Good morning troops!

I’ve been doing a spot of consulting for a few businesses of late and I am noticing some rather disturbing themes. These businesses are great businesses, trying new things and achieving reasonable levels of success. The business owners have looked around them and seen the current love affair that consumers have with seminars, and thought “I could do that”. Now, hats off to them for giving the marketing medium of speaking a go. However, I have to admit that its a game that has a lot more to it than meets the eye.

I have been repeating myself a few times of late with these guys so I thought I’d jump on here and share what I’m noticing with you, before you too fall prey to “trend chasing” of seminars. I guess for me its a case of “you don’t know how much you know til you realise how little others know”.

So, this is information that I have gathered and integrated over the last few years in my work. It predominantly comes from studying direct response marketing (a la Dan Kennedy, Mal Emery etc) and applying those models to the spoken word, rather than the written word. I have picked up invaluable lessons for which I am forever grateful from my work with Chris Howard as well. Chris’ Breakthrough to Success, his 3 day weekend seminar, is still one of the best examples of a great seminar I’ve seen. I have worked with some of the best in the industry, people who’ve been behind the scenes (and in front for that matter) for some of the most successful seminar companies in the world, and the lessons I have gathered are priceless. I hope you gain some benefit from them. So here goes…

Mistake #1: People running a seminar for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve seen people get on stage because they want to feel important, stroke their ego, they want to get rich quick and figure “everyone else is doing it” and “I can do that”. WRONG!!! This industry is highly volatile, and as soon as you step on stage, people notice. That means whatever is going on in your business gets amplified, for better or for worse. Sure, you will generate new leads if done successfully, but if you have no systems to support that you could be worse off than before.

You must have a clear strategy for your seminar, and know how you are going to leverage it. Ask yourself some questions:

  • How does the seminar fit into your overall business plan?
  • What are you selling? Your time? Products? Nothing?
  • Who is the best person to deliver it? (it may not be you!)
  • How are you going to leverage the opportunity? Are you going to record it and sell it as a product? Give it away for free as a bonus? Leverage leverage leverage!!

Mistake #2: The seminar is designed to teach and not sell.
If you are putting on a seminar, there had better be something in it for you. I say that because otherwise, next time, you won’t be able to afford to put on another seminar. I am not saying that you have to sell something at every seminar, it depends what your business strategy is, but if you’re clear your seminar is for selling, then you had better design it so it sells stuff!!

Most people tend to think if they teach good enough content then people will love them and that will be enough for them to take their credit cards out, but it’s just not true. My personal belief is that good content is a necessary component (I don’t agree with the school of three day sales pitches with no information); but the content you deliver should be selected to support the product or service you are selling. This is a science beyond the scope of this one post, but it is a balance that is vital to strike. You must decide what products or services you are going to sell, then design your seminar around that.

One very useful tip is to have an “ascension plan”. That means selling a low end priced item early to build trust, and throughout the event progressively increasing the price point, and saving your biggest and best product til last. Just the same as in the direct response marketing game.

Mistake #3: Presenters focus only on the words they are saying and not on the complete participant experience
We arrived at an evening seminar just last night. The presenter was fantastic, he was inspiring, magical in fact, and Greg and I really resonated with what he was saying. But unfortunately we were late. Now you could say “well serve you right for being late”… but what if I was a new prospect and wanted to spend some money?

When we arrived there was no-one outside the room to greet us, we had to guess in fact that we were in the right room. When we walked in their were no spare chairs and we had to spend the first 15 minutes sitting on the ground at the back of the room before an appropriate break to seek chairs out. None of the organising crew noticed this because they were sitting up the front of the room. So the poor presenter was left stranded noticing two uncomfortable people at the back but with no opportunity to do anything about it. The moral of the story: manage the entire participant experience.

Participants will never arrive on time, leave on time, or do anything you want when you want actually. In fact the entire event management experience is one of herding cats at the best of times. So don’t be righteous about how your participants should behave. Get over it and deliver the best damn experience you can muster.

Some basic things to think about:

  • Have you selected a good room with enough room for activities?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • Have you got adequate AV equipment?
  • Have you got an event team you can trust?

