How to Get Customers with Seminars, Speaking, and Workshops

Business Learning - How to Get Customers With Seminars, Speaking, and Word-of-Mouth - Business People Handing Papers to Each Other

Information is valuable

I’m sure you’ve hit the old roadblock–how can you get business and gain customers without a huge budget to spend on advertising? Simple, just speak up. Teach something to people.

Nothing elevates you in the eyes of potential customers like being a source of information–of value–for them. If you write the book on your business area, why wouldn’t someone pay you do it for them. You’re the expert. You’re the teacher. And you’re the one who is going to get their their orders.

Of course, it will take work. But with this guide you’re going to have a step-by-step plan for growing your customer base by simply speaking to them. You’ll need creativity, passion, and knowledge. But more than that, you’re going to need an audience.

For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to use the term “seminar” as a catch-all for workshops, speeches, presentations, webinars, etc. And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our small business guides on writing your first press release and using Google Adwords to grow your business. But enough introduction, let’s get down to business.

Here’s a

Why Put On a Seminar?

Putting on a seminar might sound counter-intuitive at first–you’re giving away your expertise for no or low cost. However, it’s actually a great technique that can help you meet new customers and get them to trust you.

Hands in a handshakeHow many times have you wished for a teacher or a guide in something you didn’t know how to do? What if you saw a poster or a friend told you about a free class where an expert in the field would personally walk you through doing something? You would definitely be interested. Who else would want to go? How about:

  • Potential customers
  • Potential business partners
  • People who can help you in your business
  • People you can network with
  • People you can learn something from
  • People with connections/public reach

Where to Speak At

You can choose from any number of venues to speak at. You don’t need to rent a place. The most obvious place is at your place of business. If you have a conference room, back room, parking lot, office, or any decently sized area, you can convert it to a seminar space with some chairs and tables. In fact, chairs and tables might not even be necessary depending on what you’re seminar is on. Just make sure people will be able to both see and hear you. There’s nothing worse then being unable to understand or see what a speaker is doing.

Who should you talk to when asking to be a guest speaker? Usually there will be activity directors or coordinators who you can talk to. Heads of a specific department might also be able to help you. If all else fails, remember that you can always talk to the person in charge of giving information and they should direct you to the right person.

Some other good venues:

  • Your local library – They’ll be happy to have a speaker bring people in to the library–talk to the librarian about holding a seminar
  • Your local small business development center – If it helps other small businesses, why not?
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce – They’re there to help businesses and they might be able to help if you ask, especially if its something beneficial for all members or helps the Chamber look good in the community
  • Offices of the trade/industry associations you belong to – These can be especially good places when you give a seminar relating specifically to your industry
  • Schools – When relevant, high schools and universities will allow guest speakers to help get that “real world” perspective. If younger audiences can be part of your target market, that’s great exposure for your business.

Deciding Your Content

Deciding your what your going to speak about should be relatively simple. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. List every problem, frustration, annoyance, desire, etc that your potential customers have. Go into association meetings, networking events, cafes, and anywhere else people in your industry gather. Do you hear anything come up repeatedly? Any questions or problems that many people talk about? How about any exciting new trends or news? Remember that with anything new, people are likely afraid. They are afraid because they don’t know anything about it. You can be the one who gives them the knowledge to feel confident.

Here’s some other ways you can find ideas for your seminar:

  • Listen on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What are your customers or the people in your industry talking about? Monitor their conversations.
  • Ask customers what they would like to learn or what problems they have. What better source of information about what people want to hear then the people themselves! The interviewing and surveying doesn’t have to be in person either. You can ask your emailing list, your Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn connections, people in online discussion groups, and more. Just ask yourself where your the people in your market are and go to them.
  • Find good data and build a story from it. Between all the statistics, facts, case studies, research, white papers, and other data noise, it’s hard to get actual information. You can be a bridge between the information overload and your audience. Interpret data and give them useful insights that they can put to work in their lives now. Be someone who makes their lives easier. Be the knowledgeable one, the wise advisor.
  • Pay attention to current events in the industry. If something new or disruptive is happening in your industry, why not do a seminar relating to it? Chances are, this is what is on people’s minds.

