Seminars can be informative, motivational or inspirational - it all depends on who you invite to speak and how they deliver their presentation.
If you have been wanting to plan a seminar but don’t know where to start, read on for our top 30 tips on how to plan a seminar event.
What are seminars and why plan one?
Seminars are really well suited to allowing a speaker to share their expertise or an idea. Unlike workshops or networking events, a seminar is usually centred around one speaker (or a small number of presenters). While audience members may be able to ask questions, or network before and after the seminar, seminars themselves are a little less interactive than these other events.
But, as the success of events like TED and TEDX has shown, seminars are a powerful way to connect people and get them interested in a niche idea or topic that they might not have considered themselves. This makes them an excellent vehicle for sharing ideas and getting like-minded people to shift their thinking.
Planning a seminar might seem simple, but the reality is booking speakers, a venue and selling tickets requires a long lead-time. Ideally, you’ll have 3 months or more to get everything together (and at least 6 months if it is a large event).
Consider the purpose of the seminar
Seminars can vary in their purpose, which means they’ll often have very different feels or ~vibes. A motivational speech from Muniba Mazari will have a very different feel than a seminar on digital content strategy.
The purpose might be to inform, entertain or inspire. This decision will impact everything from the speakers you approach, to the venue you book. It is worth mapping this out pinpointing the real purpose of the seminar and using this as a starting point for the rest of the planning process.
Identify target audiences and find your niche
One of the secrets to TED and TEDX’s success is that they select audiences by asking them to apply. While this technique might not work for your seminar, it is worth thinking about who the ideal audience member will be. Should they all have knowledge about the field before going in? Or will they represent a cross-section of interests, and have almost no prior knowledge about the actual topic? This will influence the way the seminar is presented, and whether it can be pitched at a higher level of expertise or if it should remain a kind of 101 courses
Brainstorm themes (and think outside of the box)
Having a theme can help unify and clarify the seminar, especially if you are planning on inviting more than one speaker. You can formulate the theme as a short statement or question which unifies some of the ideas in the seminar.
Ideas worth spreading
Come up with a clear statement of purpose. For example, TED uses the tagline ‘ideas worth spreading'. This is intentionally broad, in order to encompass most topics. However, it influences everything about how the seminars are run. Talks are always told in a format such as a personal story or with a new and groundbreaking piece of research. This makes the idea ‘spreadable’ - something you can pass on to someone at your next dinner party. This stated purpose influences all levels of decision-making about the event - from who the talks are aimed at, to how they are available online.
Think about non-traditional presentations
We all love a trusty PowerPoint, but why not mix things up? If you aren’t there to show some graphs and data, you can branch out from the traditional slide and click mode. Perhaps using pre-recorded video footage to demonstrate a point, playing music or incorporating visuals.
Another thing that can move a presentation from boring to memorable is making it interactive. Ask members of the audience questions, or for their contributions. Making it interactive can change the dynamic from one-sided to collaborative, and keep people interested.
Provide support to speakers preparing their seminar
If you have a vision for how the seminar should look and feel, it makes sense to offer presenters some guidance for their talks. This might include notes or a template dealing with things like tone (hopeful? data-driven?) and the target audience (highly academic? general audience?). This support can help keep things uniform.
Tell a story
Storytelling is core to who we are as humans. Evolutionarily, it was the best way to teach each other lessons, a sense of morality and build a sense of community. And today, stories are no less powerful. It is worth taking some time to find the story in it. Maybe it’s the story of discovery or the story of connecting communities. This is a trick that the convenors of TED use a lot. So let your speakers know that you want their presentation to feel like a story, and get ready for a whole new level of the seminar.
Do some research about possible speakers
Finding speakers who are engaging and experts can be hard. But if you do your homework, you are much more likely to end up with someone memorable (for the right reasons!) It’s always a good idea to check about any controversial views they might have as well, to make sure they will be the right fit for your event.
Make a long list and a shortlist of speakers
Not everyone will be available, so it’s a good idea to have a long list and a shortlist ready. That way, you can have some back-ups if someone says no or has to pull out.
Research venues far in advance of the planned event
Venues book up fast! It’s always advisable to look into venues far in advance - especially if you are organising a large seminar. Also, consider technical requirements and whether they can accommodate various forms of presentation.
Consider venue accessibility
Accessibility is an important consideration, especially for seminars. This includes getting to the venue, accessing the room, and the accessibility of the speakers themselves. You might consider having AUSLAN interpreters, ensuring there are no sudden bright lights and other general requirements.
Organise multiple rehearsals
It is an old saying that whatever can go wrong on the day will go wrong. Don’t leave rehearsals until the last minute. Even the simplest seminars involve a lot of things that can go wrong!
Establish a realistic budget
Having a realistic budget can set you up for success. Ensure this includes speaker fees, venue set-up, equipment hire and having some light food and drinks for intervals.
Livestream for a larger reach
If you want to reach more people who might not be able to attend the event in person, consider a Livestream. This could be free or ticketed and can be done through a number of platforms. This might help the event be enjoyed by more people around the world. This strategy has worked for a lot of seminars and is a great option if part of your mandate is to increase the number of people you want to reach.
Ultimately, planning a seminar is a great opportunity to interact with speakers, audiences and other organisations. It can fit a wide variety of forms and be adapted to suit your needs. Spreading ideas and expertise is what makes them so much fun, and so valuable.
Seminar Season? Needing to sell tickets now?
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Em Meller lives and works in Sydney, Australia on the unceded lands of the Gadigal people. Her work has appeared in places like The Lifted Brow, Cordite, and Going Down Swinging. She has studied creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and at Oxford University.