Which brings me to…

Mistake #4: Having an event team, but not training them adequately.
If you are the person on stage: get over yourself. Your event team have more power to make or break the event than you do. In my days as a trainer I was always aware that the participant experience was a delicate balance of three crucial areas: the training, the event management and the environment created through the AV and lights.

You must therefore select a good, no, GREAT event manager. Someone who is great with people and has eyes like a hawk and efficiency to match. This person has to be able to see an unhappy customer at a 100 paces and be able to choose exactly the right strategy and person to deal with it. They need to be able to read the trainers mind… so choose wisely.

Create great systems for the event manager to follow. Better still, create them with the event manager, and have them teach the staff at the event.

If your event relies on volunteer crew, or even paid crew: TREAT THEM LIKE GOLD. These people are responsible for ensuring the people with the credit cards enjoy themselves! Take a leaf out of Branson’s book: “look after your employees, let them look after the clients and that will look after the shareholders”. Crew are gold I say – GOLD GOLD GOLD!!

Ah… I could go on about that for hours, and no doubt will down the track, but next:

Mistake #5: The trainer thinks a seminar is about imparting information only.
People learn through their emotions. Not their intellect. I studied medicine. I remember which type of antibody is responsible for which part of the immune system because my girlfriends and I laughed so hard making up stories about Bruce Willis saving the world to remember them! I don’t remember the Kreb’s cycle because I studied solo that year! Emotions are the glue that make learning stick. So when you teach how are you managing the emotions of your audience?

You need great presentation skills sure. There are tomes of information out there on presentation skills, so this is not what I want to talk about.

One of the best ways to manage emotion is through the skilful use of AV. If you’ve been to a movie you know what I mean. It’s not just speaking is it? It’s changes in lighting, in music… all to augment the experience. The truly great and successful seminars, in my experience, maximise the use of sound and light. It was the same whether I was directing plays in the theatre or teaching a training.

The greatest challenge is finding a skilled and intuitive AV person. I have been blessed to work with a couple. I have learnt so much from them and when it flies it’s like poetry, but they are few and far between. If you find someone… keep em!!

Mistake #6: Looking like crap on stage
For the love of god, if you are teaching or selling, I don’t care who you are, please make yourself look at least half way decent. If you can’t pull it together, get an image coach. I was fashion-retarded, and investing in Terriane, my consultant was the best decision I ever made. I don’t mean wear Armani. I mean flatter what you’ve got and stand out. Unless your message is how to fade into the background. Which I doubt.

And last but by no means the least. In fact possibly the most important…

Mistake #7: Having no integrity or out and out lying from stage.
I hate that I even have to mention this but the sad truth is there are some presenters and companies out there who will tell you one thing and then do another. I have even witnessed speakers lying through their teeth on stage. Just don’t be one of them.

It is transparent and people can see straight through it. My belief is if you are privileged enough to be given the undivided attention of a group of people, you have a responsibility to deliver quality, passion and truth. I’m not saying don’t tweak the details of a story to make for more impact, or to preserve confidentiality; but just don’t lie.

Moreover I have a real bee in my bonnet about the number of speakers out there who tout messages of spirituality, health, wealth creation and communication and have lives riddled with crappy relationships, bad health, average finances and poorly run companies. They give the industry a bad name and result in the publication of books like “SHAM”… which makes some very pertinent observations, but is pretty damning. It is a shame because many of these skill sets are really useful. None of them are perfect or even accurate, but many are useful.

I’m not pretending for a second that anyone is perfect, but we can all strive to be living examples of whatever it is we say from stage. If you’re an accountant speaking about accounting, have your books in order as best you can; if you’re a doctor speaking about health, have a regular exercise regime; if you’re a financial planner selling funds, have some passive income yourself.

I have dream that those delivering the advice have enough experience to do so. Some might say that’s not realistic, but I say if you’re not passionate about the subject, and you don’t practice what you preach get the hell of stage and let someone else do it.

I sure as heck only want to work with people who are transparent and passionate about what they do, and if I’m giving up an evening or a weekend of my life to listen to your views of the world, I believe I deserve this simple courtesy.

Well… hope there’s some useful stuff there. Look forward to hearing what you think!