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Things to consider when delivering a seminar


Many businesses decide to deliver seminars as a way of getting in front of prospective clients and hopefully generating new business as a result of the interest shown.  This tactic can be successful, but usually requires some very deliberate and careful planning.


Seminars allow you to focus on a particular product or service you wish to promote, and you would expect that those who attend will be interested in how your material may be of benefit to their business - an ideal audience prepared to be open-minded.


Seminars are one of the most effective ways to position your business as a specialist in your chosen market and also create face-to-face interaction with your preferred audiences.  These types of events enable you to break down the barriers and close the distance that usually exists between you and decision makers.


Planning for success

It can be very disheartening if you are aiming for an attendance level of 50 or 60 new businesses and less than a dozen turn up.  You will always have a certain amount of unavoidable attrition and “no-shows.”  However, there are procedures to follow that help to limit these to statistical absences and prevent a general lack of interest.


Effective well organised seminars can take up lots of internal resources and expense, too much to risk failing to deliver the desired results.  This is why proper planning and execution are so important.  If done right, the results can easily justify the investment of resources and expense.  A poor turnout and ill-conceived seminar will only create a negative impression of your business to prospective clients and should therefore be avoided.


In addition to the usual planning for content, target audience, venue selection and catering, if you are serious about going to the effort of producing, preparing and delivering a seminar here are a few tips to ensure you fill the room with qualified prospects.



Planning any event is a process - and by following the appropriate steps and planning properly, you not only increase your expected attendance but you also improve your chances of having the right type of people attend.


Having said this, your first decision needs to be about the purpose of your seminar.  Seminars can be used to:

  • highlight or promote a particular service or product with the hope of converting interested attendants
  • support a strategy to position your business as an expert within your target market
  • help you gain credibility with new prospects by delivering an event in partnership with a non-competitive business who is already respected in the market
  • raise your profile within a particular market and gather contact information to aid follow-on marketing


As you see, there can be several reasons for delivering a seminar; your objectives will help you to determine many things about how you will conduct and market your seminar and may influence many of your decisions.



You need to then decide upon a title which is relevant, informative and compelling enough to generate interest.  However, you should think carefully about what to call your seminar.  A title that is too long will only be cumbersome and too much like hard work to capture someone’s interest.  Trying for something too clever may not give a very professional impression.


You will need a title which doesn’t leave people guessing what your seminar is about and will be easy to use on promotional and marketing material.  If you will be running a series of seminars, you might want something that will be adaptable and yet help provide continuity between the events. 


To choose a seminar title that works, make a list of several possible titles you could use for the event and then ask for feedback from colleagues and contacts.  The titles which appeal to them most may be worth considering further and, with minimal tweaking, may be the basis for a good title to generate interest and attendance.



You should consider the timing of your event very carefully as well - and you may need to consider several different factors, not just what day of the week or at what time of day to run your event.  The timing of your event itself is important, but so is ensuring that you leave yourself time enough to market and promote your seminar (6 to 8 weeks usually), as well as time to book venues, hire catering, develop material and organise technical support.


There may even be a specific time of year you wish to avoid or even aim for.  For example, if you are promoting a new service or product you wish to develop you may want to plan your event before businesses lay out their next year’s budget (usually in October / November for a calendar year end or January / February for a fiscal year end).  This way they will have the available budget to do business with you, rather than having already allocated their budget elsewhere for the year.


You may also need to consider your target market more carefully and avoid times of year when you expect them to be very busy, as people will be less likely to be out of the office.  You need to think about whether there could be any other events which may conflict with your own, such as industry specific events, other relevant business events and even football or other social / entertainment events.


Think about the time of the event itself – will your target audience respond better to a morning or evening event?  Would it be better to do it over lunch?  The nature of your target sector will determine the best time slot for your seminar.  Experience has shown that a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday event will attract greater interest than those held on Monday or Friday.  Mondays are often spent catching up from the weekend whilst Fridays are spent preparing for the next weekend.



You should be equally careful when selecting a venue for your seminar.  Not only is your choice a reflection of your organisation, there are several practical considerations you should be aware of as well.  The cost of your chosen venue will also be an important consideration, as this may affect how much of your budget you have to spend elsewhere or whether you will charge for attendance.


Below is a list of some other things you need to think about regarding your venue:

  • are people likely to be familiar with it
  • does it convey a professional image
  • is it easy to locate and travel to
  • does it have safe and adequate parking nearby
  • is it serviced by public transport links
  • does it have facilities for disabled people
  • can it provide wi-fi internet access
  • does it have conferencing facilities
  • can the venue support catering provisions
  • will it accommodate your guests comfortably
  • are they properly insured
  • is there on-site security or support staff


Obviously, another important factor in choosing a venue for your event is availability.  It may be more important to make a strong impression and to have a particular venue so that you postpone your seminar for a time when your desired venue is available.  Alternatively, if you are trying to capture interest in a topic which is dependent on timing and current events you may need to find an alternative venue to seize the moment. 



Your data is the most important tool for direct mail purposes.  You should have a list of qualified prospects that you are reasonably certain are interested in your seminar topic.  There’s no point in bearing the cost in time and money for compiling and mailing materials to people who have little to no interest in what you are offering.  Your data needs to be current and accurate as mistakes will be costly.


If you are building your own lists, then take the time to select prospects which fit your desired profile and ensure your data is as current and accurate as you can make it.  Include any information which may be of value in helping you to qualify these prospects, as you may be able to utilise this list later for other marketing opportunities in the future.


