7 Mistakes That Turn Your Seminar Into A Nightmare


by Diane DiResta, CEO of DiResta Communications

It’s not enough to be a confident speaker and subject matter expert. It’s what happens behind the scenes long before the audience ever arrives that will impact the outcome. It’s all about the logistics.

Here is a peek behind the scenes of why a speaker may fail to deliver a knockout presentation. These seven mistakes separate the amateurs from the pros.

1. Arriving Late.

While arriving late is rude for an audience member, it’s the kiss of death for the seminar leader or facilitator. Arriving at 8:55 for a 9:00-5:00 seminar is too late. A seasoned facilitator will arrive at least one hour before the meeting. This assures that everything is working and set according to plan. It allows facilitators to catch their breath, ground their energy, prepare, and practice in the room. Potential disasters are averted by arriving early and doing a room check.

2. Not Educating the Meeting Planner.

The client or person in charge of booking the seminar may make decisions that will negatively impact the result. The best intentions can turn into problems if the seminar leader doesn’t educate, explain what is needed, and why. Clients don’t understand how critical the timing and logistics can be.

For example, the meeting planner or client may want to add more attendees. In a lecture this wouldn’t have a major impact. In a skills building seminar, size matters. The larger the group, the less time each person gets to practice and interact. Instead of saving money by adding more people and spreading the cost, the client loses value because fewer people develop the needed skills. If the client won’t back down on the headcount, the seminar leader must adjust the expectations of the client in terms of outcomes. Otherwise, the seminar leader will be perceived as ineffective when the results are less than promised.

3. Loose Timing.

A seamless seminar is well-timed. The seminar leader is a director who is aware of the timing and adjusts as needed. Where things can go south easily, is when the seminar leader doesn’t keep control. I call this the Leaky Tire Syndrome. A little hole causes a very slow leak. It’s not noticeable at first but eventually the tire goes flat. Time is lost in seconds and minutes and finally an hour is gone. How does that happen? One reason is the seminar leader is too democratic. It’s fine to ask for the first volunteer. But when everybody is expected to come to the front of the room to present, waiting for each person to volunteer will cause a loss of time. The seminar leader needs to take charge and call on people. The goal is to keep things moving.

4. Wrong Seating Plan.

A seating plan is strategic and based on the intentions of the seminar leader. If the goal is intimacy, a good configuration is a small U-shape. Classroom style is the better choice for a large group who will be doing writing exercises. If there will be a lot of group activity, team style is best.

Don’t assume the room will be set up properly. By arriving early the seminar leader will have time to make changes. If the room is too large, move the chairs and tables to the front of the room leaving a lot of space in the back. In a theater or small auditorium rope off the back rows so that people are seated close to the front. The seating configuration can impact learning. If it’s a large space, test the chairs in the back and the extreme sides of the room to determine visibility.

5. Poor AV Planning.

Part of the planning is discussing audio-visual requirements. If there is a lot of equipment, request to speak to the AV or IT person who’ll be on-site. Not all technology is compatible. Additionally, some companies have tight security and may have restrictions regarding laptop usage and internet connections. Be sure to bring extra adapters and chords. This is especially key when working internationally.

And rehearse in the room with the equipment before the attendees arrive. One company decided to bring in a camera person. The problem was that their camera recorded on dvds and each dvd took 7 minutes to download before it could be ejected and viewed. This wouldn’t work when participants were being videotaped for one minute each and then immediately viewing the recording privately. Explain to the AV person exactly how you intend to use the equipment to avoid disasters.

6. No Back-Up Plan.

Even with advanced planning, things can go wrong. The equipment freezes. There is a power outage. If the entire program relies heavily on slides and videos this could bring the seminar to a halt. A prepared seminar leader will make hard copies of the PowerPoint. A video case study can be retold by the seminar leader or there could be a written case study to substitute. Another option is to have alternative group activities to create an experience and drive home the learning points.

I once volunteered to talk to aspiring speakers about platform mechanics for the National Speakers Association’s Speaker University. We arrived at the reserved venue only to learn somebody forgot to reserve the room. Rather than losing time searching each floor for an empty room, I made an on-the-spot decision to go to the juice restaurant next door. It was small, there was a big empty table, and it wasn’t crowded. We all bought a juice, claimed the large table and I stood at the head and conducted the class. It was a success and we ended on time.

7. Meeting the Audience Cold.

Arriving at a speaking engagement with no prior connection makes it more difficult to connect. Even in large keynote venues, the speaker can usually send an email blast, a video, or a survey. The best speakers call a few key people to learn about their challenges, expectations and the company culture. Checking LinkedIn profiles works well for smaller groups. It’s especially important to arrive early and greet people. Andrea Nierenberg, a top speaker on the subject of networking, stands at the door and shakes hand with every person as they walk in the room. It warms the audience and makes the speaker feel comfortable.

As with a Broadway play, it may look like a seamless two hour show but the audience never knows the hours, days, and weeks it took to stage a first class production. Do the work to stage your seminar in advance and you’ll be able to say with confidence, “It’s show time”.

 

Diane DiResta is CEO of DiResta Communications, a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high stakes presentations. She is an accomplished speaking strategist, consultant, international speaker and expert in executive communications, and works with senior leaders and entrepreneurs to communicate with confidence, clarity, and impact to audiences of one or one thousand. 

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