Pro bono public speaking is an effective marketing tool

  • Andy  Richardson

    Andy Richardson

  • Microphone


Updated 10/11/2016 2:04 PM

Do you want more clients or customers? Consider no fee public speaking.

Whether you love it or dread it, public speaking is a fabulous marketing tool for your business, product or service. The post-talk objective is to have a line of people waiting to shake your hand and ask for a business card or two (or three).


Many people find that public speaking yields wonderful advantages both personally and professionally. First, it's a great form of networking; second, it's terrific public relations; and third, if it's a pro bono presentation, it's goodwill and community service.

In a traditional networking situation you meet for short periods of time with a limited number of people. Your time is typically divided into a conversation where you learn about the other person and their business, and they learn about you and your business.

Imagine an event where the entire room of people pays close attention to you, and you're presented as the expert in your field. That's networking at its finest. It's important to stick around after the talk to answer questions one on one and exchange business cards. Many possible marketing opportunities are lost if you dash out.

Let me relate a story. My business partner presents a pro bono talk about how to get free publicity from newspapers, radio and television. Each time she agreed to speak, she'd drive off to the engagement mumbling and grumbling. She'd had to leave the office and the many projects on the desk, and take time to brush up and rehearse.

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However during the talk, a metamorphosis occurred. As she warmed to her audience, she recognized she was teaching about a true passion -- media relations. Yes, she said, there was the occasional post-luncheon napper, but most folks were listening, really listening. Following the talk, quite a few people asked for her business card. The good news is that some of these people actually did call, and some resulted in lucrative clients.

Now let's focus on you. You may be wondering what topic to present. You might share your expertise in business. Could you tell about your work in a way that applies to an audience with a wide variety of interests and businesses? How about your hobby? How about inspiring and motivating people?

Caution: make sure your talk isn't a thinly veiled commercial for your business. It's OK to say what you do and the name of your company, but don't cross the line into advertising. Rather, be a resource to people. Educate them on something new. Leave them wanting more. The connections you'll make are invaluable.

Getting started

How do you get started? You need to identify an interesting topic and write it, rehearse it aloud, rehearse it again and time it. All the effort is upfront. Once you have a talk that works, you can customize it for use over and over.


You needn't worry about speaking for hours. Most talk requests are brief, approximately 30 minutes - 20 minutes of talk and 10 minutes for Q&A. So, heed the speechmaking advice given by Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Be sincere; be brief; be seated."

If you say yes, arrive early and enjoy the meal with the group. You're the star of the meeting so you will be treated royally. Provide the program chairman with a well written introduction of yourself to be read right before you begin. Write to establish your credibility.

Once in front of the group remember that it's perfectly OK to use notes. With a little experience, you'll find you won't need more than an outline to keep you on track. If you're scared silly, feel free to stay behind the lectern. Later you may venture left or right, and soon you will find yourself moving around the dais, microphone permitting of course. Plan to give your audience extras: survey results, white papers, recommended reading lists, how-to articles, and website addresses that are relevant to your topic. Include your contact information, but don't hold the materials hostage by requiring recipients to give you their business cards or other information to obtain them.

The groups that are searching for no-fee speakers are not-for-profit business clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, chambers of commerce; libraries; church groups; men's and women's clubs; and retirement communities. Typically, the audiences are as small as 10 people and as large as 50.

There are additional benefits. Public speaking provides invaluable experience in communications; each and every time you speak you improve. Public speaking can lead to free public relations since many groups send out news releases about you and your talk to the papers, who, in turn, reach thousands of readers or viewers.

Pro bono public speaking can be a major workhorse of your marketing program, and maybe most important, you are giving something of yourself.

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

• Andy Richardson is the executive director of, a pro bono speakers bureau with more than 275 topics for Chicagoland organizations with limited budgets. has sister speaker bureaus in Indianapolis and Milwaukee. Visit or call (312) 585-7677.

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