"We treat [speakers] like the kings and queens they think they are." That was Lynn Freer, president of California-based Spidell Publishing, speaking at last Thursday's hugely informative premier event in SIPA's new Best Practices Series—sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation.
Titled New Secrets of Successful Events and Webinars, the day featured top speakers giving advice on all aspects of events—from "road shows" to improving your marketing to inspiring speakers to leveraging webinars for greater sales. Benny DiCecca, CEO, Wellesley Information Services, a division of UCG, set the tone early with a keynote focused on listening, content and sponsorships.
"Make sure your content is steady, rock-solid through [everything you do]," he said. "People come to trust your content in one particular way; this is incredibly important. One differentiator between Wellesley and everyone else is that our road shows are not sales pitches, and I will make sure they're not. We're not going to change who we are. It's very, very important that you do that."
Freer sent everyone to lunch filled with knowledge and advice from her talk, Six Secrets on How We Attract 18,000 People and Millions of Dollars to Our Seminars - in One State - Every Year. Here are some highlights from that session:
(This webcast is still available for purchase—members for $99 and non-members for $199. Contact Marija Milivojevic, SIPA's program coordinator, at 202.789.4461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
1. People pay for what they want, not necessarily what they need. "People really need to understand this," Freer said. "People may need it but don't want it. Do they want People Magazine or The New Yorker, chewing gum or vitamins? Don't use valuable real estate [or] webinars to sell something people don't want and don't want to pay for."
2. Listen to your audience. "We send out a flash email when news happens and can gauge by responses, questions, comments, tweets, LinkedIn posts whether people care about it or not," Freer said. They have a message board where folks ask tax questions and regularly survey attendees. What do people really care about? Freer asked.
3. Be nimble. "We do well because we're very nimble," Freer said. "We can change on a dime." They can quickly cut down from or add to pdf reports depending on the response. If new laws are passed, they can send information out the next day. "The IRS came out with new regulations on depreciation," Freer said. "People were screaming. We [quickly] added 15 minutes to our presentation and brought in $99,000 more dollars.
4. Plan in advance for changes. Spidell leaves sections open in their outlines to be able to add new material. For certification, sometimes page numbers can't be changed because an exam might be referring to a specific page for answers.
5. Treat your speakers well. "We get a lot of speakers from [our] competition, but we treat them better and pay them better," Freer said. With class sizes that can be in the hundreds, Spidell depends on the quality of their speakers—especially with their subject. "Nothing can be more boring than tax law," said Freer.
6. Vet your speakers well. Freer wants to know that her speakers are able and willing to do research, have good voices and are articulate, and "can find a tax case about a police officer having an affair." She also asked, "Are you good to look at? Women speakers get more sexual comments on their clothing. I often get, 'She wore the same suit last month.' Are [you] easy to get along with? If you're with someone for two months, [that matters]. Do they take criticism well? 'Here's what you need to do.' If they do what I suggest they become more successful." Her staff will also check how attendees react during seminars.
7. Offer rewards. Spidell takes speakers on an annual retreat—to Palm Springs, to Long Beach. "It's a fun time," Freer said. "Last year we went to the Queen Mary, put on a scavenger hunt and two expensive dinners. We also bring in speech and acting coaches—Patricia Fripp is a well-known one. We pay for that. I'll give them referrals for acting, speaking and voice coaches."
8. Treat your customers well. "We kill attendees with kindness," Freer said. "We give them chicken for lunch, free post-its and pens, and we pay for parking. Why do we provide lunch? The hotel is more likely to take you plus how do you send [hundreds of] people out and tell them to get lunch and be back in an hour." Attendees can also sign up for any location and change to another.
9. Give attendees substantive take-homes. Spidell gives out both paper and electronic manuals. "We are evolving to electronic, but we don't do electronic manuals at events," Freer said. "They want 500-page print manuals on their desk. Plus the cost to have Internet in meeting rooms is high."
10. Keep in constant touch. Spidell sends follow-up emails during tax season and gives all attendees Sunday morning email with funny tax topics. They'll create spinoff webinars or reports if something creates conversation, like a special report they did on airbnbs.
11. Get out in the field. Freer, who is an excellent speaker herself, often does free dinner speeches at associations and other industry events. "I love that," she said, "wandering into aisles and talking to people. When I do dinner speeches, I bring fliers and we generate revenue. It might be about a new law that just passed that we're covering it in a seminar."
12. "Our success recipe is to be flexible, treat everyone well and don't be afraid to give,"