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Grab the Microphone

By wmadministrator

Dan Sweigard, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Lexington, says that giving a speech or doing a free demonstration is just as good as putting your whole advertising budget into a Super Bowl ad. Well, almost as good.

“If I can become your main contact as a free authority to help you learn about your hobby,” Sweigard says, “who are you going to when you need information or a new purchase?”

The businessmen and women of the commonwealth are constantly on the look-out for more and better ways to give their services more visibility while increasing sales and adding to the economic health of our great state. Many of them claim that giving free talks helps reach these objectives.

Sweigard recently did a six-minute segment on a local television station to address questions about birdfeeders. “The result was, the minute I returned to the store I had several new customers in wanting to discuss that very subject. I ignited an interest strong enough for them to drive to my store that day.”

One of the core values in Sweigard’s business is to bring people and nature together.  “I can get you started with a simple purchase, but the real joy is in the knowledge customers gain about different birds, their habits, lives and activities,” he said. So the staff of Wild Birds Unlimited gives free speeches to garden clubs, social clubs and schools. Sweigard has found that giving talks elevates you to a position of authority.  “And (audience members) know what we sell, know where we are located and they get to know us as persons. It has been widely proved that the best advertising is word of mouth from excited, satisfied customers.  Giving free talks to potential customers doesn’t just reach the 10 or 20 people you might address in one night but to the 50 to 100 these people might touch in the next few weeks. Becoming known as an expert elevates you over your competition.”

Speaking can be fulfilling for the nonprofit-oriented, too.

Martha Newman is director of access services for the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville. Her department trains other performing arts centers to provide effective access services through educational workshops and speaking opportunities. Newman said providing free services to art and cultural organizations enriches the lives of an increasing number of individuals in the commonwealth.

“These workshops,” Newman said, “educate and provide resources for arts, cultural organizations and artists as they work toward making their buildings, programs, communications and arts practices accessible to everyone in their communities.” Recent workshops gave participants free information about the legal implications surrounding accessibility and related topics. Newman also served as a guest speaker for The Lifelong Learning program of the Jefferson County Public Schools for their disability history class.

“I am not out ‘touting’ the center,” she explained, “I am teaching about the reasons why access is important and how to implement access programs and services.” As a result, there has been an increase in both the number of access services and in the number of people using these services, and Newman is pleased with the growth she sees. “Making it possible for more people to enjoy the performing arts will build audiences now and in the future.”

Susan Coates is the president/ owner of The Speaker Studio, a national company headquartered in Lexington. Involvement with the Lexington Toastmasters Club and public speaking prepared her to run her own speakers business, teaching people how to market themselves through public speaking.

“You can’t be up there just selling,” Coates said. “You have to provide something to the audience. Then you have to put your time into practice. You have to get on the local news before you can get on ‘Oprah.’ ”

As president and general manager of WKYT in Lexington, Wayne Martin has spent much time on the stage not selling but conveying information for the benefit of the audience. Martin says doing speaking spots is not only an information presentation opportunity but an information-gathering opportunity as well.
“Recently those of us in the broadcast industry,” Martin said, “are trying to ascertain the concerns our viewers have over the transition to a digital TV distribution that Congress mandated to occur by February of ’09. I want to alleviate some of their concerns and offer helpful information.”

Martin admits he has suffered from some speaker anxiety – but not often. “If I have the knowledge of what I am talking about and am passionate about it, I have no stage fright.”

Coates says she also suffers from periodic stage fright. “But I don’t want it to go away completely,” she said.  The anxiety gives her excitement and energy, so when it’s mild she uses it to her advantage.  But some days are worse than others.

One solution she has found is to learn to focus on the audience. This is not about you, she tells herself, it’s about them. She uses an exercise she learned from Darren LaCroix, world champion Toastmasters speaker. “Darren talks about how it feels when you are up in front of an audience, how it’s like all these spotlights are on you. He suggests turning the spotlights around as soon as you begin and put them on the audience.”

The other thing she does is recall Lacroix’s message: stage time, stage time, stage time. Says Coates, “there’s no substitute for practice.”

Speaking can open other opportunities. At the urging of Jim Adams, governor of Toastmasters’ Area 41 in Central Kentucky, 10 clubs joined Commerce Lexington three years ago and now conduct their officer training at ComLex’s conference facility. There is hopeful expectation that Toastmasters’ volunteer leaders can graduate into the leadership programs that Commerce Lexington offers, Adams said.

Whenever Coates looks back at her own path to success, or to the achievements she’s seen from other speakers, she likes to recall the saying: Winners are those who are willing to do things others are afraid to do. The courage you derive from public speaking can be just the moxie you need to make your business boom!

Judi M. Bailey writes
for The Lane Report.
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