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The End of Seminars As We Know It?

end-of-seminars.jpgAs I was flying home after presenting New Patientology in Calgary last weekend, I reflected on my recent experiences speaking to chiropractic audiences. Why do chiropractors go to seminars? And what are they expecting from doing so?

Some who claim to be self-professed seminar “junkies” have stacks of notes they’ve collected from attending a career’s-worth of weekend programs. Yet, their practices hardly match the vast knowledge and wisdom to which they’ve been exposed. Others seem to have no interest in seminars, turning out only for required continuing education programs.

There seems to be a disconnect between knowing and doing. (Which isn’t specifically a chiropractic problem!) It seems many seminars compound the problem by piling on still more things to “do” to make your practice successful. I’m guessing that a passive, sit-there-taking-notes-beside-your-staff-seminar is unlikely to produce the needed personal or practice breakthroughs.

Are seminars worth the trouble?

This might sound strange from someone who has been conducting seminars since 1986. However, I’m struck by the idea that my continued willingness to speak at chiropractic gatherings is almost a tacit endorsement of this antiquated way of sharing information. Perhaps even raising the false hope of change among those who are attending. I remember one participant several years ago revealing, “If I just get one or two new ideas, it’s worth it.”

Really? Surrendering an entire day for one or two ideas? Wow. Read a book!

I’ve had a growing unrest about the value of seminars for some time, which is why I created The Conversation. But I think it came into greater focus when I was recently asked by a family friend, “How do you measure the success of your seminars?”

I’ve known for years that if you can’t measure something (or won’t), you can’t improve it. So, to answer her question, I took a quick inventory of the several methods I’ve used over the years to measure the “success” of my seminars. I came up with four.

1. Attendance. This is one of the crudest metrics and more accurately measures the effectiveness of the seminar title, subject matter, speaker popularity, pricing, venue and countless other marketing details. Those who rely on this approach are ultra-sensitive to the number of seats filled and it has spawned what chiropractic convention exhibitors call the C.E.F., or the Chiropractic Exaggeration Factor. This comes into play when exhibiting vendors ask about attendance figures—which always seem inflated. Could it be that this stems from the “how many are you seeing” mentality of formerly practicing chiropractors who subsequently organize and conduct chiropractic gatherings?

2. Sales. Few chiropractors understand the financial implications of conducting seminars. Here’s the truth. With hotels and meeting room facilities gouging for their space, without selling something at the back table the only one making money from seminars these days are the hotels. Most seminar givers merely hope to break even from the registration fees. So, if giving up your weekend, traveling to another city and renting the hotel and paying for the AV is going to be even the least bit financially satisfying, you have to sell something. No wonder most seminars are seen for what they often are: a daylong infomercial. Yuck. Want to avoid a sales overture for a product or an enticement to sign up for still another seminar? Be prepared to pay $1000 or more. And even then, there’s no guarantee.

3. Feedback. Some sponsoring organizations include a feedback form so attendees can rate the speakers. In actuality, few speakers ever see these findings so the opportunity to improve their presentation is limited. Instead, they are used to determine whether a particular presenter will be invited back. Sadly, most of these crudely designed forms reveal little more than how engaging the speaker’s presenting style is, or whether attendee’s agreed with the presenter’s opinions or philosophy. If the goal of a seminar is to produce agreement, then the room set up, audience size and audience participation must change from the typical classroom configuration to something that better facilitates interaction.

4. Gut. This is probably the least objective way to measure the success or effectiveness of a seminar, but probably the most common. Did attendees participate? Were they entertained? Did they ask questions? Did they stay for the entire presentation? Did anyone come up to express his or her gratitude afterwards? Were there complaints about the room, the sound system, the notes, the coffee, the parking or other issues? Did anyone email a comment in the days or week following?

Naturally, these don’t come very close to measuring the success that most speakers crave after dealing with airports, lost luggage, taxis, AV departments, hotel beds and ignored wakeup call requests.

I’m not complaining! Speaking to chiropractic audiences has afforded me a wonderful life and the opportunity to travel the world, experiencing people, places and things most people only dream of. And for that, I am humbled and grateful. However, for me, it’s not about selling stuff and it certainly isn’t about racking up more frequent flyer miles. It’s about seeing evidence of having made a difference in the lives and practices of attendees.

Seminars seem woefully inadequate at doing that.

If you spend the day with me, or someone else, and leave with15 pages of notes and a “To Do” list, it doesn’t indicate how much of it will be implemented. If a seminar is just about disseminating information and helping remind attendees of what they should do—but aren’t, used to do—but aren’t, or could do—but probably won’t, let’s cut the airlines and hotels out of the loop and meet electronically in a webinar or a teleclass.

