How to Give a Proper Seminar No Matter What the Topic

by FloraBreenRobison

So you want to make a living charging people to hear you give seminars? As an audience member who has heard great seminars and horrible seminars, consider this advice first.

It is essential to plan your seminar in advance. Know your client base. Don't bother to give the seminar if your notes and props aren't organized. Choose the proper format for the seminar based on your goals and the location. Don't be greedy- If you are more interested in raising money than helping your audience, give a lecture instead of other formats.

Organization and Planning are Essential

Four Essential Goals That Must Be Fulfilled To Give Great Seminars

So you want to give a seminar and charge people money to hear you talk. How do you do this properly? Organization and planning are key to any seminar or lesson plan no matter what the subject matter or price being charged. Potential clients simply will not perceive you as a professional giving them value for their money without them. I have been in several class situations in a variety of settings for a variety of topics and have observed some key elements for the professional orator to consider before charging people a dime to hear you speak on anything-even if you happen to be an expert on the subject matter.


1. Know your Client Base and Plan Your Notes Accordingly.

You know your topic inside and out. There is nothing a potential client could ask you where you couldn't immediately answer her or direct her to someone who can. This is a given, or you wouldn't be the person up at the front of the room giving the seminar. The only example where this is not the case is when you are a student in a class such as Improving Your Public Speaking.

What you might forget if you are not careful is that every potential client of yours has a different level of understanding of the topic you're discussing before he or she ever enters the room. And that level of understanding might be equal to yours where you are talking to your colleagues in your field of expertise, or the level could be non-existent because you are speaking to newly self-employed business people who don't have a clue how to set up their own website.

I have never understood the vast number of seminars that generalize the topic of focus. You need to focus your semenar to adequately fill the needs of a variety of people. To do that I suggest you set up separate seminars for people at the three basic levels of knowledge and skill:






While it is often acceptable to mix people with an intermediate understanding of your topic with either beginners or professionals, please DO NOT mix the other two groups of people together. If at all possible, schedule seminars for beginners or professionals separately. If not, please focus on only one group or the other.


-Because generalized discussions don't please any of the clients. I've been in seminars where I already knew everything discussed, as well as discussions where I knew none of the specialized jargon: I have vast experience as a beginner, intermediate, and professional sitting in a classroom.

When you give a seminar outlining the basics of your topic, people at the higher levels of understanding will feel you are wasting their time. I can become easily bored and sleepy if you don't tell me anything that isn't already in the handouts I receive at the beginning-I know how to read and can use my time most effectively at home. It's bad enough when the seminar is required as part of a course, but imagine you are charging $2000.00 for a talk that doesn't say anything original or informative.

Conversely, when a person knows nothing about the topic and you give no concrete examples or don't allow her to ask questions for clarification, you cause the client great emotional distress. I have been in classes where I felt entirely lost at sea. It's as if the person at the front of the room is speaking in a foreign language that everyone else understands except that one client-me.

Planning your talk to focus on only one level of preexisting skill and knowledge will make all clients feel like you have given them great value for their money.


2. Organize Everything Beforehand or Don't Bother Giving the Seminar:

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the person who is disorganized. I'm not talking about someone dealing with an emergency situation or stuck on the freeway in the middle of a traffic jam because there is construction. I'm talking about people who are simply unorganized. They either don't know what time their appointments are, don't know where their papers are, don't leave until the last minute, etc.

You cannot be disorganized if you want people to take you seriously as a professional, reliable businessperson. People will not want to deal with you, let alone work with you or for you. Certainly they will not pay money to hear you speak or refer new business to you.


These things are necessary:

*Have a day planner where you write down everything you need to do and the times they need to be done

*Write down all your appointments and deadlines on a calendar-have a calendar for each room in your home as well as your office and place them at eye level.

*Check off your days on the calendar and day planner so that you always know when it is Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday. You can't have a boss telling you this project was supposed to ready Wednesday when it is Friday and you thought it was Wednesday.

*Organize all your papers in a filing cabinet. Make the labels large and colourful. Make sure everything is alphabetized for easy access. Filing papers won't work if they are not in order and you can't find the right papers

*Bring everything with you to the appointment. You will not look professional if you have to return to your office to get the handouts you meant to give people. This is true even if your office is just down the hall, and not across town.

*Have your seminar timed beforehand and allow ten to fifteen minute leeway for questions at the end. It is not fair to anyone in the room for you to have to speed up the presentation because you are running out of time. It is equally bad to finish in half an hour when the talk was supposed to last an hour. This may make people feel that you are overcharging them.

*Speak at a regular speed. Talking too quickly will make it difficult to follow. Speaking too slowing will make people feel like you are talking down to them, as if you see them as dimwitted.


3. Choose the Proper Format of Presentation:

There are three types of presentation in a seminar setting:






Choose the format you want to present wisely. Know ahead of time how much time is available for everyone to talk an equal amount of time so that you stay on track while making everyone feel respected. If you start allowing people 5 minutes each for each topic and then realize as you go around the room that you are running slow, you cannot give other people less time. This signals to the remaining people that:


a) they are not worth your time;

b) they are not worthy of respect; and

c) their time is not as valuable as other people.


This is a sure way to make people walk out on you, never come back, and give bad reviews of you to other potential clients.

If you even suspect that you might have to cut people off if you are running behind, please avoid audience participation completely and stick to the lecture method. You will stay on time, sound organized, and everyone in the room will feel like you are giving them equal time and energy.


4.Don't Be Greedy with the Number of Clients Per Seminar:

This goes back to everything I've just stated about organization and planning. Unless you are merely giving a lecture, you can only handle a certain number of clients at a time. Even then, you have to be sure that everyone can see and hear you clearly. You cannot jam a large number of people into a room and not allow them space to move their legs and take notes. You want people to feel like they are getting every possible benefit out of the money they spent to hear you speak. If you don't limit the number of people listening to you at any one session, you won't have any return customers.


These are the observations I have made as a member of the audience. There are people I always feel teach me something. There are also people I felt were not worth the $100.00 they were charging, never mind the $1000.00 or more that some speakers charge. Please consider the audience perception always. They are the people who pay your bills-if you do not alienate them.

Updated: 04/15/2012, FloraBreenRobison
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Sheri_Oz on 10/19/2012

As one who gives lots of seminars to both professional and layperson groups, it is great to get the perspective of a seminar participant. I agree that it is very important to think out beforehand how much time to give each person to introduce himself or herself so that you don't have to hurry the last few.

FloraBreenRobison on 04/16/2012

Brian-thanks for the compliment. Being that you gave a lot of seminars yourself, I'm thrilled you approve. :)

brian slater on 04/16/2012

Great advice here Flora, I could have used this article 15 years ago while I was still working. I had to do quite a few presentations and the best advice I could say is, know your audience and pitch what you have to say at the appropriate level otherwise you lose them. You have pretty much covered this with even more attention to detail. Good article!

FloraBreenRobison on 04/15/2012

Cindy-Yes, it is indeed hard to get back your reputation after it's been lost. I've been in seminars where there was a wide variety of skill levels because it was run by a government program where there isn't enough funding to put them separately, but you can still be personable and talk to the people directly and efficiently and of course, not only government funded seminars have had a mix of people-some business people just cram everyone in. Bad form.

CindyMurdoch on 04/15/2012

Lots of great advice here. I especially like the advice of speaking to the audience's level - beginner vs intermediate vs professional. And it is critical to be prepared. It is hard to get back your reputation after it is lost!

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