Whether you call them workshops or seminars these are effective tools to promote your expertise and services to your centers of influence, clients and prospects. Creating front-stage educational experiences serves to break your firm free from the commoditization trap, and differentiates you from your competition. It can also be used as a game-changer to leverage your time.
But a word of caution ̶ a poorly constructed, unprepared workshop could at best be a waste of time and money or at worst damage your brand. To avoid those outcomes, begin by identifying the goal of your workshop. Is it to pre-qualify and pre-sell prospects for your services? Do you hope to develop better referral sources? Do you wish to form a client-community that will serve to keep you in the front of your clients’ (and their friends’) minds? Without a clear goal, your workshop is likely to fail. This article considers many of the back-stage elements you need to consider to pull off a quality presentation.
Creating and delivering a home-run requires you and your team to imagine the end result, and to put intentionality and preparation into several important elements. In this article I’ll review the major facets in the preparation of your workshop, as well as insight how to use today’s technology to maximize the return on your investment for the time and resources you’re about to spend.
Your target market
The first obvious decision is to identify your target market. A presentation to your centers-of-influence would likely include more technical topics showcasing your expertise in a legal, tax or financial area complimentary to their fields. Publishing an article in a professional journal like Trusts & Estates Magazine and then using that article as the basis for a workshop goes far to establish credibility and prompt referrals.
A presentation to your existing client base, on the other hand, may incorporate advanced planning techniques and services beyond the traditional planning that formed the basis of your relationship. It could also focus on updates to the law or to the changing landscape of your field.
The most difficult market to both identify and attract is that of your prospective client. Casting too wide of a net could result in topics that appeal to no one while choosing one too technical could confuse your prospect rather than provide confidence that you are the right professional for their situation. Defining the precise qualities that constitute an A+ prospect allow you to then construct a workshop that attracts those individuals.
Your target market will also dictate the day of the week and time that you conduct your workshop. A mid-day lunch hour session that provides continuing education credit may work for your centers of influence but not for prospects that are more likely to attend an afternoon or early evening event.
Narrow the Topic
When deciding upon the topic for your next workshop, keep it specific. Your audience has a busy schedule and a short attention span, so your presentation should not exceed 50 minutes in length with a ten minute question and answer period. Once the hour is up, it’s always wise to cut off the questions, offering to remain afterwards for those who still have unanswered inquiries.
It’s better to leave your audience wanting more than it is to have them checking their Smartphones for emails and text messages in the middle of your presentation.
Choosing the Venue
Booking the venue well ahead of time is a must, since your promotional materials will have to give a precise date, time and place. Needless to say, the venue should be centrally located to your audience, easy to find and have adequate parking.
I’ve used hotels, fraternal lodges, country clubs, restaurants and church and synagogue community rooms. The latter of which are usually inexpensive, accessible and tend to allow you to bring in your own refreshments. Hotels tend to be more expensive since you must not only pay for the use of a conference room, but also purchase their food service items and use their servers. For venues that we haven’t presented in before, I send out a scout team to evaluate and grade it on the factors I’ve listed here.
No matter the venue selected, it’s important to clarify who’s responsible for setting up and breaking down the room, including the time it will be made available to you, and when you must vacate. You’ll generally want the venue available to you two hours prior to the scheduled start of your workshop to give your team adequate time to set up. Similarly, consider the amount of time you’ll need to stick around with lingering attendees to answer all of their questions, and for your team to break everything down.
Some of my colleagues prefer to host events and serve meals at restaurants. My fear is that you attract the free-meal crowd more interested in filling their bellies than their minds. At most of my workshops we offer only coffee, water, soft drinks and assorted cookies and snacks that we pick up at Costco. My theory is that my attendees aren’t there to be fed. With that said, you want a nice appearance, so the venue should have tables with table cloths available, and you want to serve your refreshments on nice trays with doilies, use coffee urns, and offer good quality clear plastic plates and flatware.
Of high importance is the venue’s seating and available audio-visual equipment. I prefer classroom seating where it’s available. In classroom seating attendees have a table or desk which allows them to spread out the handouts and take notes. Contrast this to theatre seating, which requires your audience to balance materials and refreshments on their laps.
