Air Time: Taking the Less Obvious Route to Making a Great Impression

I'm on the board of a small (but mighty) professional organization. It's an all-volunteer operation that depends heavily on the generosity of the membership to support great events.  In practice, this often means the corporate members step up with topic ideas and space to host-- which is totally great. While it's federally focused, the organization would not exist without the private sector participation.

So most often, these offers to host come with the expectation for air time.  Most people are looking for the opportunity to welcome people to the space, introduce the topic, then share their firm's perspective (in what invariably is a watered-down set of slides) with the audience.

On the surface, this is a win-win.  The association gets an event and the host gets air time with a room of prospective clients. The problem with the latter is two-fold-- the lead in stuff is usually boring (at best) and completely obnoxious (at worst) and the audience is irritated because they totally "get" that they're being pitched.  So the host's good intentions end up having the opposite affect-- they've turned-off the very people they want to impress.

There is a alternative-- and a much better way to snag a tiny bit of air time and leave a much bigger (positive) impression.  Ask great questions!

In contrast to the typical scenario I described above, I recently attended an event where the host's introductory comments were so minimal that I don't actually remember if he said anything.  Instead, he quickly introduced the guest speaker and allowed her to hit the high points of her background.  By the way, I think this is a far better approach to an introduction.  It's so so obvious when you hear someone introduce a speaker that they don't know personally.  They read and it comes across as completely lame and awkward.

Anyway, the guest speaker was off and running within moments of the event kicking off.  As she reached her closing comments, he asked her a great question-- that led to another great question from someone else.  And, low and behold, a conversation started.  It was fantastic!  When there was a slight lull, he tee'd up another good question.  The entire experience felt so easy and authentic. Whether it was his explicit goal or not, I left feeling like 1) this guy is someone I'd like to get to know and 2) he seems to know what he's talking about.

What better marketing could there be?