Six simple steps to running a successful seminar

Event management should be as simple or complex as the event dictates. You do not have to deliver a Hollywood production to achieve your objectives. Here are six simple things to consider the next time you organise an event or have an event managed for you.

Step 1: Planning

Start Early
The most successful seminars are those where the event planner has begun planning and working towards the seminar early. Ideally, preparation should begin three months in advance. Make sure you check other event calendars to ensure a competitor or a major drawcard event does not conflict with your date. Once a date, time and location are fixed then all efforts should be focused on achieving a successful outcome.

The Venue
Selecting the correct venue is an important part of running a successful seminar, as it is a reflection of you and your business.

Above all, it should be appropriate to the audience and the topic, and should represent you and your topic in a professional way. Before booking a venue consider the following things.

•  Don’t sabotage the presentation by holding the seminar in a room with bad lighting. Having the room either too light or too dark is not good. Find a room with lighting that can be adjusted.
•  Consider the visibility of those sitting in the audience. Make sure they can see the screen and don’t have to bend their necks around pillars or posts.
•  Is a power outlet available and close to where the projector will sit? As a precaution, it’s worth making sure that the venue has a long power extension cord available.
•  External noises will distract your audience. There are lots of venues that look great but are inappropriate because of the lack of soundproofing. Consider outside noises like local traffic or the noise from other functions that may be on at the same time as yours. If your audience has made the effort to come and listen, give them the courtesy of being able to hear the speaker clearly.
•  Is it easily accessible to your target market and is transportation readily available.

In summary, find a venue that is appropriate to your audience and then check it out for lighting, visibility, power, accessibility and noise levels.

What Time?
Selecting the right time for a seminar will have an impact on the number of acceptances you receive. The best time for a seminar will depend entirely on the type of people you are inviting.

For example, accountants, solicitors and other professional people generally prefer breakfast meetings commencing at 7:30 am. Make sure you have everyone on his or her way by 9:00 am.

Evening seminars also work well but you have to decide whether to target your guests before or after they go home from work. For example, you could consider holding a seminar at 5:30 pm and concluding by 7:00 pm so people can go home for dinner or alternatively begin at 7:00 p.m. after people have had a chance to go home. Either way, consider the types of guests you are hoping to attract and the time of day that would best suit them.

Step 2: Invitations

Make sure you give at least four weeks advance notice of your event and ensure that you make it easy for people to RSVP. That means clear instructions how and when to RSVP as well as a variety of methods eg fax, phone and email.

There must be a compelling reason for them to attend your seminar, the competition is not the enemy, time is. No one has enough time to do all the things we want to do so make sure that you provide a good reason why they should choose your event over something else they could be doing.

Step 3: Confirmations

Confirm attendance
The day before, or even the morning before an evening seminar, attendance should be confirmed, ideally by telephone. Make sure you reinforce the benefits of attending and you’ll get a higher proportion of acceptances attending on the day.

Step 4: Seminar

The role of the Event Organiser
Make sure someone is designated to greet people as they arrive, give them any handouts/reading material and make them generally feel welcome and at ease.

Open the seminar by thanking people for attending and then set the agenda (i.e. Today we’re here to talk about… it will last for an hour).

At the end of the presentation thank the speakers, and ensure someone acts as a moderator for question time.

Nametags and handouts
Nametags and handouts provide an opportunity to chat with attendees and you can also mark attendees off a master list as they arrive so it makes following up that bit easier.

Attendees should be given a handout. Ideally they should be given a copy of the presentation, a marketing document and your business card. You may also like to provide a notepad and pen. It does not matter whether they receive their handout before or after the seminar.

Call to Action
There must be a “call to action” at the end of the seminar. Saying, “if you’re interested, call me” just doesn’t work and undermines all of the hard work that has gone into the seminar. The best two ways of handling the closing are to either:

1. Have customers complete and return an evaluation which asks would they like a free, no obligation meeting with you to discuss…or
2. Tell them that you will give them a courtesy call in the next 2 days to answer any queries or make appointments for them to see you.

To help increase the number of evaluation forms that get completed, you can make use of “lucky door” draws. Why not give away a bottle of wine to the lucky winner who is drawn from a box of returned evaluation forms?

Ideally, you should also bring your diary with you to make appointments with customers on the night. Tip: Remember to write the appointment on the back of your business card so customers don’t forget!

Are compulsory but don’t have to be “over the top”. The purpose is to encourage people to stay, mix and ask questions. This is when you have the chance to talk to a lot of the people who have attended the seminar in a relaxed atmosphere. Breakfast presentations work well with busy people. Have guests enjoy a continental breakfast of cereals, toast and fruit, which can be laid out on tables when guests arrive. This way, late arrivals don’t disrupt the timing of your seminar. Begin with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and have the speaker start at 8:00 a.m. As with all seminars it is very important to be on time!

Lunch presentations also work well but again don’t run overtime! Also, avoid a hot lunch because of the logistical problems of late arrivals. A sandwich lunch is normally appropriate and generally people appreciate eating before the presentation. Invite people for a sandwich lunch at 12:30 p.m. and have the speaker begin at 1:00 p.m.

Evening seminars are a bit more difficult depending on what time you expect to start. 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm seem to be the most popular times. Generally, people enjoy some sort of drink to begin with. Avoid serving too much alcohol, if any, before the seminar. You don’t want people falling asleep!

Drinks and nibbles after the seminar are very important and provide a good opportunity to mix and answer questions in a less formal environment. There are many people who don’t feel comfortable asking questions in front of an audience of strangers.

Step 5: Follow Ups

After all the hard work and planning, the follow up stage is when you get the chance to see if you can be of service to the client.

No later than 2 days after the seminar, each attendee should be given a courtesy telephone call by you, or the person who invited them, to either answer any questions they may have and/or make an appointment for the customer to see you.

Don’t forget to call any customers who weren’t able to attend. They may also like to meet to collect handouts and hear what the speaker had to say, or find out the timing of the next seminar.

Step 6: Review

The final stage in the seminar process is to review your results. It’s important to quantify what has been achieved and to understand what you can do better next time. There are two parts:

1. Immediately
Review the success of the event immediately afterwards with your colleagues who assisted. What percentage of people attended versus accepted? Were you happy with the presentations? Were many appointments made? How did the event “feel”? What aspects would you do differently next time?

2. A month down the track
Review the amount of sales you have received from those attending the Seminar. It may take a few weeks and perhaps even months to complete all the business generated by the seminar. The time frame will depend on your products and services. However, after a month you should be in a position to quantify the number and amount of new leads as a result of the seminar.

Whilst this is a very simple guide to running a successful event it touches upon all the elements that work together in creating an image for your company that people will remember. By planning ahead and paying attention to detail you can ensure they remember the positive things about you and not dwell the negatives.