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August 18, 2006

Seminar programmes: Don?t exhibit without one

Seminars emerged on the event scene a few years ago as a way of attracting more and higher quality visitors to exhibitions. It was a concerted attempt by organisers to stave off declining attendance levels and prove to exhibitors that they were up to speed on market trends. Initially this strategy worked until visitors became disillusioned with programmes dominated by the events’ sponsors selling their wares from the stage where they had been led to believe engaging presentations about the state of their industry and best practice would be taking place.

The result? Disillusionment and scepticism about seminar programmes from the people they had been designed to attract – the senior decisionmakers. Soon it was realised that seminars had to deliver on their promises, or they could seriously undermine a major event. Many organisers have addressed this issue with various degrees of success, but it’s fair to say that truly sparkling seminar programmes are still few and far between. These days, too, it’s not simply a case of getting the content and speakers right, but also the staging, in a world where high production values are becoming the norm.

Good exhibitions remain a great way of generating leads, and an effective way of deciding whether or not to exhibit is to evaluate the quality of the event’s seminar programme. Even if an exhibition ticks all the right boxes with respect to being aimed at the right audience and has a well organised registration scheme, it’s unwise to book a stand at an event that doesn’t have a good seminar programme, as this is what helps to convince senior staff of the value of attending. So before signing up, check that the programme isn’t dominated by sponsors of the event, that it addresses key issues and is cohesive – namely that there appears to be a theme that matches the purpose of the exhibition. If all these criteria are met, then the chances are it could be an event worth exhibiting at.

“Certainly a well organised seminar programme will attract a higher quality visitor, breathing life into an established exhibition and helping to build the reputation of a launch event, all of which is good for exhibitors,” says Amy Scott, managing director of marketing communications company and events producer Sedulous, who has devised seminars for a number of major exhibitions within the events, IT, telecoms and public sectors.

“Seminars are also a great way to generate additional publicity for an exhibition,” she continues, “which is also vital in raising industry profile and drawing the right audience.” Once again, this is good news if you’re planning to exhibit.

Scott is also adamant that independence is everything. “A seminar programme must reflect the themes of an event,” she says. “It should not just be given by sponsors on their topic. It needs to contain independent, objective content and be coordinated towards the specific aim of creating value for delegates.”

It’s also worthwhile checking out where the seminars will be held in the exhibition hall. “Clever organisers will position them so that they draw visitors through the exhibits, thereby increasing exposure for exhibitors,” explains Scott. “Also if there are a number of strands running simultaneously, clustering of seminar rooms should be avoided as this can create a problem of noise spilling between them. I often find the best position is in different corners of a venue.”

Scott also recommends looking for a well-planned programme with specific gaps between individual seminars. “End-to-end programmes don’t give visitors enough time to get around the stands,” she says. “The best ones start at least an hour into the show day and are well spaced.”

Finally, the sign of a good exhibition is an innovative seminar programme – where organisers are on top of the latest developments in seminar planning. “One of the latest trends is modular programmes, where delegates can select their own personal programme from a selection of seminars,” says Scott. This makes it easier for them to plan their time between attending seminars and visiting stands.

So before signing up as an exhibitor, ask for specific details of an event’s seminar programme, making sure that if you were a visitor, you’d find it useful, engaging and well planned. Also don’t forget to find out if delegates have to pay to attend the programmes, because charging helps to ensure attendance and visitor quality.

Going it alone: Many companies are leaving the exhibition hall behind and creating their own bespoke customer events built round seminars. Next week EVENTS:review looks at why this works and how to go about planning your own customer seminar event.

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