Six points to successful seminar planning: Bring in a flood of leads while building your image as a lending expertDiana M. Smithseminars, seminar planning, keynote speakers, Seminars are a great way to get an impressive volume of highly qualified leads in just a few hours. Imagine being able to describe all the things a first-time homebuyer needs to know, along with the services you provide, to a captive audience of 20, 75 or even 150 prospects. If this sounds exciting, then consider planning a seminar soon. Giving a seminar is a great way to present yourself as an expert in your community. Its an outstanding way to educate numerous people at once about how to make informed decisions when looking for a loan product. Virtually every person in attendance will be a terrific prospect. Seminars require significant advance planning to be successful. But, as you might imagine, the rewards can be amazingly profitable. The six points that you need to know to plan a successful seminar are: • Scheduling your seminar; • Promotion and marketing; • Tracking and acquiring leads; • Seminar delivery tips; • Seminar content; and • Post-seminar follow-up. Scheduling your seminar When To schedule your first seminar, pick a date at least 90 days in advance. You'll need plenty of time to create your seminar content and to appropriately market it. Be sure that the chosen date doesn't fall near a holiday. Also, devote at least 10 days after the seminar to attendee follow-up. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings are the best times for seminars. Saturday mornings are also ideal. Spring is great for first-time buyer seminars; however, consider the off-season if you notice that your local market is flooded with competing ones, or choose an alternate topic for the spring to stand above the crowd. Where? The venue for your event is an important choice. For budgetary reasons, you may wish to schedule the seminar in a conference room at your office, as it would be at no cost to you. You must consider, however, that some potential attendees might be suspicious of a seminar sponsored in a commercial location. By hosting your seminar at a public library or community collegiate setting, your seminar will have more of an educational feel. By presenting it in a place reserved for learning, your audience will be in the learning mindset before they even walk in the door. Most community colleges have conference center facilities available for rental by businesses. The centers often have an integrated media system for video and teleconferencing. Internet hook-up and Wi-Fi is almost always available. On average, community college room rental costs ranged from $200 to $600, with seating capacity from 75 to 600, depending on the room used. Catering services are usually available through the colleges food service department as well. To schedule a seminar room, call the information desk of the community college of your choice. The contacts title varies, but Director of Public Information is a common title for the person in charge of scheduling seminars. Never use a hotel for seminars. Although appropriate for trade seminars, they do not work for local seminars. Hotel seminars have become the domain of late-night TV real-estate scams, and attendees always arrive wondering what they are going to leave obligated for. Promoting and marketing Your marketing for your seminar can be as simple as 1,000 well-designed flyers placed in prominent locations about town. Or it can include press releases, direct mail and possible radio advertising. Plan to devote around 60 percent of your seminar budget on marketing and promotion. If you outsource your advertising and design, make sure your agency is aware that your materials need to be distribution-ready at least 45 days in advance of your seminar date. If you do your own promotions and advertising, youll want to have all of your printed materials ready to go six to eight weeks ahead of the seminar date. Your printed marketing for your seminar should include a bulleted summary of the event, as well as the usual details of time, date, length of seminar, location and brief driving directions. Also, be sure to mention secondary enticements. For example, if you will include a gratis continental breakfast or refreshments of some sort. Free parking is probably a given in suburban or rural locations, but consider that it could also be an enticement for locations in the business district. You could even try to arrange validated parking in advance. Dont forget to notify your past clients about your upcoming seminar. Even if it's a first-time buyer seminar, they may know someone who would benefit from attendance. Flyers are an easy and informal way to let people know about your event. After covering the usual locations, such as a public library and grocery store bulletin board, think about alternatives. Perhaps your real estate agent partners, especially if featured at your seminar, will help promote it at their office. Also remember to post flyers at the actual location of the event. Leave a stack of flyers at the reception desk at both your office and at the venue. If the event is being held at a library or college, find out if you can be promoted in their newsletter. Tracking and acquiring leads Youll definitely find several assistants to be an asset at the seminar. Dont try to do it all on your own. You will want to do a "dress rehearsal" with your assistants so they understand how to accomplish the tasks that you set. Consider having assistants to: • Greet and seat attendees; • Distribute and collect information request cards; • Handle catering duties; • Operate sound and/or video equipment; and • Distribute business cards, flyers and/or promotional items. Require that all of your assistants dress appropriately in business attire for the seminar. Have your assistant collect information from every attendee. One simple device for tracking attendees, which will become your future prospects and clients, is an information card. (If you would like a copy of a sample information card to hand out at your seminar, please e-mail me at [email protected].) Give attendees a small notebook and pen for note-takingprint all of your contact information on the notebook cover, and perhaps on the pen as well. Remember that this is an informational event. If your prospects are mostly college-educated, they'll be used to taking notes. Again, you dont want this event to seem like a sales