Whenever you give a talk at an association meeting or a meeting of any other business group, your presentation should be 100% useful information — with not one word of self-promotion. “But then how do I get business if I don’t talk about my product or service?” you may be thinking. Before the talk, type out, on an index card, a brief bio — just a few sentences — about you, your business, and what you do. Hand the card to the person running the meeting and ask her to read it when she introduces you.

That way, you get a free “plug” from the organization. THEY are telling their members about your product or service — not you. When people come to hear a speaker, they expect to get ideas and tips that can help them improve their lives — whether at home or at work. The more useful content you provide, the more the audience will like you and enjoy your talk. Remember, people only do business with people they like. So you want the audience to like you — a lot.

Avoid talking about yourself — your credentials, how great your company is, your achievements, your clients, your product. The audience resents speakers who give a commercial instead of a lecture. Nothing turns a listener off faster than a speaker who brags, boasts, or sells from the platform. Don’t do it! The better your rapport with the audience, the more they will like what you’re saying — and the easier it will be for you to engage their interest.

Here are a few tips to help you do that: Arrive at least 30 minutes early. As people come into the room, walk up to them, shake hands, and introduce yourself. Ask them their names and a few questions to break the ice. My favorite question to ask is “What are you hoping to get out of today’s presentation?” Then, I make sure I cover their specific interests during my talk. I may also drop one or two of their names during my talk.

For instance, “I was talking to Ron earlier, and he said . . .” Your audience will be impressed that you have spoken with members and made an effort to get to know them. Don’t think of your presentation as a “speech”; think of it as a conversation. And have that conversation with one person at a time. I do this by picking one audience member and looking him in the eye during the first few seconds of my speech. Then I switch to another audience member.

When you do this, you find yourself speaking naturally, rather than in a forced, artificial “lecture” mode. I never stay at the podium. I ask for a portable microphone so I can move about the room and wander into the audience. This creates a stronger bond than standing up on a platform apart from the crowd. Of course, you want to get leads for new business when you speak. You are not giving a lecture just for the fun of it (although it can be a lot of fun; I love doing it).

So, here’s a technique I use to get up to 95% of the people in the audience to give me their business cards: During the talk, I mention some useful resource that I have produced. It could be an article, a report, a tape, or even a hard copy of my PowerPoint presentation. Let’s say I have prepared a resource guide listing website addresses, phone numbers, periodicals, books, and other resources related to the topic of my talk.

It needn’t be elaborate; just two or three pages will do. I would then say, “I have prepared a guide listing resources you will find useful. If you would like a free copy, just write ‘RG’ on the back of your business card and hand it to me.” You’ll find that 50% to 95% of the people in your audience will give you their business cards to get the freebie you are offering. They don’t even realize you are doing this to get sales leads. Or if they do realize it, they don’t care. I have used this tactic dozens of times and have never gotten negative feedback about it.

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of Mailbox Millionaire, ETR’s program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business. For information, click on http://www.agora-inc.com/reports/700SCBMO/W700E201/.)

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.