Ten Steps To a Successful Seminar

"People will come – but only if you choose a topic that is important to them."

By David P. Kowal

An ad can’t do it. Neither can a brochure, a Web site or even a trade show. Only a seminar can bring you face-to-face with a room full of potential customers who – if your presentation is effective – will hang on your every word.

A seminar can present a significant marketing opportunity, but whether the opportunity translates into new business depends on many factors. The following 10 steps will increase the likelihood that your seminar will succeed:

  1. Identify your audience. Your entire seminar, from the selection of a topic to the promotion of the seminar, will depend on how carefully your audience is selected. Pinpoint your audience as specifically as possible, and remember that few people are likely to drive more than 20 miles to your seminar. If your target audience is more broadly dispersed, consider holding the seminar at multiple locations.
  2. Pick a topic carefully. Remember that you will be asking people to take time out of their busy schedules to attend your seminar. People will come – but only if you choose a topic that is important to them. If your topic is too broad, you may not be able to adequately cover it in a seminar. If it is too narrow, you may exhaust the subject too quickly.
  3. Consider co-sponsoring the seminar. A co-sponsor can increase the value of a seminar, while decreasing its cost. If, for example, a real estate firm co-sponsors a seminar with a law firm, both can invite their clients and be all but assured of a sizable turnout. When two firms are involved, there is an implied endorsement of each other’s services. In addition to sharing the podium, the co-sponsor can share costs.
  4. Use visuals. People remember what they see much better than what they hear. An oral presentation without visuals is likely to be forgotten quickly. Have your presentation developed professionally, so it is well written, well organized and attractive.
  5. Use handouts. People have short memories. Unless your audience has something tangible to take away with them, they are unlikely to remember the seminar for very long. Handouts may include a schedule, backgrounders about the speakers, company brochures and reprints of appropriate articles. Consider a handout with your slides or overheads on the left side of the page and blank space for taking notes on the right.
  6. Practice. Remember that the speaker or speakers are representing your business. If they lack poise or polish, they can harm the image of your company. Even if your speakers have the requisite communication skills, they should rehearse to ensure that they feel comfortable with the material and that the material can be presented comfortably in the time allowed. Leave plenty of time for questions and answers.
  7. Network. Leave time at the beginning and middle of your seminar to provide an opportunity to meet people. Staff should be required to attend the seminar and to make contact with selected attendees. Seminars provide an excellent opportunity for prospecting, but, depending on the nature of the seminar, staff should avoid being overly aggressive. Exchange business cards and talk shop, but don’t be overbearing.
  8. Promote the seminar adequately. Mailing an invitation isn’t enough, even if you rent a well-targeted mailing list. Consider sending a postcard reminder and calling by phone. Advertise and send out a press release if the seminar is open to the public. Be certain to call people who have registered the day before the seminar to remind them to attend.
  9. Develop evaluation forms. Hand out evaluation forms to attendees. Tell them about the forms at the beginning of the seminar and remind them about the forms when the seminar ends. Be certain to review and analyze the results, and use the information in planning future seminars.
  10. Follow up. Develop a database of names of people who attended your seminar and update it frequently. Send a follow-up note within a week after the seminar thanking people for attending. Consider also sending fresh information, such as a reprint of an article, about the seminar topic or a related topic.

Follow these steps, and your seminar is likely to be a worthwhile investment.

David P. Kowal is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.