Seminar Definition and Planning Advice

Man speaking at a seminar.
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A seminar, sometimes referred to as a conference, is a commercial program where attendees are given information or training about a specific topic. It is usually held for groups of 10 to 50 individuals and frequently is held at a hotel meeting space or an academic institution, or within an office conference room. Some common types of seminars in business focus on personal development and business strategies.

Seminars vs. Workshops

Seminars should not be confused with workshops. Generally, seminars are geared more toward learning about a particular topic or related subtopics. They might involve guest speakers who are experts in the relevant field. Those attending seminars typically are doing so in order to gather information and gain knowledge they did not otherwise possess. For example, a seminar might cover a topic like technology in the workplace and feature speakers and presentations designed to inform attendees about different subtopics relevant to the overall theme.

Workshops, on the other hand, tend to be more interactive or hands-on. They are often smaller and might involve a group of people tackling a specific project, such as strategic planning. There might be one individual who facilitates the workshop to keep everyone on track, but those attending are expected to contribute. Everyone might have expertise or insight in a different area, and the goal would be to bring those ideas together to address a problem.

Personal Development

Designed for the training and enrichment of employees, personal development seminars address everything from hard skills, such as technology, to soft skills, such as the psychology of leadership, and how those skills can be applied to the profession in question. These seminars can take the form of retreats or intensive discussions or can be used to train management or new employees in the company’s core values or procedures. For example, a company that has developed a new strategy or approach for its sales staff may run a seminar—or multiple seminars—to train salespeople on the changes and how best to implement them.

Business

Business seminars appeal to entrepreneurs or small business owners. They share success stories and strategies, as well as information about marketing, licensing and franchising, or other concerns. An example of one of these seminars might be a gathering focused on marketing through social media. Attendees would learn best practices for promoting their businesses through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

Academia

Sometimes an event planner is called on to execute a seminar in an academic setting. Less formal than a class lecture, a seminar allows for small groups to meet and discuss academic topics or required reading, as well as set goals for research and continuing investigation. A school district that is revamping its science curriculum, for example, might hold a seminar for its science teachers to address the new standards and practices.

Planning Checklist

If planning an event, it's important to be organized, and a detailed checklist is a good way to keep yourself on task. These items should definitely be on your seminar planning checklist:

  • Confirm the event's purpose. Who is the audience? What are they expecting to learn? Be sure to have specific answers to these questions. For example, is it a seminar geared toward experts hoping to refine their knowledge or keep up to date on new developments? Or is it a seminar designed for those who might be learning about a topic for the first time?
  • Review the Apex Event Specifications Guide. The Convention Industry Council has established a series of tools that offer an excellent source of best practices to help the event or meeting planner keep track of details.
  • Create an event profile. Once a planner has some of the basic questions about the event covered, it’s time to research possible venues for the meeting.
  • Outline seminar needs. Determine the resources necessary to accomplish the goals of the event.
  • Budget carefully. Expenses can mount for a large event like a seminar, so be prepared with a detailed budget.
  • Solicit sponsorships. One of the best ways to help fund a seminar is to have sponsors. Businesses who send attendees to seminars often are willing to buy sponsorships as well.
  • Request venue proposals. Solicit bids from potential locations. Depending on the size and scope of an event, this step should be taken well in advance. Venues for large events may book as much as a year or more ahead of time.
  • Confirm and/or develop the agenda. The event planner must be ready to adjust the plan and work closely with the venue to make sure everything runs smoothly.
  • Confirm the banquet event order (BEO) agreement. Once the planner knows the targeted number of attendees and logistic requirements for the seminar, he should secure the event space and related requirements.
  • Create event communications and material. Everything from event invitations to the agenda needs to be printed or designed for online publication and distribution.
  • Work closely with event host to finalize logistics. Make sure to confirm event speakers, technology requirements, event attendee count, host roles and responsibilities, and event materials.
  • Allow enough time for the event setup. All event materials, handouts, signage, displays, gifts, registration tables, name badges, and more must be ready for the event.
  • Keep up on other industry happenings. You want to make sure the seminar is not competing with other similar events or for the same audience. For example, if you are developing a new event for an industry that already has a major event in the spring, avoid scheduling yours in the spring as well.
  • Utilize technology. From marketing to event registrations, make it easy for potential attendees to learn about the seminar online and sign up for it online as well. Take advantage of social media tools by creating a unique hashtag to be included with posts and offering incentives for people to share or tag friends in posts.
  • Have contingency plans. The bigger the event, the more possibilities there are for something to go wrong. Part of planning the perfect event involves brainstorming potential problems—from guests arriving early to many no-shows—that could arise and having backup plans in place in case those problems do arise. Good backup plans can turn a potential disaster into an event that attendees thought went flawlessly.