This list is in no way exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point. Remember, keep it useful for the attendees. Your first job is adding something of value to their day. They’re choosing to spend time with you–make it worth their while.

Jeff Lippincott, a counselor for the nonprofit small business mentoring organization SCORE, has written some advice for those who are confused on what to talk about:

“…the easiest way of getting up in front of a crowd and speaking for any length of time is to tell a string of stories that relate to the topic you are going to talk about.

I recommend you visit and search out a few books on the subject you are going to talk about. Skim through the table of contents of those books you find that have 4 or 5 star ratings. Jot down the point headings from the TOCs that you’d like to use in your talk. Figure that you need maybe 4 or 5 good point headings. Sequence them in a logical fashion. Then think up stories you are familiar with that relate to the point headings. Create a poster with the the title of your seminar and the 5 point headings listed underneath. Make sure it is neat and easy to see from 20 feet away.

Now type out your stories quickly. All of them. Let the 10 or 12 pages you type sit for a night or two. Then re-read your 12 pages and edit and re-write it to make it better. Voila, you have your seminar. It’s that simple.”

Titling Your Seminar

The title is the single most important sentence in your seminar. It’s the first thing your audience will see when they first become aware of your seminar, it’s what they’ll tell their friends to look up, and it’s the lens through which they will see everything you say. Make sure your title tells readers what the central idea of your seminar is. What is the one key point your seminar is making?

Mike Schultz, publisher of as well as a services business advisor, and John Doerr, a principal of the Wellesley Hills Group consulting and marketing services firm, have a few more tips on titling your event the right way:

Event Title: Your event title needs to clearly state what value you will deliver at the event. You will also want it to be as short as possible (but as long as needed), and appealing to the reader. Using the words “How To” in an event title has proven time and time again to increase attendance. The title “Learn about new investment opportunities” (a real title we recently saw), would be much more effective if it were called, “How you can take advantage of new investment opportunities.”

A very simple approach for event titling: Make a list of a dozen or so different ways you could title the event. Ask for feedback from colleagues, clients, and potential clients. If you run the event multiple times, test different titles and see if one title generates more attendance than the other.”

Structuring Your Content

Don’t feel as if your seminar needs to be one long speech. It can take other forms as well. You can lecture, then break into a workshop session where your attendees actually practice what they have just learned. You can start your talk with a colorful anecdote to get their attention. You could help illustrate the problem you’re offering a solution to by reenacting it in a skit with audience member help. You could even start off with some video or visuals.

Engage with your audience. There doesn’t have to be a wall between you and your listeners. Work with each person so that they build a relationship with you. Get them used to believing in you and looking to you for knowledge. That relationship could lead to valuable future business.

Use pictures, visuals, and other multimedia to illustrate your points. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Using these aids can make what you’re explaining much easier to understand and consequently raise the perceived value/competency of your seminar.

If you want your audience to really hear, understand, and learn what you have to say, here’s a few tips:

Compare and Contrast

In academic research on learning, a technique called Spacing has been shown to improve people’s comprehension of a complex lesson with real world applications. In a study conducted by UCLA researchers and published in Psychological Science, they found:

“Counterintuitive as it may be to art-history teachers—and our participants—we found that interleaving paintings by different artists (spacing) was more effective than massing all of an artist’s paintings together”

Instead of reiterating and reinforcing the same concepts or using similar examples, contrasting concepts/examples are used in between the similar ones–the concepts are “spaced” in between contrasting ones.

Applying these findings to a seminar, you might try using examples where the lesson you are teaching is not applied. Audience members can then formulate how it could have been used or applied. This technique certainly helps in real life application of your lessons, where they will have to apply what you have told them without your help and without knowing exactly how to apply what they have learned to their individual situation.

