By Julie Murphy
Many people may not think that small businesses run a lot of educational events.
But according to Constant Contact data, more than 40 percent of small businesses hold events and seminars, and classes account for the highest percentage of events held.
What’s the appeal?
From florists hosting floral arrangement classes to accountants holding tax preparation seminars, many educational events can give any small business the opportunity to highlight their expertise. Most importantly, it gives you the chance to meet customers or potential customers face-to-face, and hopefully make new connections to help grow your business.
If you’ve been thinking about hosting an educational event for your small business, you may have some questions about how you’re going to make it a success. Perhaps this has made you reluctant to try running events in the past.
You’re not alone.
Luckily, there are experts like Jeff Hurt, Director of Education and Engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, that are willing to offer their advice. Jeff is the author of the popular Midcourse Corrections blog, where he shares learnings on how to improve educational events and meetings gleaned from his more than 20 years experience in the meetings industry.
Let’s start with the common mistakes you’ll need to avoid
“There are two mistakes people make all the time. The first is thinking that a lecture is the best educational method. We’ve all been to so many lectures that we really don’t pay attention,” says Jeff.
This makes a lot of sense when you take into consideration that research shows we are all visual learners. To connect with your entire audience, Jeff says it’s important to mix in a visual component to your lecture. Getting the audience involved with a hands-on demonstration is also a way to heighten information retention.
“The second mistake I see people make all the time is believing that expertise and speaking skills are of primary importance. When speakers are developing their presentation, they need to focus on how to facilitate learning. They need to design learning experiences, not just speeches.”
Engaging the audience
Beyond the common mistakes that often stand in the way, Jeff says you need to spend some time thinking about how you’re going to keep your audience engaged throughout the event.
“We can’t give our focused attention to listening and thinking at the same time. So when presenting information, a good strategy is to pause two to four times during your talk and ask a question of your audience. Then, ask your audience to write down their response and share it with a neighbor sitting beside them. That gets conversations flowing and engagement increases.”
Extending the relationship beyond the event
Don’t let your event be the first and last connection you have with the people who attend. Instead, look for opportunities to extend the relationship after the event has concluded.
With tools like email marketing and social media marketing, you can continue to provide education as a way to keep your business top of mind.
Jeff has a few tips for how you can do it:
“Repurpose the content you shared at your event and post it on your blog, in your newsletters, and in email communications.”
He also suggests looking for additional articles or blog posts on your same topic and sharing all of this information in a staggered fashion over a period of a few weeks.
“One post per week is good,” says Jeff. “Continue to write more on the topic, post it to your blog, and encourage questions and comments. Ideally, you can record the presentation and schedule a replay on your website, during which either you or your guest speaker can participate in a text or Facebook chat during the replay.”
Find a partner to help take your events to the next level
If you expect educational events to play a part in your marketing strategy, finding the right partner can be exactly what you need to take your events to the next level.
Check out complementary businesses and explore possible event partnerships. For example, if you’re a chocolatier and there’s a great wine shop down the street, consider co-hosting a red wine and chocolate tasting. Or, if you’re a job coach, consider co-presenting a seminar with a wardrobe consultant.
“The key is to do your homework and understand who their target market is and what that market needs,” says Jeff. “Don’t focus on logo placements or share of attention. The focus should be squarely on helping both of your audiences succeed or learn something valuable.”
We’d love to hear about any lessons learned from your educational events! Please share in the comments below.