Whether online, back in the room or new hybrid formats, there are key things that make a seminar good (or not!). Here are some key aspects to consider when preparing and delivering seminars.
What is it designed to do?
As with any aspect of public speaking, you should start with purpose. Many professionals put on seminars to demonstrate their knowledge to clients. Many clients attend seminars to tick a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) box. If these are as far as the thought process behind the purpose of a seminar goes, it is unlikely to be useful and memorable.
The client may be grateful for having received some free CPD, but that is unlikely to convince them to buy services. And whilst selling the services of the presenters is of course an acceptable part of a seminar, given they have spent time preparing and delivering one, in my view too much active selling is off-putting. I’d recommend one section at the end dedicated to this. What will really sell your expertise is demonstrating your value-add via what your present.
When planning your seminar, ask:
- What is it you wish to convey?
- Why will your audience be interested and want to listen?
- What is the appropriate level at which to explain the content?
This will of course necessitate thinking about your audience. Recently I attended a general update seminar which covered different sectors of property. The segment which covered the topic I knew most about, did not tell me anything new. I found the subject I knew least about the most interesting, because it was new information explained in an understandable way. Interesting as it was, however, I’m unlikely to ever use it. The problem with a generalised format of seminar is that they try to cover too much in little detail. The one I attended potentially showcased the varied skills of the firm and of course ticked the CPD box. I’m not sure I would attend another generalised update again however, as I did not come away feeling I’d learnt anything specific.
I’d therefore advocate focussed seminars, aimed at an audience with a particular specialism, who will gain something usable from it.
Bring the content to life
I’ve seen a lot of seminars where the presenters tell their audience the latest news / legislation / case law etc. Essentially, things that the audience could read themselves. The more important question that a seminar should be answering is “what does this mean?”. How does this affect the audience and what should they do as a result?
Examples (whether real or hypothetical) will bring technical information to life and make it easier for the audience to digest and recall. For example, the result of a piece of case law may be a recommendation to check certain terms in your leases, change the wording of notices sent out or implement a new process for lease expiries.
Some technical information is necessary and acceptable. The way that information is connected to the audience’s challenges is what will make it relatable, relevant and valuable. To do this you need to really think about your audience, their challenges and how you can help them.
Good speaking skills
A seminar is largely someone speaking. The better they are as a speaker, the better they are likely to come across.
- Erms, ahhs and other filler words
- Speaking too fast (often caused by trying to fit too much in)
- Speaking too slow (reading out notes in a drone)
The way to solve these issues – practice! Plan your presentation, know what you are going to say and how much time you have. The more you practice speaking, the more confident you are likely to be. Likewise, remember that if you are speaking, it is because you are an expert in this topic. You know it inside and out because it is what you do. This means you don’t need to worry about every word, but how best to present the information to your audience.
In my view, the best seminars facilitate audience interaction. Often the most interesting aspects of seminars I have observed are when speakers answer audience questions. Presenters can be far more engaging when speaking without a script and from their expertise. Audiences will be more engaged if they can get involved and interact. Make sure you leave time for questions and answers either at the end or throughout the seminar.
In summary, when designing a seminar:
- Put your audience first – how can you convey the information to best help them?
- Bring the content to life with practical examples
- Plan and practice what you will say to deliver in an engaging way
- Use interaction and audience questions (if possible)
I’m fairly confident that the most common complaint about seminars is presenters simply reading text from slides. The next article will therefore cover creating and using appropriate visual aids.