As 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?