Tag Archives: public speaking

Finding the “net” in “networking”: reflections on the first BNI Expo

Has it been a week already?

The inaugural BNI Expo took place one week ago, on 9 March, and the response to this new local networking event and exhibition was tremendous.

But first a bit of background. Thirty-four local businesses make up BNI Highland, which is the Inverness-area chapter of BNI. The organisation is a worldwide networking and business referral organisation, and members of BNI Highland meet weekly.

The BNI Expo at Eden Court was an opportunity to showcase our businesses to the wider community, and we each invited our contacts to come along, meet the other BNI members, and find out more about our businesses. I spoke to more than 100 people that day, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. We also used the day to launch our new “Online Profile Builder” and are delighted at the response!

Each week at our Thursday morning breakfast meetings, BNI members each have a 60-second slot to share a bit of information about our business and request a specific referral from the other members. More often than not, someone around the table will be in a position to help make an introduction on our behalf.

I was a founder member of the BNI Highland chapter, and have been the Education Coordinator since we launch all those months ago. In my role, I introduce the weekly education slot, where a member shares a 4-minute presentation on a topic to help others in the room do business better. Sometimes, like today, the assigned member isn’t able to present their slot, so it has been a great boon to my impromptu speaking skills! Recent education topics have included how to make the most of your 60-second slot, what makes a good referral, and how to make the most of your 1-to-1 meetings with other members.

“One-to-ones” [121s] are the core of BNI; these one-hour meetings with another member enable each of us to learn more about our colleague’s business, and the types of referrals they are looking for. We learn to recognise opportunities where a referral would be suitable. And best of all, we get to know each other better.

Beyond the business passed, BNI has been the source of many new friendships for me and for my colleagues in the room.

Today, we got heartfelt thanks from one of our members, who credited the support he received from all of us, for helping him get through a difficult time personally and professionally.

Which was a helpful reminder: the ‘net’ impact of networking isn’t always just evident in the bottom line.

If you’d like more information about BNI, or how Bruce PR can help you to raise the profile of your business, ring me on 01462 216 226 or drop me a line. I’d be happy to chat.

How to boost your business with video

Laura Bruce from Bruce Public Relations speaking to a group at SCVO’s #DigitalMeetup in Inverness 25 January

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you will have noticed that the popularity of video has grown exponentially.

From Facebook to YouTube, we are consuming more video content than ever before. And the business case for video is compelling: according to Hubspot, after watching a video, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online.

2017: the year of video?

We’ve seen growing interest in video, but I believe 2017 will be the year that video really takes off across a range of social platforms. By taking a few simple steps, any business can capitalise on the potential that video offers to share your message far and wide.

The power of leverage

For small- and medium-sized businesses with small- to medium-sized marketing budgets, video offers a powerful tool to generate leverage in your promotional activity. Equipped with little more than a smartphone, you can create short videos to bring your website and social media channels to life, and reach potentially millions of viewers online.

What should you say?

One of the best uses of video is to help people to understand what you do, and how you do it. A “value proposition” is a tool to help potential customers understand the benefits you provide, the problems you solve, and why they should choose you over your competition. Your value proposition should be a top priority when developing video content, and it’s something we work with clients to develop before doing any marketing or promotional activity. Once you are clear on what makes your business unique, it is much simpler to communicate this and convince potential customers why they should buy from you. [More on this here.]

Educate clients online, and build rapport

Also, consider the questions you typically respond to from clients or customers. For professional services firms like solicitors, accountants and architects, a video can save time responding to queries about your fee structure or services you provide. Perhaps your video could spec out the path of a typical query, and take a potential client through the process so there are no surprises? One of your team could explain how your fees are structured, and which if any services or advice you provide free of charge. A video will save staff time, and also serve to educate your audience. Moreover, by using an actual member of your team, video can build rapport in a way an email will never do.

Use video to accomplish new tasks online

But your video doesn’t have to be about your products or services. I recently worked with a large accounting firm to develop a video to recruit graduates to become trainee accountants. Shared on their website and social media channels, the animated video truly engaged the target audience — outperforming all other recruitment tactics— and generated a talented pool of ideal candidates!

