The Top 20 Seminar Marketing Mistakes People Make (Part 1 of 2)

By Philip J. Kavesh, J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), CFP®, ChFC, California State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law | Volume 2, Issue 6 (June 2014)

Marketing – – particularly seminar marketing – – has come up quite a bit in recent weeks.  From those attending our May Ultimate Level event, to list serve discussions, to people randomly contacting me.  It prompted me to take a break from the usual practice-building topic and put together an article on seminar marketing.

Over the years, seminar presentations sure have evolved, from overhead transparencies, to slide carousel projectors to laptops and LCD projectors.  But despite these technical changes, the fundamental rules of successful seminar marketing have remained the same.  I learned these rules only after personally presenting thousands of seminars – – and making lots of mistakes – – so I thought I would assemble what I have found to be the “Top 20 Seminar Mistakes”, so you can avoid having to endure lots of trials and errors like I did!  Given our timing and space allocation, this month’s article will cover the first ten mistakes and you will have to stay tuned for next month’s newsletter for the second half of this 2-part article!

(Note:  While going through this article, keep in mind that there are scientific “laws” to successful seminar marketing, so even if you find that you are making maybe one or two of these mistakes, a violation of any of these “laws” may adversely affect your results!)

Seminar Marketing Mistake #1: Being Too “Cheap”. There are several ways to market seminars, but many involve a cheap, “shotgun” approach (such as newspaper flyers or ads on the internet), where you merely hope that you get the right kind of prospective client to pay attention and attend.  Direct mail marketing is still, by far, the best way to target your marketing efforts to your ideal client.  You may go cheap on the printing and postage of the piece, but a letter in an envelope with a first-class stamp is still the best way to ensure that your mail piece will get opened and read by the right prospective clients.  If you are just starting to present seminars and need to polish up your skills, there are some lower cost ways to rev up your seminar marketing (see to read an article on this).  However, but eventually you will want to invest in larger public seminars because the return on investment can be significant!

Seminar Marketing Mistake #2: Only Offering One Seminar Date. I find that a lot of attorneys try to save money on a hotel room or other location by only marketing one seminar date, or they only want to spend the time to do one presentation.  This gives you only one shot with your prospective clients – – you hope that they’ll be available at that particular time on that particular day.  You should list at least two seminar dates, with different days and times on the same mail piece, for maximum response to your marketing efforts.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #3: Not Mailing Enough. The typical rate of response is between one-quarter and one-third of one percent.  This means that if you want 15 units (husband and wife equal one unit), then you would need to mail at least 5,000 pieces per seminar that you market.  So, if you follow our rule of thumb and market at least two seminar dates on the same mail piece, then you should be sending out a minimum of 10,000 pieces per seminar sweep.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #4: Mailing Too Soon (or Too Late).  Mailing at the perfect time can be tricky too.  If you send out your seminar marketing too soon, you’re bound to see drop off from people that simply forget or schedule something else seemingly more important.  If you send out your seminar marketing too late, then they may not get it in time to RSVP and attend.  We try and get our seminar marketing piece in the hands of our prospects about 10 to 12 days before the first seminar date listed.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #5: Offering Dinner or Nothing at All.  I’ve done a lot of testing over the years.  I’ve done my share of dinner seminars and, in my experience, I have not found that model to be a very profitable one.  There are too many people who simply come in for the free meal.  It may be a great model for a financial advisor or life insurance agent, who may only need to generate one or two clients to make a tidy profit.  But, if you only get one or two new estate planning clients, you’ll probably barely cover the cost of dinner, let alone the expense of the mailing and room.  However, not offering any kind of refreshments isn’t very good either.  Something to eat (pastries, cookies, fruit platters, or cheese and cracker platters) and drink (coffee, water, juice or tea) are the bare minimum refreshments you should have at any seminar, so you put people in a good mood and keep them awake!  If we do want to host a meal at a seminar, we have found Saturday morning breakfast seminars to be a little more expensive than the light refreshment option, but a lot more successful than dinner seminars.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #6: No Confirmation Process. One major mistake that attorneys make is they don’t have a pre-seminar attendee confirmation procedure in place.  A confirmation letter (or e-mail), with driving instructions, should be sent to all seminar attendees once they register (unless they register a day or two before the seminar).  We also call every seminar attendee the day before, making sure not to leave a message unless it’s the third attempt and we can’t reach them.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #7: No PowerPoint or Visuals.  Some professionals don’t like using these, but I have found that, when presenting a 60 to 90-minute seminar to an older audience, using visuals is key to keeping your audience’s attention, emphasizing key points and ensuring that your message is not only heard, but absorbed and remembered.  Some people learn better orally, some visually, but it has been scientifically proven that most people learn better through both means.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #8: No Outline or Handouts.  Like Mistake #7, it’s a major mistake not having an outline for attendees to jot down notes, questions, underline key points or otherwise stay engaged.  You may also give attendees other literature to take home with them and use as a reference when preparing to come in and see you.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #9: No Response Form. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see made by attorneys that present seminars.  They don’t provide any means of getting feedback, collecting data on the seminar attendees and securing a legal and ethical means to follow up with attendees after the seminar (see Mistake #18). A response form is also a big part of an efficient appointment-booking process at the seminar.

Seminar Marketing Mistake #10: Too Many Speakers.  Joint seminars with multiple speakers can create all kinds of problems.  You’re trying to develop a sense of connection, trust and rapport with the audience.  When there are too many speakers, the audience doesn’t have enough time to connect well with any one speaker (and may not know who they’re supposed to be connecting with).  Plus, there may be too many confusing pitches to do different things with different speakers at the end.  And one speaker may wander off into a wrong direction or eat into another’s time allotment.  Being the only speaker is the best way to go; you’re in control of the presentation and the results.

That’s it for the first ten mistakes.  How did you do?  Did you find yourself guilty of some of these common mistakes?  Whether you did or not, that’s okay.  Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter for the remaining ten mistakes!

In the meantime, if you are interested in some helpful seminar marketing resources available for estate planning attorneys, including an individual consultation and review of your own seminar marketing efforts, please go to

We have a number of seminar resources that may be of assistance to you in your seminar marketing efforts.  Here’s just a few that may be of interest to you.


Philip J. Kavesh is the principal of one of the largest estate planning firms in California – – Kavesh, Minor and Otis – – now in its 33rd year of business.  He is also the President of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., which provides a variety of technical training, marketing and practice-building products and services for estate planning professionals.  If you would like more information or have a question for him, he can be reached at or by phone at 1-866-754-6477.


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