Leveraging Your Reputation: Don’t pull a bait and switch

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

I recently attended a meeting at one of the professional associations I belong to, and I couldn’t believe what I saw: a speaker that pulled a bait-and-switch. I’m not talking about products at a retail store but about a speaker who says that he is going to talk about a certain topic but ends up using the speaking opportunity to sell his services. I was surprised that he ended up being the main speaker, since he was chosen out of about 100 people who submitted applications. What he did was devious, and hopefully no one walked out of there with any intention of hiring him.

That speaker reminded me, and perhaps others at the meeting, about what to avoid when we’re chosen or asked to speak. Not only do we have to think about what image we’re presenting to others, but we also have to pay attention to what we’re actually saying. To avoid being so blatantly self-serving, here are a few tips you should remember in case you’re tempted to use a public platform for your own gain:

1 – Deliver what you promise. If an organization or other professional group asks what you are going to speak about, then put it in writing and be willing to submit an outline if they ask for one. Then stick to the plan. It sounds obvious, but sometimes people will forfeit their integrity because they’re desperate to get more work. Don’t give into the temptation, and remain professional.

2 – Respect your audience. The speaker I saw probably assumed we were naïve or ignorant. He definitely underestimated us, so his presentation seemed condescending and even annoying, since we were there to get helpful information, not a sales pitch. Chances are that the audiences you speak to are going to be sophisticated, well-educated and experienced. Even if they end up not being as savvy as you think they are, you should walk in there being open to what they have to offer. Remember that even just one search on the internet can yield vast amounts of information, and in our information-saturated culture, the average person is well-informed.

3 – Be accountable. Talk to someone in your firm or another person you trust about your speech and show him or her your outline, or practice your speech in front of others so that you can get constructive feedback. You might not realize if some parts of your presentation make you sound like a salesman, so a second pair of eyes and ears will help you make any adjustments.

If you or your co-worker is tempted to turn a speaking event into a commercial to acquire more clients, stop and think about the long-term impact of such a decision. Even if it doesn’t affect your firm right away, there’s a good chance it will affect at least your own reputation.


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