Since we conduct several workshops each year we’ve invested in our own audio-visual equipment, including a laptop loaded with our PowerPoint presentations. We also own projectors, a screen, 2 pro-sumer video camcorders, lapel microphones, speakers, audio mixer, backdrops and signage. I’ve rented out my synagogue’s community room several times over the past many years, but have had trouble with the synagogue’s speakers that are built into the ceiling of the community room as they tend to crackle and pop. Investing in our own portable speakers solved that problem, and enabled us to use only one lapel microphone that feed both our recording equipment and the external speakers.
Creating the Slideshow
We create two slideshows for each of our workshops. We take a page out of the movie theatre textbook by running a pre-slide show loop that provides background information and points to our website and social media content, as well as to key features of that event’s handouts.
When constructing the main slideshow, keep in mind that each slide will generally provide 2-4 minutes of material. Consequently, keep the presentation to no more than 15-20 slides. That will make you cognizant to narrow each slide down to its most essential point. It’s important that all of your fonts, colors and graphics have a consistent theme. Try to limit your use of Google images, and if you can afford to, hire a graphic design artist and/or illustrator. You want to look polished and professional ̶ don’t underestimate how your presentation’s graphics can make or break you. Rehearsing the slide show isn’t a bad idea. By talking through the slides you may find something that doesn’t make sense or needs to be clarified. You’ll also get a better idea as to whether you’ll meet your fifty minute time constraint.
Finally, make sure that your themed slides have a contact reference to your web address and phone number.
Thinking through Handouts and Giveaways
Your handouts should at a minimum include a print-out of the slides so that the attendees can take notes and follow along. We also commonly include articles that we’ve published in professional and trade journals, blogs and other writings. Where appropriate we’ll handout brochures geared to the topic. Don’t forget to have an evaluation form where your attendee not only gives you her feedback, but also provides important information about herself that you will need in order to follow up with marketing efforts, such as her name, contact information and whether she would like to schedule an appointment.
The giveaway is your catch to entice attendees. I typically include a recent book that I’ve published relevant to the workshop’s main topic. We also provide a free written trust analysis (which could be the topic of another article all by itself) so the trust evaluation form becomes the giveaway. The giveaways are prominently featured in our advertisements, emails and other promotional materials discussed below. An important point about the giveaway is that you don’t hand it to your clients until they turn in the evaluation form at the end of the workshop.
Promoting your workshop
How to promote your workshop largely depends upon your audience. Assuming you have an email database of your existing centers of influence and of your client base, using ConstantContact or MailChimp enables you to create graphically stunning, content-filled emails that contain a link to your website’s registration page and/or a phone number. I’ve found that a combination of print, audio and video content will entice recipients into opening the email and responding. Our open rate, for example, often exceeds 60% while our industry average is 19%. The great thing about these email services is that you can track open rates, what the recipient viewed and how long he viewed or listened to the content.
Filling the seats may also require direct mail to your potential attendees as well as print advertisements in local newspapers and periodicals. Attorneys must ensure that the contact and the content fits within their Code of Professional Responsibility and financial advisors must usually clear the promotion through their compliance departments. Since this is likely to take some time, planning ahead is crucial, as is having a template that’s been pre-approved that you can modify slightly as the situation warrants.
Putting on your workshops will take commitment and courage on your part. When you sum up the rent for the meeting rooms, promotional materials, advertising, refreshments and all of the other normal expenses associated with a first-class presentation don’t be surprised if it totals several thousand dollars. My firm’s last batch of workshops ran more than $35,000 in expense, with a large portion of that found in the newspaper and print advertising. Advertising costs will vary depending upon the size of your market. These amounts don’t count the amount of time that you and your staff should expect to spend taking care of all these back-stage and front-stage steps. Don’t skimp on your budget or else you won’t get the results that you hope for.
As an aside, you may be tempted to partner with another firm to share the expense. A lawyer, for example, may look to one of his financial planner referral sources to share the expense. Don’t do it. First, you want to control the timing, the message and the results. Moreover, you could alienate your other referral sources who notice the production.
Monitoring the Sign-ups
One of my team members is in charge of calling those who make reservations via our web site to confirm the reservation and ask if they need directions or other information. We keep a running count of our sign-ups so that we’ll know how many chairs to have the venue set up, the amount of food to purchase, and the quantity of handouts, books and other materials we need to bring. We also monitor the source of the sign-up to adjust our advertising efforts for our next workshops.