It’s not the same. I know.

I’m guessing that the same lack of emotional connection with the audience I feel when doing an electronic seminar is shared by those huddled in front of their computer who can’t see me or the other participants. Just like a comedy that seems funnier when hundreds in a packed theater all burst out laughing in unison, there’s an energetic “field” created by being in proximity to others having the same seminar experience. Difficult or impossible to pull off on the Internet.

So what is it? What’s the purpose of a seminar? Share information? If so, it seems like an expensive way (for everyone) to do it. Create a field? If so, it seems a little “fluffy” for me. Reassurance that we’re all still here, battling it out isolated in the trenches? Just a form of self-expression so others can see someone excited about something they should be excited about? Or is it just a case of “those who can’t do, teach”?

Please tell me. So I can either change my seminars or at least stop teasing audiences with still more ideas and more things to do that produce frustration and feelings of self-defeat. What makes an effective seminar?

Comments (6)


Seminars help me keep renovated, there is something about getting away from your practice. Actually see other chiropractors you have never met before. Know that you are not the only crazy guy around. Getting exposed to new ideas; of course there are people who can learn from reading a book or watching a DVD. For me it´s not the same, I have to meet the person giving the seminar. Feel the vibe around the whole thing. It´s an experience.

The first years following graduation I went for the information, the "what to do" part. As the years past I went for the reminders, to pick the brains of other chiropractors, to re-ignite the passion and let go of self defeating or damaging thoughts. Now most of what I do is automatic based around who I am and what my belief system is. A great example is CLA's Total Solution. I didn't get too many new "to do" things but it did give me a chance to get away from it all and allowed me to solidify my thoughts about practice and who I am as a doctor. This in turn changed the way I practice. Trying to accompish the same thing at home with all the distractions is next to impossible. Getting away gives me some time to self-reflect and see more clearly the problems and solutions.

Jody Wielgosz:

Thanks Bill. Seminars can and does remain somewhat of a sore spot. We are involved with two coaching companies....the bottom line is best said by one of our coaching companies. "Who you are determines how well what you do works." So great info is only as good as the person is willing to receive and follow through with the idea's presented. Growing as a person everyday I believe to the quintessential. As the Chiropractor's wife/office manager/idea implementor etc etc. I think being in the community of Chiropractic remains a key in chiropractors from eating their own. I am so sick of seeing chiropractors and or their state/provincial chiropractic boards make life so difficult whether it is stealing patients by undercutting and undermining another DC or some other tactic of the like. This includes the state/provincial chiropractic boards making it impossible to make a living legally never mind advertise the actual benefits of chiropractic. However with so many chiropractic consulting companies I think DC's get removed from their own community in which they live and serve with other chiropractors and this is where some of the more prevalent problems are arising. I only hope that one day that all DC's see the value in what they do along with the general population and that the only problem the Chiropractic community faces is that we can not graduate students fast enough to keep up with the demand of service. AS we SHOULD all know everyone needs to be adjusted.



Tony Russo:

Hello Bill,
I applaud your humility. Very few of us have the courage to self-critique. But it takes that to make the change.
Seminars? Honestly, yours are the only one's I go to, as long are they are within 250 miles from Windsor Ontario. So Chicago and Toronto are the only venues I'd attend. Question might be, "do you get enough out of your seminars to keep going"? I'd say, yes.


I don't think I've ever been to an effective seminar. If as a profession we had a healthy self-esteem in regards to the art, science and philosophy or chiropractic I don't think we would need someone telling us that chiropractic is great. I also don't think we would need things to "do" to grow a practice. Personally I like your content Bill, and I'm able to ingest your information through your emails, web resources and books. Why go to seminars and lose time with family and friends for the same information? If someone really needs help, I don't think short term experiences are going to fix bigger problems. It's cheaper to go to therapy and get to the bottom of the problem.

Brian Deal:

Going to a seminar provides a respite from the day-to-day of office life as well as providing for a little travel. I would rather get in a plane to attend a seminar where I know that friends will be there with me. Driving to Minneapolis to sit in a room for 12 hours is not something I care to do regardless of the info. Listening to patients all day does not provide a social outlet. I think we all need that and travel can provide that for some of us. As for an effective seminar: Great coffee, lots of breaks to drink that coffee, nice luncheons or classic restaurants to enjoy breaking bread and all the seminar info presented in bullet points so we can go over it quickly and get back to the fellowship and discussing how we can implement the bullet point ideas!
FYI I have done all my continuing ed online for the past 3-4 years because I can't sit that long any more.

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From October 1, 2009 6:26 AM

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