Since the Gillrie Institute was founded 23 years ago, Paul Gillrie and his team have appeared at over 500 dealer seminars and other related events. Among these are executive workshops, auto and truck dealer seminars, and webinar training sessions for NADA-ATD and NCM 20 Groups, ADA’s, AICPA, NIADA, DealersEdge, as well as events for large CPA firms. Within the last few years, we have discovered that many moderators of these dealer meetings are battling dwindling attendance. Despite the fact that many dealers appreciate getting together with their peers and sharing knowledge and experience, the question becomes: how much value do dealers think these events really hold?
Nowadays dealers get bombarded with seminar offerings. Not only can they attend meetings from the organizations mentioned above, but they may also enroll into academies, or attend conventions like the annual NADA Convention & Expo, Driving Sales Executive Summit or the Digital Dealer Conference and Expo, just to name a few.
Our experience in talking to a multitude of moderators and marketing executives has helped us gain a significant amount of knowledge about some of the things that work and some things that don’t. This article aims to share some of our findings and to describe our Top 5 key takeaways that may help moderators and marketing executives increase attendance at their events.
1) Focus (more) on the Experience Rather than the Topics
Of course, the topic is important to the dealer’s interest in the information to be presented. But, knowledge in a seminar is gained not just by listening, but by talking. Seminars should place focus on the interaction (talk) and questions of all the participants. It should be, “you had to be there to experience it.” We recently had an Automobile Association that combined a seminar and a barbecue for a charitable fundraiser. Not only did the dealers help a great cause, but it was a fun format for education and peer interaction. And speaking of peer interaction, there is greater impact to the attendee when the seminar is interactive. It is beneficial to have good Q&A segments where attendees can address their own specific needs. At Gillrie Institute Seminars, a DMS billing analysis is completed in advance of the event for each dealer attendee. The dealers are then able to review and question the analysis at our seminars. You may also make dealers part of the event by having them present their best practices in certain areas.
2) Promote Pro-Actively
Moderators must have pro-active communications about the event. That means to not just place information on a website and wait until dealers sign up. Use every means that makes sense to get the word out, including website announcements, email, phone contact, invitations, flyers, blogs, social media networks, news releases, and attendance incentives. For instance, send an email invitation to all the members and follow up via phone to personally invite them to the event. Not only will this make an impact on the attendance, but also how the attendee perceives the importance of the event. At the Gillrie Institute, we can support moderators in actively promoting the events in which we are participating by calling dealers to describe the event and draw more attention.
3) Communicate the Value
It is essential that the attendees know what they will learn and more importantly, what they will take away from the event. What will the dealer get out of the seminar that can be used to build or manage their business? Every seminar program should have a list of the takeaways the attendee will master. These should be clearly communicated in the advertising and promotion of the event. It’s not enough, however, to just create value. It needs to be measured after the event with follow up. A seminar is only as good as what the attendees perceive the value to be. So get feedback about the good and the bad. Use a feedback form or online survey (e.g. SurveyMonkey) to find out what worked, and what did not.
4) Offer Webinars in the Mix
Webinars can be an important tool and are growing in popularity. Webinars have no geographical boundaries and have a number of benefits including reduced time to connect with an audience and no travel expense. They have a much lower cost than convention attendance and can be taped and re-used indefinitely. There are some practices that will help ensure webinar success. As with most things, good preparation is key. Setting up a webinar is as easy as choosing a provider (such as WebEx) and then creating a landing page on your website. Like seminars, moderators should aggressively promote the webinar. In the end, webinars are a cost effective way to share information and foster business relationships.
5) Plan Ahead
Put your proposed seminars and webinars on a calendar with other company activities including national conventions and events. Obviously, you want to avoid dates in competition with the big conventions. You should also take into account seasonal timing like holidays and vacations in the summer. Line up your speakers far in advance to ensure you select who you want, and not who is available. Planning ahead gives more flexibility to making changes, and also makes next year’s planning easier.
Increasing attendance at seminars has everything to do with what value the dealer places on the event. We know the dealer has many educational and peer group choices. It must therefore be clear to them which choices are worth their time and energy and which are not. Consistently following these few practices should go a long way in giving the dealer a clear choice.
The Gillrie Institute delivers a Seminar/Webinar Program that will help maximize interest in your events with cutting edge subject matter and an interactive delivery that both educates and entertains. We work with moderators to help plan and promote their speaking engagements. For more information on the Gillrie Institute Seminar/Webinar Program, find us at: