The Numbskull’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Seminar

The Numbskull's 10-Step Guide to Creating a Seminar

When Justin Lambert sent me this follow-up post (you did read his first post, didn’t you?) on how to create a seminar in just ten easy steps, I was pretty darned pleased. A seminar is a fantastic way to show off your stuff, get people interested and get them buying from you. So… when’s yours?

The average freelancer absolutely hates to sell. It’s sad, but true.

For some people, selling is a horrible, painful reality that makes their hands dirty dealing, like cleaning out the litter box or doing taxes. It sure as heck isn’t fun.

Or is it?

What if I told you there was a way to gather together a crowd of your best prospects for a few hours and focus their attention on nothing but you and what you can do for them?

And what if you’re allowed to hand out anything you want, give away whatever you’d like, sell them what you’ve written, pitch them any product or service, go over case studies… WHATEVER YOU WANT.

And what they even pay you to be there doing this?

Yeah.  Now I have your attention.

In a previous post, I wrote about how public speaking can boost your freelance business to the next level – almost instantly.  Today, I want to follow that up with an aspect of public speaking that many freelancers have found to be the most powerful and profitable of all:

Seminars: The Often-Overlooked Secret to Success

Don’t get nervous.  Seminar is a word used to mean a huge array of different formats of various lengths and complexities.  I’ll put your mind at ease right now: your seminar doesn’t need to be long, it doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to be expensive.

As a matter of fact, when it’s broken down in the following 10-step process, even a numbskull could do it.

The Numbskull’s 10-Step Guide to Seminars

  1. Narrow Your Topic – Get one of us talking about our particular passion in our field of expertise, and watch out!  We could talk all day.  For seminar attendees walking away with something they remember and use, narrow your topic down to a brief, action-packed slice of the pie, then make that slice as tasty and memorable as you can.
  2. Think About Your Audience – Since you’re in control of who gets invited, think about what kinds of questions they’re most likely to have about your topic.  By answering those questions in your content, you automatically impress your audience as the expert they came to see.  Of course, you’ll answer more questions at the end of the seminar, but by then, they’ll be asked in hushed tones full of awe and wonder!
  3. Develop an Outline – By having an outline of what you plan to teach and say, you have the chance to organize your thoughts in the most logical order, and you can clearly see any holes in the program that might leave your audience wondering.  This outline also serves to help you prepare, which you’ll be doing a lot of in the coming steps.
  4. Consult Your List – As a freelancer, you’ve heard it a million times: the money is in the list. One portion of that list is made up of hot prospects that faded lukewarm for reasons unknown.  In other words, folks who should be interested in what you can do for them but who haven’t yet become customers.  These are the diamonds for this particular venture, so make sure every single one of them gets an invitation to your seminar.  Of course, past clients you haven’t worked with in a while are a close second, especially if you’re presenting on a new topic you didn’t cover when you last worked with them.
  5. Decide on a Venue – A lot of factors go into this decision. The best you can do is make a solid estimate of how many people should show up based on how many invitations you want to send out. Then locate a room big enough to accommodate that number comfortably.  Make sure it offers the basics of equipment: a microphone, a lectern, maybe a digital projector and screen or a flat-screen monitor, adequate restroom facilities, etc.  Consider refreshments for your guests, especially if your event might last more than two hours.
  6. Get Invitations Out Early –Get your name out there. Look into mass advertising options like local newspapers, regional magazines, community bulletin boards, local radio, or even TV news. There are tons of places online where you can fire off a targeted press release.  Don’t forget about Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin – use these social media sites.  Many of them have regional or geo-centric features that allow you to target individuals who might attend your seminar. Give potential attendees plenty of time to make plans, but not so much time that they forget about the event.  3-5 weeks is probably best.  Try hard to get as many RSVPs as you can to make your last-minute preparations far easier.
  7. Prepare Quality Visual Aids – This usually consists of some sort of PowerPoint-style slide presentation plus handouts to help the audience to follow along, take notes, and bring something home.  This is a perfect opportunity to put together a packet of killer marketing materials, and make sure everyone gets a copy!  Put your best stuff in a classy two-pocket folder with a business card in the die-cut slot, and place a folder on each chair. I nearly guarantee people will see it as a gift, and they’ll silently thank you for marketing to them.
  8. Consider Selling Products at the Back of the Room – If you’ve written a book, created a product or have audio files you can put on CDs or flash drives, this is a golden opportunity to sell these materials to people who’ve just heard you speak of the awesome information inside.  Another option that may be even more effective is to add the cost of the product to the price of their ticket (assuming you’re charging to get in). Then a nice hefty book becomes a free gift to each attendee, and the perceived value of the seminar goes up another solid notch!
  9. Practice, Practice, Practice. When You’re Finally Done, Practice Again – This needs to be overstated and stressed: practice your presentation. Don’t bother going through the effort and expense of getting people to your seminar only to “um” and “uh” your way through the program.  You’ll know the presentation off by heart and appear naturally confident. Be prepared, be yourself, and be polished! That way, people’s memory of the seminar won’t be marred by moment you blinked out while trying to remember the title of your second book.
  10. Enjoy Yourself – Yes, after all this intense preparation, it’s the day of the event. Finally! Go into it smiling, enjoy your day in the spotlight and take advantage of it.  If you pull this off right, you’re going to have dozens of potential clients absolutely loving you.