Providing the wrong title, spelling the recipient’s name incorrectly or sending items to the wrong address may give potential prospects an unfortunate impression of how you operate - not to mention the wasted effort of marketing materials which fail to reach the right people.  Don’t send items to an unspecified recipient; no one will take ownership and it shows a lack of commitment on your part to do your homework.



Sometimes events can be marketed too far in advance, so that either the immediate desirability for the event has time to wear off or people find other priorities which supersede your event.  A more common problem is an event which has left too little time for adequate marketing.  There is a fine balance between too much or too little time; the nature of your event can often help you to determine how much time you need.


During the planning of your seminar you will need to consider the following:

  • time needed for design and copy
  • time needed for editing and proofing
  • time needed for print and collection
  • time needed for mailing and delivery
  • how many separate mailings are required
  • what are the intervals between mailings


Invitations for attendance at a two hour seminar probably only require a four to six week lead time, as the investment in time you are asking people to make is relatively small.  A full day seminar probably needs eight to ten weeks for lead time.  Your aim is to allow people the opportunity to schedule the time in their diaries to attend your event without giving them enough time to forget or find something better to do with them.


Response expectations

Experience suggests that a 2% positive response rate is to be expected in most instances.  If you have a list of 2,000 prospects you might be able to expect a positive response rate of around 40.  However, responses can drop as low as 1% or less if you have not properly qualified your list or marketed your event adequately.


Shorter events tend to have higher attendance because people aren’t required to be away from the office for as long.  Catering for a midday event will likely increase your positive responses as people are able to combine their lunch with the event.  Avoid events that begin too late outside working hours as people are reluctant to sacrifice family time.


If you have enough qualified prospects to mail, if you create a ‘buzz’ for your event through media publicity and if you maintain steady contact with your prospects over several mailings you will have a much better chance of filling your room.


It’s often about showing your prospects that you have invested a significant amount of time and energy in gaining their attention, so they are more likely to decide to return that investment by attending your event - assuming your topic is of interest of course.



Whether you are sending a postcard, an event flyer, an email or an introductory letter make sure that you clearly communicate the benefits of attending your event.  You should make it as easy and convenient as possible for prospects to register their interest as well.  By providing a reliable and convenient response mechanism (fax-back forms, pre-paid reply cards or links to online registration) you encourage people to respond immediately whilst your event is most fresh in their mind.  Depending on the nature of your event you may decide to mail more than once; make sure your correspondence is consistent and clearly portrays your branding. 


Careful thought should be given to what the best marketing materials will be for your event.  Think about your audience and make sure your marketing materials are relevant, memorable and effective - they will need to compete with the rest of their daily post or emails.


Attendance fees

It can sometimes be a difficult decision whether you charge for attendance or deliver your seminar for free.  Attendance rates are sometimes higher for events which people have paid to attend (because they have made an investment), even if it is just a nominal amount.  Your audience has committed to being there and it also helps you to cover some of your costs.


Paid events also tend to have fewer “no-shows” than free events.  You need to be certain that your topic is of particular interest to the prospects you have profiled - enough of an interest that they will see value in paying to attend.  If you are asking people to pay, you should be aware that they will expect real and measurable value for their investment, not just a free lunch and some networking.


However, depending on your purpose and what you are offering, a free seminar can be very well attended.  The key is knowing your audience, matching your event to their needs and interests and making sure that you communicate the benefits of their attendance in a clear and compelling way.


Event partners

Partnering with non-competitive businesses that already provide products or services to your target audience may help to boost attendance.  Businesses that are recognised as “experts” or that have established very good reputations within the sector can help to augment your own credibility through your association with them.


The benefit to your audience is that for their investment of time and money in only one presentation they gain access to several presenters providing useful and beneficial information.  You are able to share the costs and workload with your partners and you all benefit from gaining access to the other’s database of prospects.


Additionally, by having a varied list of presenters from several disciplines, you also broaden the event’s appeal and greatly enhance the benefit for your audience.  You are able to increase your available publicity streams and generate a greater buzz with several organisations being involved - especially if they are recognised “heavy hitters” in their sector.


Your PR campaign for your event will need careful consideration.  In addition to local media sources, make sure you let trade associations and industry publications know about it.  With some careful digging and creative thinking, there may be other possible media channels you can utilise that would be appropriate as well.


Obviously, you will want to publicise the event on your own website, inform those people with whom you network and encourage your own staff and clients to promote the event where appropriate.  You may even try to encourage registered guests to pass on the word to anyone else they think would benefit - perhaps by setting up a referral discount or prize draw for the top referrers.    



Produce feedback forms for your seminar and ask your guests to complete them as candidly as possible.  Collecting their impressions and opinions on the subject matter, venue, catering, quality of presentation etc allows you to fine tune future events and constantly improve your offering.  This will help you to stay ahead of your competition and ensure that your seminars are “not to be missed.”


Feedback forms also give prospects the reassurance that you are serious about how your work and services are received and that you believe in quality control and meeting your clients’ expectations.  This can only be a good impression to leave with prospective clients who you’d like to do business with.


Post event marketing

Marketing after the event has occurred is often an opportunity which many businesses fail to take advantage of.  Businesses fail to appreciate that anyone who attends a seminar will likely leave very enthused and excited about the subject matter, but unless they act upon it immediately, they will likely forget about it as they return to their daily grind.


By maintaining contact after the event, you are able to keep a prospect’s interest fresh in their mind and perhaps persuade them to “follow through” where they might otherwise become distracted by their normal routine.  It is also an opportunity to demonstrate your willingness to continue to invest your time and effort in winning their business.