by Troy Waugh and Angie Grissom

Seminars can be remarkable marketing tools for CPAs. They enable you to communicate your knowledge, demonstrate your creativity, and generate chemistry between you and a prospect. A carefully planned program can enable you to leverage your “selling time” and use group dynamics to motivate potential clients to hire you.

When you speak before an audience, even a small one, the attendees perceive you as having a high level of expertise. Positioning yourself as an easygoing, articulate advisor is a great way to attract prospects to your accounting practice.

In order to be successful in seminars and speaking engagements, we have found that there are six keys to success:
1. The right target audience.
2. Topics that communicate benefits.
3. A topic that interests you.
4. Attention to logistics.
5. The element of theater.
6. Following up with all invited guests.

The right target audience
Invite prospects with the same characteristics as your best clients. To make your investment in seminars worthwhile, target an audience that has the potential to produce profitable business for you.

Some firms also use seminars to attract prospects from a new market segment. In targeting an audience, consider the demographic profile of the participants’ age, sex, income level and so forth. Know that you are talking to eligible prospects. A participant’s residence could be very important. If you are serving a local or regional client base, you may want to avoid national speaking opportunities.

However, even when you don’t want to attract clients from a broader geographical base, speaking to regional, state or national groups is worthwhile because of the publicity.

Your image is enhanced when your clients read that you are a featured speaker in local papers or trade magazines.

How do you select a topic?
Create a title that spells out possible benefits. People who decide to attend your seminar must believe that their investment of time and effort will pay off.

For example, instead of your title being “Section 125 Cafeteria Plans,” try the title, “Increase Your Profits Now by Giving Your Employees a Raise.” You have created a title that spells out two possible benefits.

You must care
People respond to an enthusiastic speaker, no matter what the content. Your passion about the subject must come through. Speak only about things that interest you, or you could do more harm than good.

Pay attention to logistics
Location and timing must be considered early in your seminar planning. While you want to avoid holidays and any significant local events, you might want to plan your seminar around another event. For example, a Friday afternoon-Saturday morning annual seminar before a major college football rivalry may be a great time to sponsor your industry event.

Almost as important as the subject matter is the comfort of the room. Temperature, lighting, sound and potential distractions all need to be considered. If you are speaking to more than 20 people, or if the ceilings in your room are high, always use a microphone.

The element of theatre
In his book, “Selling to a Group,” Paul LeRoux said, “Successful seminars walk a fine line between advice and entertainment.” Many accounting firms forget this important rule. All too often, a parade of knowledgeable-but-dull presenters plod to the lectern and read the latest tax return rulings.

Remember, your audience is conditioned by years of movies and television, and expects to be entertained. If you let them down, it will hurt you. Give interesting case studies or tell stories. Also, the more you involve the audience, the more they will like your presentation. Get the audience to stand up, ask questions, role play. This will also help your audience remember what they have learned.

Follow up with every guest
You want to create new business as a result of the seminar. At the seminar, make sure that every member of your team has an ample supply of business cards and is prepared to schedule follow-up appointments when the opportunity avails itself. You could call and ask the attendees what they enjoyed about the program. Your efforts need not be high pressure.

Also, when thinking about how you will follow up, do not overlook those who did not accept your invitation. Send them a copy of the handouts with a cover note saying that you missed them and will be calling soon. Your goal is to have marketing interaction with your prospects whether or not they attended your seminar.

Troy A. Waugh, CPA, MBA, is the founder and principal of Waugh & Co., a consulting, marketing and training concern. Angie T. Grissom is a senior consultant at Waugh & Co.

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