And that’s priceless.

Just remember that your seminar is about them. When you put together a seminar, you do have goals of benefiting yourself, but that only works if you benefit the folks coming to attend.  And it’s only going to benefit them if you’re all about giving them as much quality information as you can in the time you have.

You can do it. You’re a talented freelancer, and you’re going to talk about what you know better than anything else. They’ll see you can help them further if they hire you.

So there you have it: The Numbskull’s Guide to Creating a Seminar.  Now let’s put that comment section to good use: what questions do you have about creating and launching a seminar? What’s holding you back from putting one together? Go on, surprise me!

Justin P Lambert is a freelance writer and public speaking expert who blogs daily at Words That Begin With You. You can also follow him on Twitter: @justinplambert

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  1. LOVE THIS! Again, you’ve totally infiltrated my brain. Okay, my question for you: The money is in the list and I have a pretty big list. Problem is, my business isn’t limited by geography and my listees are all over the world. My workshop? In London. So the workshop I planned (info here:http://thedigitalauthor.eventbrite.com/) has only sold two tickets even though it’s going to BLW PEOPLE’S MINDS. I don’t have the money to advertise so have reached out to allll my publishing contacts and asked for their British counterparts. Have obviously emailed my list and written a blog post about it, etc etc, but have been trying to brainstorm other ways to get people through the door.

    I was thinking about reaching out to publishing and author blogs about covering it, but I hate PR and think if I don’t already have an established relationship with the site, they’re highly unlikely to do me a favor, ya know?

    Sorry, book of a comment. Any thoughts?

    • Marion if you are really worried about filling up the seats, call your local university, talk to one of the profs in a related major and invite some college students. Tell the prof you want to give an opportunity to his/her best and brightest. Also ask about marketing and/or business clubs. Good luck.

      ps. The students could also help with registration tables, handouts… to give back.

    • Very good question, Marian, and thanks for stopping by again!

      Your seminar (which, btw, looks awesome. Wish I was London-bound to check it out!) is very reasonably priced, and you note that there are limited seats, so it surprises me that you’re having any challenge filling them.

      My gut-reaction is that it just hasn’t hit enough eyeballs. Unfortunately, my recommendation is to do exactly what you’re not comfortable with: free publicity via as large a targeted PR campaign as you can manage in conjunction with contacting London bloggers that write for your audience. Pull out all the stops. Annoy your contacts.

      One idea: offer five of the most influential bloggers a free ticket if they really talks it up to their local readers.

