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Start a Speaker Series to Deepen Your Referral Network

June 30, 2014

presentation-98489_640About seven years ago we moved into new office space that includes a large conference room, larger than we need for our client meetings. But given the configuration of our space, we can’t divide the room. So, we thought about what we could do with this room that can accommodate about two dozen people and decided to launch a speaker series.

At first, we experimented a bit with programs at different times of the day, but ultimately settled on doing a lunchtime presentation on the first Monday of each month, except for July and August, when we take a summer break, and September, when we meet on the second Monday due to Labor Day falling on the first Monday.

We target our presentations at other professionals who work with seniors and individuals with disabilities, including attorneys, accountants, social workers, financial planners and nurses. We don’t turn away clients and family members, but our real purpose in conducting the speaker series is to expand and deepen our referral network. The series creates goodwill by spreading our reputation as educators throughout the community. We get to know those other professionals who come to the lunches and they become familiar with us and our physical location. In addition, we strengthen our relationships with the speakers, who are leaders in the community.

We stick to a tight timeline for our programs so that attendees are able to come during their lunch hours. The sessions run from noon to 1:00 pm as follows:

Noon:  Attendees arrive, get their lunches (which we provide), and schmooze
12:10: The host starts by asking all of the attendees to introduce themselves, introduces his or herself as well as our firm, and introduces the speaker
12:15: Presentation by the speaker
12:50: Q & A
1:00: End of program and thank you

The host – usually one of our firm partners – ends the program right at 1:00 pm so that attendees are comfortable leaving and getting back to work. Typically, however, the speaker and some of the audience stick around to talk for another 15 minutes.

Usually between 12 and 24 people attend, depending on the speaker. Rather than having a large conference table in the room, we have eight smaller tables that can be put together in different formats or removed from the room entirely. For smaller groups, we place the tables together so everyone can sit around them in a circle. For larger groups, we configure the room more like a lecture hall.

We have had a wide range of speakers, including financial planners, people who help reconfigure homes to accommodate people with disabilities, politicians, authors, doctors and professors. On occasion, speakers have asked for a stipend, but unless they are from a non-profit we would like to support, we don’t pay. When we first started the series, we gave speakers a gift certificate to a local restaurant as a thank you for doing the program. They were always pleasantly surprised. This practice fell by the wayside, but is certainly worth reconsidering.

In general, I try to find speakers on topics that interest me so that I’ll learn something and not be bored during the presentation. However, I’ve found that when I’ve veered off the usual topics of estate, long-term care and special needs planning to subjects that simply intrigue me, but which are unrelated to our field of law, we’ve had a low turnout. A few times a year, we showcase our own attorneys as well. It doesn’t hurt to include ourselves among these other leaders in the community. Here’s a link to a page listing all of the speakers that we’ve had over the years: http://www.margolis.com/first-monday-lunches/

We use e-mail to promote the programs. When we first started, we also sent out postcards advertising the whole series for the coming season. We stopped these mailings at some point, probably because we get a pretty good turnout just with the e-mail marketing. But in writing this, I think we should reconsider since a nicely-designed mailing can bring in new people and simply be a good way of marketing the firm. After each program we circulate to all of the attendees the contact information of the other members of the audience, as well as of the speaker, so that the event can also serve as a networking opportunity for them. (The host explains this and lets people know that they should let us know if they don’t want their contact information circulated. So far, no one has asked us to withhold their data.)

In terms of measuring the success of this marketing endeavor, we can’t always trace client referrals directly to our speaker series. However, we are quite well known in our community and this is a significant part of our public relations effort. It is also relatively low cost since we have the space already. We pay a few hundred dollars a month to have the lunch catered. (Since there are almost always leftovers, our staff gets a free lunch as well.) In addition, since the speaker and audience come to our office, no travel time is involved. The greatest cost is staff time in preparing the e-mails to promote the programs and handling registrations.

Those who don’t have space in their own offices to accommodate a speaker series will have to consider other venues, whether at a cost (restaurants or hotels) or free (libraries, assisted living facilities, senior centers). Doing the program off-site will add to the out-of-pocket cost of putting them on, as well as to the time spent on making arrangements. However, it can still be worth the effort if your firm is branded as the sponsor. You may choose to do the programs on only a quarterly basis rather than monthly.

 

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