Starting the Seminar Right
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The way you start your seminar is vitally important. How you start and how you end are crucial to how your event will be perceived.
I would open a keynote speech with a story, but with seminars I like to open with introductions. Remember, the primary intent of a speech is to motivate and secondarily to educate. Seminars are just the opposite. That being the case, starting with introductions makes sense.
Start and End on Time, But Control What That Means
You must always start and end on time. There are no exceptions to this rule.
I make it very clear in all of my promotional literature that we start and end exactly on time. I also put this on the confirmation I send to people. Additionally, we remind people of this fact when they register. I starton time. People will respect you for doing this, even those who come late.
If you can’t do it any other way, leave out levels of detail that are less important than main points. This means that you must mark information that you can leave out. This way, if you see you are running short on time, you know what can be left out as you go.
Never penalize people who made it to your event on time by starting late. Reinforce the behavior by being prompt. If you have a multi-day event, people will get the message and get into their seats on time the following day, particularly if you deliver good information.
Many people make plans for what they will do after your event is over. They make these plans based on the time frames you give them. Stick to them. Many people don’t want to miss any of your seminar, but neither do they want to miss meeting a friend for dinner.
If you list the topics to be covered at your seminar never put exact times those items will be covered. Put the items in the order they will be covered and divide them into a morning and afternoon line up.
If you decide to ignore this advice and provide exact start times for subjects, I guarantee you that some anal-retentive type will look at his or her watch and say: “It’s 10:30, why aren’t we covering thus and so?” This is deadly. Don’t lock yourself into a time frame.
Things happen during the course of the seminar which may cause you to spend more or less time covering certain topics. Even if you have done the seminar 50 times before, this may still happen. A given group may need more or less concentration on a given issue. Keep yourself flexible.
To Introduce or Not to Introduce?
If your group is small enough and you have enough time, it is always a good idea to let people introduce themselves. This not only helps you as a facilitator, it also allows the participants to “show off” to the rest of the group. Additionally, it improves the quality of networking at the breaks.
As a seminar leader, your biggest problem with introductions will be people exceeding the time you’ve given them. You prevent this by defining what you expect before you start going around the room. At that point it’s also wise to tell people what you’ll do if they exceed the time frame you give them. This way, if you have to cut them short, they won’t be offended.
If you do have to exercise this prerogative, do it in a fun and entertaining manner. Try not to be harsh.
Regardless of how long an event you’re having, it just isn’t practical to let people introduce themselves if the group size is over 100 people. That might not hold true if you had a five-day event. Events of that length would generally afford you the time to let people introduce themselves even if you had 200 or more people.
Even with a group of 100 people and a half day seminar, you could let everyone stand up and quickly tell the group their name and field of specialization or occupation.
With groups of less than 30 people, and at least a two-hour event, I will normally ask people to give the group their name, their field or occupation, and one specific reason why they came to the event.
While people are introducing themselves, take notes. This will allow you to customize your message. With a small group, I like to keep a little seating chart where I put peoples’ names and take notes about them.
After you go around the room, you need to introduce yourself. This is an important step to establish credibility.
The first few minutes you spend in front of a group are crucial. This is where you establish the relationship people will not forget. Your goal is to get people to both like and respect you. It is also to set the stage for making sure that you sell a boatload of product.
A Great Index Card Idea
Here’s a creative seminar idea I’ve seen used very effectively. At the beginning of your event, ask everyone to write down on an index card you supply, the question they would most like to get answered at your event.
Now, ask them to stand up when their question is answered. Have them tell the group what the question was, how it was answered and then have them tear the card in pieces and fling those pieces in the air.
This exercise does two things.
First, it creates a very celebratory environment.
Second, it reinforces the information by having someone get up and repeating it.
Before the end of the event go around and collect the cards that haven’t yet been torn up. Bring them up to the front. Read the questions out loud. Answer them completely. Ask the individual who wrote the question whether you’ve answered the question to their satisfaction. If they say yes, tear it up and throw it in the air.
The Action Idea Sheet
At the beginning of the seminar I often ask the attendees to pull out a sheet of paper (or in some cases I have them preprinted) and put the words “Action Ideas” at the top. I ask them to write down the really great ideas they hear during the seminar whenever they come up.
It’s a good idea, too, to guarantee them that they’ll get at least three (or five, or some other number) action ideas during the course of the seminar. Then, at the close of the seminar, go around the room and have a few people tell the group how many action ideas they got. If you give a good seminar, people will get two or three times as many action ideas as you guarantee.
I review the sheet after coming back from every break. I so exceed peoples’ expectations that they will buy more product because they’ll assume that I do the same things with the products I’m offering. Don’t let them down or your returns will be high.