      Another idea: (perhaps not possible, based on finances,) if you can afford it, and you still have open seats around the 7th or 8th of the month, get in touch with as many movers and shakers in the London writing and publishing scene as you can and offer them free seats. It won’t get you ticket price this time, but it will get you a bucket full of high-profile influential people who will walk away with a really friendly feeling about you and what you do, and will remember you next time you’re putting together a seminar in London…

      • Some really solid suggestions here, Justin. THANK YOU! Think you’re totally right about offering up free seats if they don’t get filled. At the very least it will spread my name around 🙂

  2. Excellent post. Any tips on pricing though? I looked at doing a seminar, and I can host at a local, nice venue for a reasonable budget. But still, a girl’s gotta pay the mortgage. And I have also seen cases where under-pricing leads to lower sales.

    Do you have any examples of seminars that have sold well and what their per person price was?

    Thanks!

    • I honestly don’t have specific examples for you, but the only real answer anyone can provide is a very unsatisfying “test it.”

      There is no rule for pricing success because each composite audience is different. You may have a huge number of raving fans that absolutely can’t wait to hear you speak, but they honestly can’t afford any more than $20 per seat. If that’s the case, you may be better off figuring out how to accomodate 200 people for a cost that makes sense if you’re pulling in $4000 for the seminar, than to struggle to sell 40 $100 tickets to people who aren’t as keen to listen.

      The first thing to consider is your target audience, then the potential venues, then the potential back-end sales and marketing value, and finally the ticket price that makes sense when all the rest is considered.

  3. I do about 1 or maybe to seminars each month here in my city, and i tell you that I have made a big name for myself very fast.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  4. Hi Justin,

    I agree with you that sales ought to be addressed early on in life. It feels dirty because we get zero exposure to it until we need it. then it’s all quotas and pressure and perceived fakeness. We’re nervous no matter what side of the sales fence we are on.

    Time to teach useful things in school!

    Giulietta

  5. Although I certainly think this is an excellent list, I’d say the absolute biggest focus of anyone planning a seminar is a keen understanding of how they plan on involving the audience through great, thought provoking questions. I see so many speakers these days over-load their seminars with so many Powerpoint slides that it can cause the audience to completely tune out.

    Frankly, when a speaker is completely dependent on Powerpoint, inspiration has little room to affect the message so as initiate adjustments when necessary. This is why I feel the ‘less is more’ approach is always the way to go with seminars and one’s use of visual aids.

    • Very nice point, Marcus. I’ve sat through some slide-heavy info-dumps myself, and it ain’t pretty. Audience interaction is a key part of any public speaking situation because, without the audience remaining engaged, what the heck are you doing up there?

  6. Great post, Justin. It follows along nicely with some of the things I’ve learned through Toastmasters.

  7. Good Article and very informative! I always feel if the speaker overly depends on the power-point presentation…and looks at it more than the audience, is very boring.

    Thanks

  8. Since Mary brought up reaching out to professors I will recommend checking out your local colleges for meeting space. They tend to be very affordable and often times all your AV is included. I have a local college venue here that charges just $200 per day and that includes state-of-the-art AV and computer lab. Also can be less restrictive about bringing in food from outside.

  9. Great post, Justin. I recently took a course and they suggested getting your name out there by doing a seminar. It was an off-hand, flippant remark and I immediately went to “How in the heck do you do THAT?”. These are great tips and I’m bookmarking this post for reference.

    You make a very good point early on… freelancers etc. have a tough time marketing. I know for myself as a life coach, I have a very hard time selling myself. As a result I’m foundering. But you’ve given some great ways that I can sell without selling. Thanks!!

  10. Nice article. I’m still a long way off from putting together seminars, but I’ll be bookmarking this as a reference for when the time comes.

  11. Our company has been using seminars for years to market our services, provide information and mine leads. I can say from experience that this article really does touch on those points you need to remember when creating a seminar. Great job!

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    […] Delivering a presentation at a popular conference can generate all the publicity you can handle for a year. Other modes of teaching, like in-home workshops, may require more frequency to reach the same number of people. […]

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