5-step guide to seminar speaking success (#11 of 12)

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Several years back my book Empire-Building by Writing and Speaking was published. It’s OP now (although Amazon probably has some dog-eared copies for a penny). Fortunately, I kept two copies on my shelf because some weeks back I was asked to update and share parts of that book for another publication.

Since I’m also about to end a blog series about seminaring here, this 5-step guide from that book might fit well in this series. So here it is in its slightly updated version:

Step 1. Your seminar subject must be appealing and clearly stated in both the title and description. It must also meet a need sufficiently strong that one will pay to attend.

That is, by the title, then reinforced and expanded in the description, the person must be attracted to the subject. He/She must see it as a way to meet a need. It must be clear why he should attend. The benefits must be stated or obvious: by attending the seminar, he will solve personal problems, get rich, learn a skill that will ultimately result in a raise or a more responsible position, find security, overcome frustrations, improve his sex life, and so on…

This is by far the most important guideline of the five. The best promotion, finest location, and most attractive fee will not sell a senseless title or a garbled, pointless description.

(2.) The seminar must be scheduled when and where the public will attend.

Naturally, you say. That’s obvious. But how many times have you seen seminars about personal safety given at nighttime—the very hours when those most worried about their safety won’t leave their homes? Or seminars that teach how to make one’s boss richer, by improving your skills or efficiency, during your nonworking hours?

If you are offering a seminar that shows how to turn marbles into rubies, you can charge a bundle, give it atop a mountain at 3 a.m., and throw in a hellacious rainstorm to test the participants’ mettle. The throngs would joyously haul their glass spheroids to wherever you are whenever you speak!

But most of us offer programs markedly less glittering. To us, the time and place are proportionately more important to our seminar’s success.

(3.) The cost must be in line with perceived benefits and other ways of realizing those benefits.

“Perceived” is the key word. The benefits can be there but if one doesn’t perceive them—why they are worth having or that they can be gained from your seminar—any cost will be too high.

Assuming that the benefits are not only perceived, they are desired, then your seminar must be affordable and in line with other means of getting those benefits. For example, if your seminar costs $100 and one virtually identical costs $35, where do you think the participants will go? On the other hand, if you are explaining a crucial “how-to” link absolutely necessary to securing $100,000+ contracts and yours is the only program focusing on that vital information, isn’t a fee of at least $500 or more worth the investment?

Your main competition is other seminars—and sometimes wildcat consultants. Rarely will taped programs have more appeal than a live presentation, and books, though they may cost only a fraction as much, will be a factor only when your seminar is considered marginal by the participants, when your audience is already book-oriented, or when it is highly price-conscious. (On the other hand, if you have a solid, professional-looking book that validates your expertise in the seminar’s topic, it will be a valuable selling tool.)

The length of your presentation is important too. If other seminars like yours last four hours, yours probably should last four hours too—or maybe three or three and a half hours. A longer program than your competition will be very hard to sell.

(4.) The participant must know of the seminar’s existence and be attracted to it.

If one has an idea that is salable as a seminar, promotion is usually the difference between success and failure. For though it may be the best idea imaginable, or a foolproof way to solve the most pressing need, if nobody knows about it, who will attend? Without promotion, who will read the title and description and rush to register?

Yet promotion is also the greatest financial risk. Self-promoted seminars often spend as much as two-thirds of their anticipated income to attract registrants before a penny is made. Promotion properly done can draw crowds to seminars that are promotable. But if the topic, title, description, timing, location, and all the rest aren’t right, that is, if the seminar isn’t promotable, all of the costs spent making your seminar known may be useless—or at least ultimately profitless.

So the dice are thrown and the gamble is made through your program’s promotion, content, and cost. Your seminar must be promotable—and promoted. The rest is risk.

(5.) The seminar’s content and your presentation are crucial for its long-term success.

If you are going to offer the seminar often—and why would you go to so much trouble if you weren’t?—what you say and how you say it will be its own best long-term promotion.

Neither the actual content nor your presentation will attract participants to your first seminar. They will register by what you tell them that you will say; why they should hear it; by the title, description and the promotional promises. Like a book, first-timers buy seminars by the cover. They don’t know if you’re a bumbler or have a tongue of honey. They buy on faith.

But if you are a bumbler or you don’t give what you promise, your future is limited, for nothing is more forceful or harder to erase than negative word-of-mouth.

Therefore, the first time out you must provide not only solid content and a professional presentation, particular attention must be paid to the first four steps of this guide so there are many bearers of positive word-of-mouth. Over time, solid content and excellent presentation will reduce the risk of promotion and will provide the desired cushion of profitability, as long as the first three steps in this guide are properly tended to.

In the business realm, content and presentation are particularly critical. The first question a potential programmer will ask is “Where did you give this seminar before?” Those references will then be asked, “Is he any good?” You will be booked primarily from the responses of those who heard you perform. Businesses don’t take the risks that the public must. Thus the first business booking is extremely hard to get. Later bookings are far easier when that reply is, “He’s super. The best money you’ll ever spend.” That’s why content and presentation, properly done, are money in the bank.
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Another related item that should help participants decide whether to attend:

I was usually asked in my empire-building seminar if one’s expenses were tax deductible. I imagined so (I would deduct them) but it was really up to the attendees to make that decision. So I almost always inserted a box on my fliers and other promotional material called TAX DEDUCTION CLAUSE. They could then determine whether to deduct the expenses—and which ones.

A few years back this was what my box said:

Tax Deduction for Educational Expenses. Treasury regulation 1.162-5 permits an income tax deduction for educational expenses (registration fees and cost of travel, meals and lodging) undertaken to: (1) maintain or improve skills required in one’s employment or business, or (2) meet express requirements of an employer or a law imposed as a condition to retention of employment, job status or rate of compensation.

The regulation might need updating. If so, just tell your potential attendees of the pertinent regulation and what it says. (You can Google that clause.)

Much of the above comes from my “How to Set Up and Market Your Own Seminar” (a four-tape audio CD version of a four-hour seminar of the same name. It includes a 26-page digital workbook and audio text summary.)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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