Live seminars: deadly boring, or dead exciting?

Live seminars: deadly boring, or dead exciting?A while back in a forum I contribute to, someone posted the following question (I have shortened the original, but the content amounts to the same).

“We are hosting a series of live seminars – 4 hours long, all presentations, with different speakers and a number of partners who also participate. I have been given the job of organizing the event as well as writing any presentations that need scripting.

My problem is that no matter how good a presenter, after 2 hours it is pretty boring. We are adding a video, some background music and will try to make it interactive by asking question to the audience and make a few giveaways through the session. We sell a technology product B2B and our audience is primarily male – engineers, managers, etc.”

Here are my suggestions … do you agree with them?

It probably isn’t a good idea to go too theatrical or gimmicky. Tricks like that have an unfortunate way, almost by osmosis, of cheapening the subject matter – which I’m sure no-one wants. However, there are several non-showbizzy ways to make such seminars enjoyable and memorable.

The first issue to look at is your interactivity. Asking the audience a few questions and doing giveaways are fine, but there’s a lot more you can do without necessarily spending more money on the event.

For instance, you can introduce a breakout session halfway through the event. Here, you put your audience into small groups, each with a facilitator from your company, and send them off to breakout rooms (or around their café theatre tables – see below) to work on some sort of exercise. Ensure the exercise is relevant primarily to your audience’s needs and objectives, not just your own.

Then get them back into the plenary session, appoint one person from each group to report the group’s findings, and chair a discussion based on those.

Café theatre style

Another way to make the event more interactive is to use what we (speaking in my business theatre producer/writer persona) call the “café theatre style” seating plan. Basically you sit small groups of your audience in a “U” shape around round or oval tables, so all can see the presentation area, but can also talk to and interact with people at their own table.

One of several benefits here is that if you use this seating plan, you can set exercises as I described above without moving people out of the plenary area. Not only is this more convenient for delegates, but also it saves cost on hiring separate breakout rooms. Downside? You need more space in the plenary area than you would with conventional theatre-style seating.

Café theatre style is also useful to help members of the audience get to know each other and work together, especially if you use an audience response system. Here, rather than give every delegate an ARS control, you can appoint one person on each table to operate the ARS device, so all audience members at that table are obliged to confer and agree on an appropriate response to a given question – within a relatively tight time span.

Why just one speaker?

Live seminars: deadly boring, or dead exciting?Finally, you can create a bit more variety within your presentation approaches. Try using two speakers for one presentation – splitting the information between them almost as a conversation, with each one linking to the other and back again.

You can use “interview” techniques whereby one of your people interviews another so the information is conveyed in a question and answer style. (Write it so that it doesn’t sound contrived, though.) Use a relaxed set up for this – the two people sitting either side of a low coffee table on set, not both standing at lecterns.

Another approach is the panel discussion style, chaired by one person who acts as an introductory link to each individual presenter. This is helpful if you want to move on to a Q&A session immediately afterwards, as you’re already set up for it.

What really  captures delegates’ imaginations?

Above all, the key to avoiding potential boredom is not so much to bring on high-tech gizmos, videos, music, dancing girls and the like, but more to break up the content into short, digestible chunks.

Even a beautifully made video will get boring if it goes on for 45 minutes. Keep chopping and changing as often as possible – with no segment longer than 25 minutes tops, preferably shorter.

Don’t get hung up on technology

Much as people participating in a seminar like this may expect high-tech activities and digitally whizz-bang accoutrements, remember that the live, face-to-face environment still has its benefits.

Make the best use of the opportunity to foster personal interaction and engagement … that which is hard to do online … and make sure delegates have sufficient socializing time over breaks, lunch, etc., to reinforce their new relationships with co-delegates.

Please share this article if you find it useful!

If you’re going to be a speaker, here’s some help:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well




  1. This is wonderful information that is also so very true. thanks