Last week, I was invited to address the membership of a local service organization and discuss the changes in the travel industry over the past ten years. The invite came somewhat as a surprise to me. I am not a member. Most of my business is not focused on my local market. And their demographic never hit my radar—I deal with single parents (mostly single mothers); not a mostly-male organization with traditional families. But, they were looking for a speaker. I had an opinion. So off I went to speak to 100 civic minded businesspeople bright and early on a Tuesday morning—almost too bright and early.
With only 20 minutes, complete with any Q&A, my time was short. I decided to focus my discussion on the Internet and how it’s not the panacea that many think. I demonstrated some of its flaws and shortcomings in terms of price, value, and customer service. But most importantly, I brought the audience into my shoes. I highlighted e-trade for the financial guys. I mentioned E-insurance for the insurance guys. I talked about cars.com for the car dealers. And when I mentioned eBay and Amazon to the retailers, a collective light seemed to go off in the audience. I stressed that in most instances, the only thing the Internet offers is convenience—and even that is debatable when you may not be absolutely sure what you are doing.
I went “off script” here and asked if anyone in the room had used any of the services I mentioned—nearly 100% of the hands went up. Another collective light went off when they discovered that most of them were losing business to an inferior product.
There were a few questions—mostly about how the Internet had impacted my business, how surprised they were that there were still travel agents left and, believe it or not, how to find a decent travel agent today.
After the meeting. I was cornered by several people with more in depth questions. It seems that their businesses had been equally impacted as ours—an insurance salesman and a real estate agent. They were very interested in how I countered the Internet shoppers and my views on the future of the Internet’s impact on “middleman” businesses. No one has a crystal ball, and my advice was to embrace it, see what it can do, and quite simply do it better. People will pay a little more for good personal service—always.
When I got back to my desk, I found an invitation to join the organization (expected) in my in-box. But I also found three e-mails from people looking to possibly book a group with me. As Charlie Sheen might say, “Winning, duh!”
I do have a specialty, but these potential groups are certainly within my range of capabilities and I plan to offer proposals on all of them. Will they ultimately materialize? Time will tell. But this experience certainly demonstrates the power of local networking.
Granted, service organizations tend to focus more on local business than the general public, but I came into a room of 100 people who had all transacted online and it looks like I have at least a 3% conversion rate.
Get the word out about what it is that we do and how we do it. Seek out opportunities to speak in your local community and begin your own conversion. Discuss a travel book at the local library; host a Travel Talk at a local coffee shop (they are always looking for business). Reach out to your local Kiwanis, Rotary or Optimist clubs and ask if they ever have guest speakers. If you are fearful about speaking, seek out a local Toastmasters for help if you like; but I find that most people realize you don’t speak for a living and are very forgiving as long as it is not too bad!
As for my experience, they gave me 20 minutes—period. It could be 5 minutes of talk and 15 minutes of question and answer, 20 talk, or anything in between. My advice is the shorter the better. Make it long enough to make your point, but short enough to be mindful of your audience’s time.