Get something down on paper first

While some people are talented improvisational speakers, don’t put undue pressure on yourself or your team. Start with a script, outlining your key message and some details you want to include. Scripting your video doesn’t have to be complicated, but preparing a script will ensure you communicate what you intend to. And keep it short. Hubspot notes that 5% of people will turn off a video after one minute, but this figure jumps to 60% by two minutes! And ‘word count’ will make it simple to see how much you’ve got before you start filming: between 120 and 140 words will take about one minute to speak.

The crucial ingredient: a call to action

Don’t forget to include a call to action. Make sure to give your viewers one clear action to take — invite them to visit your website, ring your office, download a PDF, or email an enquiry. And make it simple for them to take that next step, by including a link, an email address, or similar.

What are you waiting for? 🙂

Video can positively impact your business in a range of ways – from increasing sales and driving traffic to your website, to educating potential customers about your products or services. The sooner you start using video, the sooner you’ll experience the benefits.

If you want to use video, but are not sure how to start, drop me a line or ring me. I think every business could be using video, and I can help you make the most of it!

Laura Bruce, Bruce Public Relations Ltd. copyright 2017. 

This article is based on my column in the January 2017 issue of Executive Magazine, a monthly publication of Scottish Provincial Press.

Creating membership magic: tactics for Toastmasters

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3pm Friday 11 November, 2016, Dubhlinn D71 Toastmasters Conference

Is your club struggling to build membership? Do you have a hard time getting visitors to come along? Do visitors come to your club, but not become members?

This workshop will give you the tips and tricks you need to attract visitors to your club and convert them to members. Laura Bruce, President of Inverness Toastmasters, will share her story of how her club went from only 7 paid-up members in April 2015, to 27 members just 18 months later.

She will share her ACE Formula ™ — a suite of online and offline tools that she used as VP Membership to attract  and engage visitors, and convert those visitors into Toastmasters. She will also share her expertise as founder of Bruce Public Relations to show how the humble media release can be a powerful tool to raise the profile of your club.

Who will benefit from this workshop?

Any one with a club that is struggling with low member numbers. Any club that attracts visitors but hasn’t been successful in converting them to members. Any club that is facing extinction.

Special relevance to: VPs Membership, VPs PR, Presidents, Area and Division Directors

Come along and learn how to put the ACE Formula ™ to work creating membership magic for  your club!

For more information: http://www.dubhlinn2016.com/laura-bruce

If you would like a copy of the slides, click here. 

What a difference a year makes: My Toastmasters year in review

Members of Toastmasters clubs from across the north and east of Scotland at Inverness Toastmasters 5 October.

Members of Toastmasters clubs from across the north and east of Scotland at Inverness Toastmasters 5 October.

I just checked and I can hardly believe it: it was one year ago, today, that I posted about my first experience at the public speaking group Toastmasters. I had attended my first meeting, and decided to blog about it.

My experience at that first meeting was very positive. It was — and continues to be — a warm and welcoming group. (With a name like “Inverness Toastmonsters”, it would be hard not to like them.) I joined the group in January and have attended religiously. Well, regularly.

One of the things that keeps me going back is a regular feature of the meetings: “Table Topics”. For the uninitiated, Table Topics is an absolute adrenaline thrill-ride of an activity: you volunteer to speak to the audience on a topic that you aren’t yet aware of. You are given your topic . . . as you walk to the front of the room!

It’s marvellous! Some people hate it. I think you either love Table Topics, or you hate it. I love it. I recently described it to my Toastmasters friends as “the crack cocaine of public speaking”. Not that I know a lot about crack, but I have gathered it’s highly addictive. And that is how I feel about Table Topics.

Which is why it is so particularly gratifying to have won — less than a year after joining — the Area 43 Table Topics Competition. Next stop: Perth for the Scotland-wide finals! I can’t wait. I am a bit nervous, but mostly I am just really looking forward to it.

Inverness Toastmonsters President Stuart Byfield presenting my prize last Sunday.

Inverness Toastmonsters President Stuart Byfield presenting my prize last Sunday.

Which brings me back to the point of that original blog, one year ago tomorrow. Sometimes, stretching yourself means doing things that you *aren’t * afraid of, even if you’ve never done them before. So if public speaking is something that you think you might just have a flair for, or, if you don’t feel completely terrified by it, come along to your local Toastmasters meeting. You never know, you may just find yourself at the national finals.