Staffing the Event
Frank Sinatra never moved pianos, adjusted the lights or ripped tickets. You’ll have enough on your mind at the event, and you’ll want to mingle with the attendees before-hand and be available for questions after. Consequently, you’ll need staff or event-center help to set up the tables, chairs, entry area, audio-visual equipment and refreshments. Your staff should also be ready to collect the evaluation forms we discuss below, hand out the giveaways, and schedule appointments where applicable.
I also like to have staff on hand to get me any materials that I may need during the presentation, even if it’s a bottle of water. We like for our team to count the number of attendees, and to take notes as to their reactions to the various elements of the presentation. This is critical for the post-event follow-through that’ll I touch upon.
Greeting Your Guests
Hopefully your venue has an entry separate and apart from the presentation hall. If you plan to issue name-tags, pre-print as many as you can to avoid frustrating back-ups that may cause some attendees to leave rather than stand in long lines. Since several hundred usually attend our workshops we’ve abandoned issuing name tags for that very reason.
Nevertheless, it remains important for your guests to be greeted with smiles and the handout materials, which should include a pen with your firm name and contact information printed on it. We spread out the materials on long tables with table cloths for the best effect, and have signage directing attendees to the right doors. Tell your staff to emulate the experience of walking into a resort hotel, and they should get it right.
Interactively Delivering Your Content
Start your program on time and at the beginning promise your attendees when you will conclude ̶ and stick to your promise. I usually like to start out with a relevant story or joke, as I find it important to first connect with the audience. Michael Hill, one of my law partners, usually conducts the workshop with me as we find having two presenters creates a dynamic that keeps the audience’s attention in a way that only one presenter can’t emulate.
It’s important not to just read the slides. Your slides should be nothing more than main ideas, as you deliver the details during the presentation. Practice your delivery, vary your tempo and pitch and don’t be afraid to be somewhat dramatic. I find that story-telling heightens interest, as everyone relates better to examples rather than to dry theory. Moreover, keep your audience engaged by asking leading “yes” or “no” questions and having them raise their hands in response, noting how many guess one way or the other, and how many won’t answer at all!
We usually don’t take audience questions during the presentation, as many are too fact specific to the inquisitor, which can be distracting and frustrating to the rest of the audience. We remind the attendees that we’ll take questions at the end of the presentation, and suggest using their pen and materials to write down their questions as they think of them and then ask during the open question and answer period.
At the end of the presentation we usually remind the attendees of our call to action, whether it is to turn in their evaluation sheet to receive the giveaway, or to schedule an appointment or whatever other action we hope that they take.
Recording the Event
Not video recording your workshop constitutes a huge missed opportunity. When you don’t record the workshop then all of your hard work and all of the money you spent on materials and promotion vanish into thin air. Aside from the attendees at that particular seminar, you’ll never benefit from it again.
To take maximum advantage on our investment of time and resources, we record all of our new workshops and download them to our web site. We also email links of the recorded event to clients, prospects and centers of influence who couldn’t attend. When we began recording our workshops we hired professionals. That was so expensive we decided to purchase pro-sumer equipment and do it ourselves. We find the end result to be satisfactory, especially since we do hire a professional editor.
Breaking out of the commoditization trap requires you to constantly provide educational experiences to your clients and prospects. By recording your workshops your clients and prospects can view your content at any time of the day or night. Your content continually sells your services even when you are busy serving your other clients, taking continuing education classes, while on vacation or even while you sleep. If you’ve ever said that you wish there were two of you to accomplish everything that needs to happen in a day, by recording your workshops you’re effectively leveraging your time by making you literally appear in two places at once.
When you download your video it doesn’t have to look like an evening news exposé but it should look professional. Just as you want your promotional materials, handouts and slideshow to use consistent fonts, colors and graphics, hire a professional video editor to make your content shine.
Your team’s work isn’t complete after the workshop, either. Well thought out evaluation forms contain a treasure-trove of information that allows your team to book appointments, or to follow through with important meetings and contacts. Going back to the goal of your workshop, this important follow-through should serve to achieve those goals that you and your team originally established.
Finally, I believe it’s important to set aside feedback time shortly after the event. Have your team members critically evaluate your performance, and suggest where improvements may be made.
We have a short video posted on 4freedompractice.com/videos where you can see how we prepare and conduct a client workshop. Educational content is becoming much more important in our experience economy. I hope you can now see how creating, conducting, recording and posting educational workshops for your clients, prospects and centers of influence you differentiate your firm from all others in the marketplace.