go straight to the annual OC gathering of the California Federation of Republican Women or the Junior League of OC. There, you can have the opportunity to speak in front of a large number of divorcees, who will make up roughly half the audience.
Many of these women will be unsatisfied with their divorce attorneys, and if they like what they hear, they are very likely to refer you to a friend. The other half of the audience will include large numbers of women who are currently shopping around for a divorce lawyer.
If you get a chance to speak in front of potential prospects, you would be ill-advised to discuss boring technical issues. If you want to get the audience’s attention, you need to do a presentation with an edgy and memorable title. People don’t want to hear about how the new tax laws will affect a divorce and other technicalities. They want to learn about divorce settlement pitfalls and how to find their spouse’s hidden assets. And if you deliver, it will pay off.
It takes a bit of creativity to find prospects for each particular specialty. For instance, where can a criminal defense attorney find prospects? In our experience, they will have the most success at cannabis-related, civil rights, and gun rights events. A presentation with a catchy title referencing rampant police misconduct or unfair gun rules will certainly capture their attention.
The same logic can be applied to a variety of industries and specialties. Where are your desired prospects likely to go? If you cater to high-net-worth clients in Chicago, you may give a presentation at The Union League Club or another exclusive local club they frequent.
If you are a personal injury lawyer in Florida, union events will provide an audience of engineers, constructors, and pipe-fitters; in other words, people in high-injury jobs who may require your services. The better you know your target client, the easier it will be to track them down, secure opportunities to speak in front of them, and deliver a message they will remember.
Speaking to Upgrade Your Bio
If you go through some of America’s top attorneys’ bios, you will find that they have many things in common: top law school, high-profile cases, a track record of involvement in their communities, etc. In this context, how do you stand out? This brings us to one of the three goals of public speaking: brand building.
A TEDx presentation will look great on your resume, but it is unlikely to put you in front of an audience of prospective clients. What TEDx can give you is a kind of rockstar status that will immediately make your bio stand out in a sea of countless peers whose credentials are not very different from yours.
Both TED events, which are national, and TEDx events, which are local, have open calls for speakers. If you have a video of a killer presentation, you have given in the past and an idea that is timely and original, you may have a chance. The title of your talk may win half the battle. Some of the most popular law-related TEDx talks are called, “How Juries Are Fooled by Statistics,” “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” and “The Clues to a Great Story.”
If you are looking for the TED seal of approval, you do not necessarily have to give a presentation heavy on legalese. As long as your ideas are powerful, fresh, well-presented, and actionable, they will fit right in. Past TEDx themes have included:
When a prospective client is looking you up on Google, one of the first search results they will find is a video of your TEDx talk. The prospect will read a lot into this. It will tell them that you are successful and charismatic enough to be handpicked to do a TEDx talk. Suddenly, you are not just another attorney with impressive degrees, you are one with a different kind of pedigree. You are not only a great lawyer, but also a cool, somewhat famous lawyer. After listening to a few minutes of your impressive presentation, your prospect will be sold.
Another forum that can endow speakers with rockstar status is South by Southwest (SXSW), which takes place in Austin, Texas, once a year. SXSW is a conference as well as a film and music festival. Recent conference topics have included:
- Government & Politics
- Health & Medtech
- Fantastic Future
- Media & Journalism
Finally, lecturing at a top-tier university can infuse your resume with credibility and expert-status. Even if you only lectured for undergrad students, having the likes of Yale, Stanford, or Columbia on your resume can really make a difference.
Alternatives to TEDx
Aside from TEDx and SXSW, there are many high-prospect-value speaking opportunities for attorneys across the U.S.
Based in New York, Big Think is a platform that provides, “actionable lessons from the world's greatest thinkers and doers.” Big Think’s presenters are purportedly experts “at the top of their field, or disrupting it.” If you have some big, disruptive ideas related to your field of practice, Big Think can be an ideal forum to share your vision with the world.
Experts who have created video presentations for Big Think include:
Unlike TED talks, which are longer, Big Think’s five-minute capsules go straight to the point. Some of the most popular Big Think videos have titles like, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” “Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test!” “Michio Kaku: What If Einstein Is Wrong?” and “Learn to Invest and Start a Business in Under an Hour.” Each of these videos has millions of reproductions on YouTube...certainly something to emmulate.
An annual conference, 99U focuses on creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Business leaders attend this popular event to get inspiration to come up with great ideas.
Self-described as an “event series to help creatives build incredible careers, supercharge their work, and make their ideas happen,” 99U offers presentations on a variety of topics, including Big Ideas, Leadership, Productivity, and Marketing.
Past speakers include Jack Dorsey, Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, and Cal Newport. One of the most popular 99U presentations available online is “Sucking is the First Step to Being Good at Something” by Alexis Ohanian.
Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series. It was created by a small group of New Yorkers who were avid for new ideas and leadership. Today, the initiative functions on a global scale, with events in 214 cities across 65 countries. Conference themes are wide-ranging, from technology, the future, justice, and education to urbanism, freedom, and climate.
Speaking engagements are powerful marketing tools for attorneys. Public speaking facilitates connecting with both potential clients and influencers. It provides priceless opportunities to meet prospects in person, rather than online or over the phone.
When people are shopping around for legal services, meeting an attorney with the aura of a thought leader is tantamount to a godsend. Book authors and frequent bloggers who deliver provocative stage presentations on trending topics can obtain spectacular results in terms of both brand building and lead generation.