Seminar Dos and Don’ts

There are a few simple rules: Be prepared, know your audience… and know the menu

by Herbert K. Daroff, J.D., CFP

Mr. Daroff is affiliated with Baystate Financial Planning, Boston. He can be reached at



Let me start with the three worst seminar experiences I have ever had.
The first was a Rotary Club. The bar opened at 11:00am. They served, for lunch, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and rolls. I was speaking to a mural. I gave them my best stuff. Information and Jokes. No response from the audience. Their eyes didn’t even blink.
LESSON #1: Take control of the menu, if you can. I had no control over the menu. As always, you can only control the controllables.
The second was a presentation on Funding for College. I was a last minute substitute and was asked to speak at a High School. It turned out that I was speaking to the parents of the senior class. It was April. Now, there are speakers who talk about hiding information from Financial Aid offices and how to fill out FAFSA forms. But, that’s not me. My presentation was not for this audience.
The third was a presentation on Long Term Care Insurance, new product at the time. The Audience began to arrive. Two wheeling in their oxygen tanks. Two with walkers. Two more on wheelchairs. Again, good crowd for a presentation on Elder Care Planning, but not on LTC insurance. Good presentation, but to the wrong audience.
LESSON #2: Know your audience. Make sure that the presentation contains the material that the audience wants to know about.
So, how do you get the right people in the room and make the best presentation to them?
WHO is your preferred audience for a pre-arranged topic that you want to present?
Clearly, if I wanted to talk about college funding, my audience should have been the parents and/or grandparents of much younger children or grandchildren.
Target marketing is all about presenting the right material to the right people. Identify the specific demographics you want. You have to research the best ways to get lists of those candidates. One great source is to ask attorneys, accountants, bankers, P&C agents, etc. if any of their clients have your stated demographics. Contacting other people’s clients * is a great way to line up the optimal audience.
Would you want to talk to a group of newly minted professionals who have more student loan debt than income about retirement planning?
WHAT does the audience you have want to hear (learn) about?
I frequently get this question when I have the opportunity to speak to a group of CPAs or other Centers of Influence, or their clients. The best way to know what an audience wants to hear is to ask them. Send out a survey of topics. Select a focus group of the anticipated audience and poll them. Other marketing people use focus groups. Why don’t we?
WHEN is the best time of day and day of the week for that audience?
I find that first thing in the morning is best. It is before the day’s activities create scheduling conflicts. And, breakfast is a cheaper meal to provide. But, that may not work best for your audience.
So, how do you determine the best time and day, ask the target audience? Don’t guess. Of course, you will likely get one-third want morning, one-third want mid-day, one-third want afternoon or evening. And, they pick different days of the week.
Maybe you need to plan on several times and locations over a couple of weeks and include all of them on the invitation. Several smaller seminars may prove to be better attended.
WHERE is the best location for that audience to attend?
Somewhere that is easily accessible, has adequate parking, and a caring hospitality staff. Maybe your own office or office complex. Maybe the office or office complex of attorneys, accountants, and other centers of influence that work with you.
Using other people’s money * through sponsorship, co-branding, and/or using their office space also helps you. And, you are also using other people’s credibility * when their name appears on your invitation and they even speak at your event, or host you at their event.
WHY are they attending? Hopefully, it is not for the continuing education credits, or the free meal. Hopefully it is for the content.
HOW do you increase the likelihood that you will generate favorable results from your seminar?
BEFORE THE EVENT – Call everyone who ACCEPTED the invitation. Thank them for their positive response. Reward them buy asking them, “What specific questions do you have for the speaker(s)? I’ll make sure that they answer those specific questions at the event without you having to raise your hand and asking them.”
Call everyone who did NOT accept the invitation and ask them, “Why? Was it the time, the location, the day of the week, the topic(s)?” Learn from the rejections. Find out what they want and when they would be willing to attend.
AFTER THE EVENT – Call everyone who attended. Ask them what they liked most about the session. Ask them if they have any questions that were not answered to their satisfaction. One-on-one evaluations. Ask them for an appointment.
Call everyone who was invited and did not attend. Tell them they were missed and that they missed a great event. Ask them if they would like you to drop off the materials that were used at the session. Do NOT mail them or email them. Meet with the people.
If you have been running seminars for a while and not getting the kinds of results you want, remind yourself that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is an early sign of insanity.
Special thank you to Steve Leimberg who first taught me about using: OPM (other people’s money); OPCL (other people’s client lists); and OPC (other people’s credibility)