pitch. Create outdoor banners or sandwich boards that clearly identify "Seminar Today." This might seem insignificant, but consider this scenario: Have you ever walked into an unfamiliar place, wondering if you got the directions right? It's an awkward, sometimes uncomfortable moment. You don't want your attendees to ever feel uncomfortable. If the seminar is being held in the back corner meeting room of your office, make sure guests clearly know how to get to the room and aren't left wandering the cubicles. Having an assistant available to greet at the front door can help. College campuses are notoriously confusing to newcomers. Place signs at several different areas on campus to direct attendees to the meeting room. You might also contact the college parking booth attendants (and give them a nice tip) to inform attendees of your event and its location. If you're short on staff, clearly marked signs with arrows certainly work in a pinch. Consider the seminar clientele. If you give a seminar aimed at the very affluent to educate on the advantages of a vacation or second home, minor details are extremely important. The affluent tend to be highly educated and demand detailed and attentive service. Step up the quality with gourmet appetizers, a coat-check, or even a valet. Seminar delivery tips Style and tone First, consider your delivery style. If you aren't used to public speaking, then youll definitely want to rehearse it. Deliver slowly and clearly. Remember that the information you are giving is brand new to your audience. And, no one trusts the "fast-talking salesman." If you're looking for inspiration, recall the delivery style of a favorite professor or teacher. Be warm, friendly and casual. Avoid stiffness and droning. Always give a brief (two minute) bio on yourself and your company. Stick to the facts and avoid bragging. Consumers have learned to be wary of "Free Seminars"that they are, in reality, hour-long, high-pressure sales pitches. If you turn your seminar into a pitch, negative word of mouth will spread. You'll see the attendance at future seminars drop dramatically. Cut the personal promotion down to just a few minutes for the entire seminar. You'll have a chance to win their business through the personal information that you harvest. Rehearsals Rehearse your presentation a couple of times a week in advance, and at least once at the intended venue, if possible. Note any problems with technology such as lighting, projectors and microphones. Then have the appropriate personnel correct the issues. Visuals Visuals enhance learning at seminars. Microsoft PowerPoint has dramatically replaced the slide projector, easel and overheard as of late. Consider the software to highlight your presentation with key facts and points. However, you should be the focus of your seminar, not your visuals. Don't forget to ask for referrals! Do this at the opening and closing of the presentation. You could word your request like this: "Maybe you have a friend or co-worker thinking of buying a home soon. While I give my presentation, if you can think of anyone who may benefit from this information, please jot down their names. My assistant will be happy to get their information from you before you leave today." Seminar content Plan to speak for 40 to 45 minutes at your seminar. You'll want to allow time for audience members to ask questions and make comments. When writing your seminar notes, one page of double-spaced type usually equals two to three minutes of dialogue. Besides the already mentioned first-time buyers seminar, here are some brief ideas for alternate seminar topics: • Solving the mystery of credit reports: This seminar could provide an overview of credit bureaus, credit scoring and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Also, you might give specific guidance of disputing inaccuracies and improving credit scores. • Building a better budget: After identifying short-, mid- and long-term goals, participants will learn how to design realistic spending and savings plans. They can learn strategies for using loan products to invest in home repairs or paying off high interest debts. They might also learn how to pay off a mortgage faster. • Vacation home buying seminar: This seminar will help people budget when buying a vacation home. It gives them ideas on how to make this luxury more affordable, such as how to rent vacation property out during off seasons. • Taxes, mortgages and real estateStrategies to lower tax liability: This seminar focuses on ways mortgages and real estate can be used to lower taxes. A good partner for this seminar would be a tax attorney, certified public accountant, or financial planner (or your real estate agent, if they have such a background). Post seminar follow-up First, send a short thank you card to every seminar attendee. Since you collected the information at the seminar, contacting by mail will be a breeze. Here is an example of a note you may use: Dear [attendee name], Thanks for coming to my seminar on [date]. I appreciate that you chose to learn more about [seminar topic]. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about anything I covered. If there is anything you thought I may have left out or could have improved upon, please tell me. Your input is greatly appreciated. I'd like to create better future seminars, so I value your opinion. Sincerely, [Your name] [Your company] [Your phone] [Your e-mail] Next, review the cards that your attendees filled out. If they provided referrals, get in touch immediately. Waste no time. Ensure that when you do contact the referrals, you drop the name of the seminar attendee. This provides the all important connection and warm introduction. After sending out the follow-up thank you cards and following up on the referrals, review your seminar event. By tracking the marketing source (the "How did you hear about the seminar?" question on the information request card), you can drop the least effective marketing techniques for future seminars. In the future, you can spend more time and energy on concentrating on only the most effective marketing sources for seminar attendees. Make a list of what worked and what you would like to improve for the seminar event itself. Inevitably, you'll notice some details that you'll want to improve upon for a future seminar. Diana M. Smith is an executive sales manager at The Ibis Group. She may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].