Consider Testing

No, it’s not college all over again, but it’s been scientifically proven that testing fosters the remembering of information. Henry Roediger III and Jeffrey Karpicke of Washington University published a 2006 study on testing’s learning benefits:

“A powerful way of improving one’s memory for material is to be tested on that material. Tests enhance later retention more than additional study of the material, even when tests are given without feedback.”

Consider telling your attendees that they will be tested at the end of your talk to gauge their understanding of the material. It’s not just for you–it also shows the attendee whether they’ve grasped the key concepts or not. You can then offer additional personalized guidance to help them understand your lessons.

Experiment with Your Methods

Finally, try to experiment with your methods when you begin giving seminars. While I’ve laid out some advice for you, there’s no guarantee that it will work for you. Keep in mind that every audience is different and learns differently. If you experiment with your methods, you may find ways to run your seminar that will work best for you and your industry.

My best advice is this: make it YOUR seminar.

Dealing with Public Speaking

 MicrophonesMost people have heard that, when it comes to fears, the fear of public speaking comes first. At second place is the fear of death. The standard interpretation of this fact is that most people would choose to be in the casket at their funeral over delivering the eulogy.

Don’t be afraid. Understand that many people feel the same way you do–three out of every four people suffer from speech anxiety. You aren’t the first person to feel this way, but by having the courage to speak anyway, you’re showing that you’re better. You’re driven to succeed and you won’t give up. Don’t let fear keep you from success.

My top two recommendations to overcome fear–any fear actually–are practice and preparation. The better you prepare and know your subject, the more comfortable and natural you can be when you’re speaking. Your focus remains on sharing your knowledge, not remembering exactly what it is you had to talk about. If you practice, you will eventually become accustomed to speaking. It isn’t something that is an innate talent–it’s something that’s born from constantly doing it. Those natural speakers you see weren’t always that way. They likely learned early in life, through constant practice, how to speak well. You can do the same. It doesn’t matter how late you start, just that you do.

Here’s three more useful tips:

  1. Remember to breathe. When you’re nervous, you breathing may change to short and shallow breaths. This will make your anxiety worse by making you feel lightheaded, weak, and confused. Take several deep breaths before speaking and take a deep breath every time you pause to make another point.
  2. Speak slowly. A mark of someone who is nervous to speak is talking too fast. Time often feels distorted when you’re in the spotlight. Slow down and speak clearly. There’s an old saying–when you think you’re speaking too slow, you’re speaking at just the right speed. It takes your listeners longer to hear and understand something then it takes for you to say it. Keep that in mind.
  3. What’s the worst that can happen? The speech your giving isn’t the State of the Union Address or a speech pleading your innocence in a trial. The worst that can happen is likely a few confused people and nothing more. Understand that you it isn’t the end of the road if you mess up. It’s the end if you give up.

Jeff Lippincott has a few words of advice to get over speech anxiety:

“The best way to develop your public speaking skills is to practice doing it. You can volunteer to do all kinds of talks. Your public library will probably give you ample opportunities to tell stories if you can come up with interesting topics to talk about.

The easiest way to get good at public speaking is to join a few Toastmasters clubs ( and become very active in those clubs. You will probably be able to do a talk a meeting if you like (and can). I say “can” because some people have trouble putting their talks together. Yes, you have to research, outline, and write your talks before you deliver them. The better researched and outlined the better they will be received.”

And if you do happen to mess up,  keep moving on without acknowledging it. Chances are that no one will notice, and if they do, they will forget by the end. You’re judged by the presentation as a whole, not by one small part of it. Don’t let mistakes rattle your confidence.

Marketing Your Event

So you’ve got all the content of your speech down. You’ve practiced, prepared, and you’re ready to deliver the best speech of your career.

Now where is everybody?

Having the best seminar around won’t do anything for your business if no one knows about it. You need to let people know that it’s happening so they can mark their calendars. The general rule to follow in marketing is to ask who/where your customers are then figure out ways you can reach them. For the seminar, think about who would benefit or like to hear what you have to say. Your goal is to reach these people. There’s no right or wrong way in reaching them–try to find what works best for you.

