The best thing about hosting your first seminar is that once you’ve finished, you never have to host your first seminar again! Although having hosted one seminar doesn’t quite qualify you as an expert; you’ve made it over the first hurdle, and now hosting subsequent seminars should be less intimidating.
Even if your first seminar was a great success, there were undoubtedly aspects of it that could be improved. Just as the mortgage industry is always evolving, your seminars need to be constantly evolving and improving as well. Here are some tips to help upgrade your seminars, so that each one is an improvement over the last.
Develop Appropriate Program
Of course, the most important element of a successful seminar or workshop is fitting the right topic with the appropriate audience. During the last several years, loan originators have developed different types of programs to interest their target groups. This is often a result of the changes in the mortgage lending industry. For example, in addition to the common First-time Buyers workshop, timely topics include “Navigating Today’s More Challenging Home Financing Process,” “Is A Short Sale Right For You?” and “Low Rates Offer Great Refinance Opportunities.” The point is to always tailor your seminar topic to the current market and your specific audience.
Although nobody likes to receive criticism, when given constructively, it can play an important role in helping mortgage originators, team leaders and managers to improve their presentation skills. Ideally, at the conclusion of your seminars, you will have requested feedback from the attendees. However, if you neglected to ask for it, e-mail or fax a questionnaire, requesting their honest opinion of your presentation. Inform all attendees that you truly need their help to improve future seminars, and in order to do so, you need them to be truthful, even if the criticism seems harsh.
Questions to ask your attendees may include:
•What topic did you find most insightful or interesting?
•What topic did you find least insightful?
•Did you feel the information was presented clearly, or were there times when the material was unclear?
•Did the provided materials enhance or detract from the presentation?
•Was the venue comfortable?
•Was the seminar too short? Too long?
•In your opinion, how could I improve upon this seminar?
You’ll need to be prepared for some unfavorable feedback. That way it won’t come as a shock if you find out that a topic that you thought was fascinating actually bored your attendees. On the other hand, if you find yourself lucky enough to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback, that’s a great sign that you hosted a valuable and informative seminar. But, keep your eyes open for thinly veiled criticisms that may not leap out at you at first glance.
For example, say you’ve hosted a seminar for home buyers and covered a variety of loan programs. After the seminar you receive feedback from a homeowner complimenting your presentation but pointing out that they didn’t understand some of the terminology you used. This is a good reminder to always provide detailed explanations and to refrain from using industry lingo or jargon that some attendees may not be familiar with.
If you find yourself receiving more negative feedback than positive, you may need to revise the entire format of your presentation. Feedback that indicates that your seminar was too short or too long, for example, will necessitate that you restructure your seminar accordingly.
Invite Others to Participate
Don’t assume that all of the information presented in your seminar must be entirely your responsibility. For example, if you’ve selected one of your local title companies’ conference room as the venue for a presentation you’re hosting for REALTORS®; invite the manager or owner of the title company to give a brief presentation of new services that they are providing.
This will add variety to the seminar, and you’ll relieve yourself of the pressure of entertaining for the duration of the seminar.
You may also consider seeking out a sponsor or sponsors, as your seminars begin to draw larger crowds. Title companies, real estate offices, or even the company you work for, may agree to sponsor your seminars. Explain that sponsoring your seminars can be as simple as allowing you to use their office space for hosting or possibly providing refreshments. Having a sponsor will also lend extra credibility to your seminar, thereby potentially increasing the number of guests.
In addition to listing your seminar in any free outlets at your disposal (such as the calendar of events section in the local paper,) you can improve your turnout by ramping up your marketing efforts ahead of the seminar. If you’ve secured a sponsor, encourage them to invite appropriate contacts in their database. Similarly, if you’ve invited a referral partner to co-host the seminar with you, ask them to notify their clients, friends and family members who would benefit from the material you’ll be presenting.
Take advantage of the variety of social media strategies. Mention your seminar on your Facebook and Linked-in pages and tweet about it to your target audiences. Regular e-mail notifications of the event to desired attendees should be implemented as well.
You may also want to purchase a small advertisement announcing your seminar. You’ll have to decide if purchasing an ad is in your budget and if so, determine the best media outlet to advertise in. Do not forget to mandate in your ad that all attendees must RSVP. This will ensure that you have ample printed materials for all in attendance.
One way to improve upon previous seminars is to make sure that printed materials you disperse appear more professional than those at your last seminar. When you held your first or early seminars, you may have opted to have very plain or basic printed materials.
But, as you continue to improve, your materials deserve to be upgraded as well. The upgrade can be as subtle as binding the materials, as opposed to stapling. You may decide to put all of materials into a folder, and affix a label with all of your contact information on the front. Materials can also be made to look more professional by color coding sections or using plastic tabs to separate topics.
It is important to note that your work is not quite done at the conclusion of your seminar. There is an easy and valuable way to make sure that your name and presentation leaves an impression on your attendees long after the conclusion of your seminar. Send personal thank-you cards to all attendees the morning after your seminar. This is not to say that you have to manually write a lengthy letter of appreciation to each person, but at least sign your own name, and try to personalize the card a bit. This will show that you value their time, by using your time to thank them.
Any sponsors or co-hosts should also receive a thank-you note, or other token of your appreciation. This will encourage them to consider sponsoring or participating in future seminars.
Every time you host a seminar, you’ll learn additional ways to improve for the future. By studying the feedback you receive, you’ll be able to improve and streamline your presentations. Inviting colleagues or sponsors to participate in your seminar will lend additional credibility to your seminar, and will likely result in more attendees. Ramping up your marketing efforts and upgrading your printed materials will further convey your professionalism, and your follow-up efforts will demonstrate how much you value your attendees. A concerted effort to improve these crucial components of a successful seminar will ensure that each one you host will be even more successful than those that preceded it.
Ed Craine is CEO of San Francisco based Smith Craine Finance, an award winning mortgage brokerage and publisher of Broker Banker. He is former president of CAMB and also serves as an Executive Director for BNI.