Stretching yourself: 3 ways to grow personally and professionally

Toastmasters International

Toastmasters International

I attended my first Toastmasters meeting last night, here in Inverness. I was warmly welcomed, and despite being asked to speak extemporaneously for one minute, I have to say, it was a very pleasant experience. Given the trepidation most people feel about speaking in public, I was surprised to find I wasn’t nervous at all.

In fact, I was so not nervous, that when they were looking for volunteers at the start of the meeting, I volunteered for one of the roles! In total, I got up to speak in front of the group three times last night. The first occasion was to introduce myself. The second was to give my “Table Topic” speech — an impromptu speech on a topic provided to you as you stand up (!), and finally, to present my Grammarian’s report.

And you know what? It went swimmingly. I was completely comfortable, despite the newness of the surroundings, and the fact I had never been to a Toastmasters meeting in my life.

And that made me wonder: is this group is a good fit for me? If you have no trouble getting up in front of a roomful of strangers and saying a few words — or worse, delivering an entire speech — should you belong to a group whose express purpose is to improve your confidence and public speaking?

I believe the answer is “yes”. Why? First, because even if you are comfortable with something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. We all have areas that we are experienced at — let’s say, writing — but that we know we can continue to develop with practise.

Secondly, being comfortable with something probably means you have the skills and expertise to help to develop another’s ability.

And that’s what these groups are often about. If everyone was a pro, then no one would need the group. But because everyone’s skills are at a different level, it means that expertise can be shared within the group, so that even experienced speakers can continue to progress.

And that’s the thing — even though I was comfortable at the Toastmasters meeting, I know I can still learn a great deal from these people. Toastmasters isn’t just about public speaking — it’s a leadership development programme. And who can’t benefit from that?

And how did I come to that? By stepping inside my comfort zone. Paradoxical, but true: there is a lot to be gained from trying something that doesn’t terrify you.

So here are my 3 tips to continue your professional development:

  1. Try something you aren’t terrified of. Just because you are comfortable with something, doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Toastmasters provides a venue where people with a range of skills in public speaking can develop at their own pace, in a safe environment, with a proven format. That’s a goldmine waiting to be tapped.
  2. Remember that learning can happen even when you aren’t aware of it. Every time you do something, you get better at it. Incremental changes aren’t obvious, but think about it: I bet you are a much better typist now than you were even five years ago. That’s the power of repetition.
  3. Remember that there’s often more to it than meets the eye. Talented listeners at Toastmasters (like Gilda at last night’s meeting) are able to identify — and critique — the structure of a speech, something most of us wouldn’t have the first clue about!

Chairing a meeting may involve speaking in front of a group, but it is also an opportunity to become a more confident leader. People at a meeting you are chairing are like guests in your home: it’s your job to ensure they are comfortable, feel safe to speak up, and ultimately, benefit from having accepted your invitation. Toastmasters and groups like it provide an ideal opportunity to develop that expertise.

And so, to the Inverness “ToastMonsters” group, I say “thank you!” Thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you for providing me with an opportunity to develop a skill that is partly formed, but my no means at expert level. And for opening my eyes to an opportunity to develop a host of other skills I hadn’t considered. I will be seeing you folks again next time!

For those wanting to learn more, I have pasted some information below about Toastmasters: 

The Toastmasters Mission: A statement of shared values

Every Toastmasters club shares the same mission, clearly defined in the following mission statement:

We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater selfconfidence and personal growth.

Through this mission, each Toastmaster gains a clear understanding of the club’s purpose, and the organization as a whole benefits from a shared set of values and goals.

Click here (and see below) for more information: Toastmasters Britain and Ireland – Inverness Chapter

Inverness Toastmasters is one of the newest members of the Toastmasters International family.

We meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at the Glen Mhor Hotel, on Ness Bank in the centre of Inverness. It’s just by the River Ness, more or less opposite the cathedral and close to Inverness Castle.

Our meetings are inclusive, educational and fun. They allow you to practice your communication and leadership skills in a friendly and supportive environment.

Come along and find out more!