Just keep in mind that you should only expend effort on people who might actually be interested in what you have to say. Reaching 100,000 people is great, but reaching 100,000 6 year olds for your Digital Marketing ROI seminar isn’t a good use of resources.

Here’s some basic ideas to market your seminar:

  • Tell customers that come in to your business–tell them to get their friends to come too
  • Send an email or a postcard about the event if you have a mailing list (you should) to your customers
  • Put up signs in your business, in public areas, and on public boards
  • Tell people at local business associations about your seminar and see if they can help you publicize it
  • Announce your seminar across your Twitter, Facebook page, and other social media accounts–create an event page for it and invite everyone you know
  • Put up an event listing in free or low cost resources such as Craigslist, the newspaper (they often have online event listings too), online event guides (Zvents, Eventbrite, and EventSetter are examples), and community newsletters
  • Tell your suppliers and other businesses you’re friendly with to tell their customers, put up posters, or even mention it on their next social media posting/email newsletter
  • Talk to local community organizations you’re involved with or that might have an interest in your seminar (churches, clubs, and libraries, for example) about helping to publicize your event
  • Invite members in online forums related to your industry
  • Get your attendees to write some testimonials for their seminar experience–these will go a long way towards convincing more people to attend next time and in spreading word of mouth

Even if turnout is a bit on the low side, give the seminar your absolute best effort. Word of mouth marketing is often the most effective–if people hear from a newspaper that an event is happening, they’ll think about it, but if they hear from their friends are going to an event, they’ll go to it. Impress your audience with a high quality seminar and valuable information. The next time you give the seminar, you’ll likely find a few familiar faces that have brought their friends. If you give a quality performance, your audience will advertise for you.

Mike Schultz and John Doerr also have a few tips for those looking to up their attendance numbers:

Marketing Timing: Usually, professionals market their events much too early. A CPA firm we know recently had high business development hopes from a series of six short seminars. They sent very well-written letters to inform clients and prospects of the series. The ‘invitations’ reached the client base about 12 weeks before the first mini-seminar, 14 weeks before the second mini-seminar, 16 before the third, etc. Attendance was decidedly underwhelming.

Their mistake was in the mailing lead time. They were surprised when we told them that announcements for generating attendance for 2 hour seminars is best done about three or four weeks in advance, not 12 or 16 or 20. Rule of thumb: the shorter the seminar the shorter the event announcement lead time.

Marketing Partners: Marketing partners are an often overlooked source for boosting event attendance. You can, for example, partner with two other firms and pool your resources and mailing lists to increase response and then deliver together. Besides having extra names to market to, your event will have a multi-faceted presenter list which can often increase attendance in and of itself.

You can also co-market the event with a trade association, get the event notice listed in your partner’s e-newsletters, work with a college or university to sponsor the event, or any number of other partner strategies. For example, a network security service firm we know partnered with the FBI to run their seminar on the new security issues facing firms. The event pulled better than anything they had ever done before.”

I want to focus some extra attention on the second tip. Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. There are other small businesses out there who are also looking for additional customers. If you can partner with them, you can split the work while making your seminar even more valuable to your attendees. Get your suppliers, your business contacts, industry peers, or other businesses to help you put on the seminar. Split the work, multiply the reach–everyone wins.

Free or Pay?

People love free, right? When it comes to seminars, not always. Though this may sound counter-intuitive, sometimes charging for your seminar actually increases your attendance.


People sometimes associate free with cheap or poor quality. Having to pay for somethings adds a kind of value to your knowledge–this isn’t something just anyone can have, this is something you have to pay in order to get. In addition, people are less likely to ‘forget’ to go to a seminar if they’ve paid for it already. Once they’re in your seminar, they are also more likely to be engaged. Your attendees want to get their money’s worth if they had to pay for your seminar.

