You're in Command: The Live Small Business Seminar

Want to host a seminar that informs, delights and sells? Check out this handy guide for tips and tricks.

The live seminar is a tried-and-true business tool used for education, outreach and sales. Unlike its online cousin, the webinar, a seminar is a truly personal experience shared with actual human beings. It requires a specific set of skills and tools, such as effective public speaking, a great presentation style and a compelling argument.

If you'd like to make the leap from podium-based voice to presentation ninja, follow these handy tips.

Pick a Great Topic

A seminar is only as effective as the people it reaches, so attendance is essential. The surest way to boost your numbers and reach a broader audience is to pick a topic that will put bodies in the seats.

Think about the problems and needs your target audience faces, and design a seminar to meet these head on. Give your seminar a compelling title and a great hook — something that implies usefulness and is easily digestible. Then focus all your energy on providing significant value to your attendees, so they come away with both new knowledge and a desire to pay for even more.

Nail the Issue

Once you have the topic in hand, it's time to start organizing the seminar itself. A great small business seminar usually starts by identifying a problem, such as something that affects the revenue, growth or productivity of your audience.

But it's not enough to simply name this problem; you have to show that you get it. Pull together anecdotes, stories, graphics and numbers to crystallize and distill the problem in familiar terms. And don't be afraid to inject some personality into this section — commiseration and humor go a long way toward connecting with your audience.

Find the Solution

Now it's your time to answer the burning question you've raised: How did you solve this problem? How can they do the same thing? Seminars succeed or fail based on the expertise of the speaker; this is your chance to shine.

A great seminar goes beyond simply identifying the issue. It also takes the audience through a step-by-step process to show exactly how the problem was solved. It proves the point with hard data or studies. And it leaves no lingering doubt that your answer is the way to go. This is the meat of your presentation — and the section that will bring your audience back for a second visit.

Call to Action

Seminars are selling tools at heart. You may be a nice guy who derives pleasure from sharing his knowledge with the world, but ultimately the purpose of any seminar is to get your audience to sign up for future products or services.

Adding a call to action at the end of your seminar is your way into this process: a direct appeal for everyone to sign on the dotted line. The call to action is an art form, like any sales pitch; you want to be persuasive without sounding desperate or cloying. One way to do this is to strike a balance between knowledge imparted and knowledge promised. Sure, the audience learned a lot today, but there's even more available — for a fee.

Use the Medium

One way to enhance a live seminar is to use the tools at your disposal. Most of these presentations include a slide show or PowerPoint presentation. The more care you put into choosing, designing and ordering these images, the more convincing you will be.

Consider the progression of your argument from 10,000 feet: Does it track? Is it compelling? Interesting? Do the graphics and images you've chosen underscore your script or detract from it? Aim for strong synergy between your speech and the memorable media you choose to make a lasting impression.

Be Present

But don't forget you're in the room. There's a danger of losing yourself in the script and the materials, of getting so lost in the details that you forget where you are.

Live seminars can be spontaneous and electric in the right hands. Stay attuned to your audience, watch for questions and "work the room" whenever possible. Don't hide behind the podium; some of the most effective public speakers are the ones who create a sense of intimacy even in a packed auditorium, connecting with audience members organically and to great effect.

Finish Strong

No seminar is complete without a live exchange or two. Consider sticking around for a Q&A when you're done. This is your chance to show your nimble mind and speak off the cuff, impressing the hordes with your knowledge and charm.

Practice this. Anticipate some of the most common questions, and prepare brief and concise answers. Try to get comfortable with extemporaneous speaking, and steel yourself for the obligatory skeptic or two who dares to question your hard-won knowledge. Remember that answering questions effectively is a great way to network and sell your brand.

Keep Trying

Designing and executing a live seminar may feel like a monumental task, but it gets easier as you go. Every great public speaker was probably a horrible public speaker at some point, so be patient with yourself and learn from your mistakes. Attend other seminars and poll your colleagues about the speeches and presentations that they particularly admire. Practice your delivery in front of friends and strangers.

With a little luck and a lot of practice, you could be on your way to a life of exorbitant speaking fees. Or, at the very least, an ever-growing network of customers and partners.

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