How to Start a Seminar Production Business

Operations

Like baking cookies, hosting a sit-down dinner for 12 or adding a new bathroom to your house, when you produce a seminar, you need to plan ahead. It's wise to start planning as early as possible--ideally four to six months before your program. But it all depends on a lot of variables. Take a look at the seminar countdown.

Countdown Item 1: Get With the Program
One of your most important tasks as a seminar professional will be to design your program--if you haven't got a seminar, you're not going to get very far! You did a lot of the design work when you did your market research, choosing your target market and whittling down your niche to the one that best suits both your audience and you. Now it's time to get down to specifics, like who will present your programs, how long they'll last and where you'll hold them.

  • Now presenting. Will you present the seminars yourself or hire speakers? If you choose the latter, you'll need to decide whether you'll turn them loose to do their own thing or design a curriculum that everybody follows. This is an important consideration. If you choose your speakers based on their special stories, insights and personalities, there's no point in tampering with success.
  • Work on those workbooks. Decide on any workbooks or other handouts you'll want to include with your seminar and start writing and designing them.
  • Packaging time. You'll also need to decide how long your program will run. Do you have enough material to keep your participants interested over the course of a two-day workshop? Or will a two-hour seminar be enough?
  • Choose your dream dates. We don't mean Julia Roberts or Antonio Banderas. Dream dates are days that your prospective audience will perceive as swell times for attending a seminar. You might schedule a beauty makeover program for women during Super Bowl weekend, but a dress-for-success seminar for men during the same weekend would bomb. Make sure you take the following into consideration: holidays, other events that might interfere with your plans and big conventions targeting your audience.
  • A different crowd. After you've decided what time of year you'll have your seminar, don't forget the all-important decision: where to host it. Your choices can range from a city park community center to a ballroom at the Ritz. Naturally, one's going to be pricier than the other, but one will also draw a different crowd than the other.

First, realize that your site price will be built into your ticket price, so you're not actually "paying" for the hotel or conference site all on your own, although you will have to pay an upfront deposit before you've garnered all your ticket sales. But even if you build your hotel facility into the cost of your tickets, you've still got a lot of decisions to make. Be sure to consider compatibility (choose a site that's a good match with your participants and your subject matter) and location (if you have lots of out-of-town participants, you'll want a site that's easily accessible from airports and interstates).

Countdown Item 2: Sales Products
Decide what food freebies you'll offer and then finalize your ticket or enrollment price. Double-check it against your market research. Is it an appropriate fee for the benefits you're offering? How does it compare with competitors' prices?

Now that you've got your enrollment price down, you can start to work on your sales products--brochures, letters and advertisements. Design your sales materials, and then negotiate prices with printers, choose the best one, and place your print order. Once your materials are printed and ready to go, put together press kits for magazines and send them out.

Countdown Item 3: Place Your Orders
Finalize the writing and design of any workbooks and place orders for signs and audiovisual equipment, either from the hotel or from private suppliers. Order your back-of-room sales products from vendors, audio and video duplicating services, and book sources. Order workbooks, evaluation forms, agendas or other handouts based on your anticipated head count. Make travel arrangements for yourself or your speakers--whoever will be hitting the road on your company's behalf. Send press kits to local and regional newspapers.

Countdown Item 4: One Week Ahead
Contact the hotel's sales or catering people to give them an approximate attendance count and make sure they've got everything squared away. Think of this as being a friendly nag--if they're not sure about any item or if they're not available, keep after them until you know it's done, and done properly.

Countdown Item 5: Two Days Ahead
Call the sales or catering people again and give them your final head count. You can also take this opportunity to check once more that everything's been taken care of and will be ready for you on arrival.

Countdown Item 6: The Day Before the Seminar
If you're traveling to an out-of-town site, today's the day you want to arrive. Give yourself plenty of time to recover from jet lag. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the room you'll work, and where the restrooms, pay phones, copiers, restaurants, lobbies and other facilities are located. Go over things like meals and snacks with hotel staff. Make sure all site-provided equipment--things like microphones, projectors, video players and monitors--are present, accounted for, and in good working order. Don't forget phone and electrical outlets for your electronic card terminal. Check seating arrangements and room temperature. If something isn't right, complain now instead of having your participants complain tomorrow.

Countdown Item 7: The Big Day
You and any assistants should arrive an hour or even two hours early to check the room setup and equipment one more time. Set up tables for registration, handouts and products. Get your credit terminal up and running. Remove ashtrays and set out no-smoking signs. Then greet your participants, get going and have fun!

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