The big rule here is to test it for yourself and see. A paid approach might or might not be inferior to a free seminar depending on the industry and individual situation. However, it doesn’t hurt to try. If you’re planning on giving more than one seminar, try making one of them a pay seminar and see if there’s any changes. Remember, it’s not about what I tell you to do, it’s about what works for you. Experiment and test for yourself.

If you’re thinking of charging, you can easily find an online service that can help you do professional ticketing for your event. Stubhub is just one example, there are many more.

Schultz and Doerr also have a few words about charging for your talks:

“a) Paid events will often generate more actual attendance than free events.
b) Paid events tend to have significantly fewer no-shows than free events.
c) The attendees you generate are usually more interested in the event than those attending a ‘free’ breakfast, lunch, or ‘networking’ event.
d) People come expecting value instead of a sales pitch. If you then deliver value, you’ll establish the expectation and knowledge that time with you is worth the money.

Also note that, depending on your service, free events can work as well as paid events, especially for business-to-consumer professional services. Our final advice on the subject: know your audience, make good business assumptions, and test both paid and free.”

Webinars: Taking Your Seminar to the Web

A final note: consider conducting your seminar online. You can benefit from increased reach and convenience if you elect to do a webinar. When information is good and presented well, many people tend to sign up for a webinar. Taking your seminar digital can be the easiest way to increase your reach, grow your business, and get your name out to people. There’s also a
degree of deference that develops when you become an online authority in your particular field.

Youtube Market Share and Reach - 77% of the online video market

Top 10 Video Multimedia Sites by U.S. Market Share of Visits (%), March 2011 Source: Experian Hitwise

You can also consider breaking down your seminar into more manageable chunks focused on a single specific subject, for example, how to check tire pressure. These short informational videos can be uploaded to a site like YouTube. It’s a good way to reach a huge audience–Youtube has stated that it’s videos get 3 billion views each day. You might even become known as an authority for your industry. The initial investment is low as well. All you need is a webcam and some web-conferencing management software.

There are many free or low cost services that can help your conduct a webinar. Some examples include AnyMeeting, Yugma, GoToMeeting, etc. A search on Google will bring up ample results.

Lippincott also has some advice for those looking at webinars to grow their business:

“Unlike a seminar that only reaches a handful of people one delivery at a time, the video on YouTube works 24/7 after it has been uploaded. But how do people find the video you might ask? The answer is they find it through the company Web site. And that is what gets promoted by the small business in their local marketing efforts. The videos will give the site credibility and the owner of the site will develop an image of competence and build trust if the videos are well done. Sure, there is some room today for putting on seminars in order to promote the company Web site. But I suspect there are better ways the small business owner can spend his time promoting the company Web site when there are a ton of videos on the Web site that do the same thing as seminars do, but better.”

Extending the webinar concept a bit further, why not keep reaching people through other online outlets as well? You can start a blog dedicated to your industry. You can provide helpful advice and useful insights that will have people looking to you for their needs. Best of all, blogs, with their constant fresh content–are loved by the search engines, helping you get found. You get to write about what you already know and it helps customers find you!

The Internet has changed the way small businesses market themselves for the better. Small businesses today have access to global opportunities and vast amounts of knowledge. No longer is your business limited by geography–the world is more interconnected than ever before. I’ll leave you with a few words from Lippincott:

“A small service business that used to cater to the suburbs of Charleston WV now serves clients across the US and even internationally if they use the Internet to its fullest potential.”

Mike Volpe, the Chief Marketing Office for Hubspot, an online marketing and SEO firm, also has some great advice on putting on webinars in the Hubspot blog.

A Final Word

Many businesses don’t take advantage of one of their greatest tools for marketing–their own knowledge. Conducting a seminar or workshop isn’t hard, yet so many small businesses don’t do it. What do you have to lose? A seminar not only brings you customers, it cements relationships and it adds authority to your business.

I hope this guide has helped you in putting together a seminar, workshop, webinar, or presentation as a knowledge focused marketing tool. If you’ve found this useful, why not pass it along to some friends?

Good luck!

References and Additional Resources


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