Organising and running a seminar can be a very stressful job, however, the amount of stress can be greatly reduced according to how much pre-planning you do in advance of the seminar taking place. The following steps will give you a useful guideline to follow when it is your turn to plan and organise a seminar.
1. Who? What? Where? When? How?
Asking yourself ‘Who’ the seminar is for will allow you to organise a seminar that is relevant and appropriate for the audience. Asking ‘What’ the seminar is for will enable you to set goals and detail what people should get out of attending the seminar. These points are incredibly important, for who wants to attend a seminar unless it’s relevant to them and useful?
Of course, detailing ‘Where’ the seminar is going to be held is also vital, for you need to ensure the venue is large enough and can accommodate all your requirements. You need to check everything with the venue from simple things such as chairs, tables and perhaps pens and paper right through to catering and accommodation.
‘When’ is also important, for you need to make sure the seminar is not going to clash with anything else, which may impact on attendance, such as school half terms, public holidays and any other important events relevant to your audience. Asking yourself ‘How’ will ensure you plan for how people are going to arrive at your seminar and will help to make sure the day itself is going to run smoothly.
2. Allow more than enough time
It is always difficult to know how much time you are going to need to plan and execute a seminar. The amount of time will vary depending on how large your seminar is going to be and how complex. For instance a seminar involving 1 speaker and 30 guests would perhaps need a few months planning, whereas a seminar involving multiple speakers and hundreds of guests would need 6 months to a year’s worth of planning.
Always try to give yourself more than enough time and allow for other people’s slackness. For instance not only do you have to consider how long it will take to draw up and send out invitations to the seminar but also consider how long people might take to respond to your invites and when you might need to send out reminders.
Give yourself a checklist right at the beginning and run it past colleagues to ensure you have not missed anything out. Put the checklist onto a time or project plan and assign people their responsibilities and things to action. Appoint someone to oversee this plan and have a weekly meeting with them so you can ensure everything is on track.
Obviously this is absolutely key to the successful running of your seminar, for you need to advertise in order to ensure people remember to attend. You need to agree on which advertising channels are most appropriate to your seminar event and the audience base, i.e. there’s no point advertising on the side of a bus or via a public leaflet drop if your required audience base is not Mr Joe Public.
One thing that is essential is an online advertisement about your seminar. This doesn’t have to be a website dedicated to the seminar, it can just be a page on the website of your organisation but you do definitely need to have the seminar advertised online. Whatever offline collateral you create, such as posters, leaflets and brochures should also have the webpage detailed on them.
Make sure all your advertisement channels include the vital information, (Who? What? Where? When? How?) and any costs that are involved, as this will limit the amount of time your admin team spends answering calls or emails from people asking the same old questions. Construct seminar reminder emails in advance to save time later and make sure you have correct email addresses for all those you plan to invite.
4. Financing your seminar
Making sure you have enough money to run your seminar is, of course, vital to its success. There are many obvious costs to consider, such as paying for the venue, guest speakers, catering and so on but there are also things to consider such as taking on any extra staff to cover the admin of the seminar or just to help with the general running of the day.
You will need to consider whether you need to find a sponsor for the event in order to ensure your outgoings are all covered, or whether you are happy to pay for the entire event and cover costs by ticket sales (if charging for the seminar). If the latter, you will need to make sure you know how many people must attend the seminar to ensure you break even and have a plan of action to get people in, if attendance is low. For instance be prepared to offer last minute discounts on tickets or have collateral to sell after the seminar to make up costs.
5. Looking after your guest speaker/s
If you are running a seminar which has external guest speakers, it is incredibly important to book them in, way in advance. Good guest speakers are extremely popular and so you definitely don’t want to leave it to the last minute to try to book them. Once booked, make sure you keep in regular contact with them, not just to make sure they remember they’re booked in to speak at your seminar but to encourage them to actually write their speech!
Ensure you plan their transportation method in advance and don’t expect them to pay for it. You should always offer to do this as part of their package. Check to see if they require accommodation and make sure you are aware of their dietary requirements, as well as anything else they might require on the day, i.e. sparkling water on the lectern or stage they’re speaking from. It’s also a very good idea to ask for a copy of their speech a week before the seminar, not just so you can check it but so you have a copy should anything go wrong with theirs.
6. Seminar day
Get to the location early and double check everything is running smoothly. It’s also a good idea to give everyone in your team, as well as the guest speaker/s a call to make sure all is well. Make sure the event, cloak room and toilets are all clearly signed so everyone knows where to go and that name badges (if required) are easily accessible.
If you have planned everything in advance and ensured step by step that everything has been ticked off, there is no reason why your seminar will not run smoothly. Ensure your team is alert to any problems that might occur and then try to relax and enjoy the seminar.
7. After the seminar
Unfortunately your job continues even after the seminar finishes. To start with you may wish to give out feedback forms to everyone who attended the seminar. These give people the chance to feedback on anything they found lacking but also everything they found to be worthwhile, so is a vital part of the process and will help you plan future events.
Obviously there is also the clean-up of the venue and any collateral to consider, as well as the matter of thanking your guest speaker/s and your team. It is also common courtesy to give your guest speaker/s a gift of some kind and you may also want to organise drinks or a meal with your team to thank them.
James writes for Milton Keynes offices. When not writing, he can often be found organising seminars for the frazzled.