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April 2014

The Golden Rule for Speaking at Business Events

By | Universe

I was at an event this morning about traditional funding, crowdfunding, and investing excess cash. There were three speakers, one for each topic, and an informal Q&A. Two speakers really nailed it, but one totally missed the mark, making a mistake that is all too common when speaking at networking events: he only talked about his services.

The golden rule for speaking at networking events or meetups is this: ADD VALUE. Bring something to the table. You’re an expert in some area, so share some knowledge. It’s OK to give an introduction about who you are, what you do, and what your company does. But that’s it, and keep it short. After that, add value for the attendees.

When I was in tech staffing, I would sponsor meetup groups for the technologies where I did business. As the sponsor, I bought the pizza, salads, and soft drinks for the event, got my logo & link on their newsletter for that month, and got 5 minutes in front of the audience. I always used that as an opportunity to add value. I never pitched my services or told about why I was awesome. I would give a quick (15-30 second) intro about who I was, where I worked, and what I did. That’s it. Then I’d jump right into adding value.

I’ll give you some examples; here are some topics I covered in my years of doing this:

  • How to get your resume down to 2-3 pages
  • Working with recruiters 101
  • Why & How to use LinkedIn (this was 2006, btw)

The attendees of the NY/NJ .NET Users Group were not there to hear about job hunting, resumes, or networking, but those topics are relevant to everyone at some point in their careers. They were also my area of expertise, and so I used the opportunity to add value in an area where I could.  If necessary I would have a few slides, and would always keep my time under the 5 minutes given to the sponsors.

Photo from @themikelaszlo

Photo from @themikelaszlo

This morning, the event was sponsored by JP Morgan and Lazlo Law. I always meet new and interesting people at their events, and Mike Lazlo always adds value in his talks. He dropped a lot of knowledge about the different types of crowdfunding, the emerging markets for crowdfunding-for-equity, and the things you need to do before you get into any sort of crowdfunding.

The representative from JP Morgan Private Banking, Erica Carpenter, talked about what to do with excess cash, and had a lot to share about what options are out there, what the risks are, and what the potential returns are, too. The big take-away from her was cash from an initial investment can be put to work for your company, most importantly with limited risk. As a former finance guy, I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought about this myself—but then again, as an entrepreneur, I haven’t been in a situation where I have excess cash to invest!

It was the first speaker at this event who fell flat, though. I think he was supposed to talk about traditional funding routes such as SBA loans. I’m not entirely sure. What the audience got was a pitch about why his business is awesome. Even if his intention was to get up and pitch his business, it was all about features, there were no benefits. It was the equivilent of getting up and saying “me me me me me.” More importantly, there was no value to the attendees.

As I begin to plan our events for the fall (through our new company, Engage Here d/b/a Engage Colorado) I’ll be sure to coach our sponsors before they get up to talk to our attendees: ADD VALUE.

If you’re ever sponsoring an event, please follow that rule. And if you want help figuring out what you can do to add value in front of an audience, feel free to ping me, and I’ll be happy to help you.