Speaking in public. It’s not everyone’s favorite thing, but nothing is more effective for bringing people together than hosting an interesting event to impart important, cutting-edge information. Not only is it a great way to create a more engaged community, but offering specialized education led by an outside expert could expand your offerings and perhaps provide an additional profit center.
For example, imagine that you’ve prepared a 6-week weight loss program and you want to add a focus on behavior modification approaches. You could invite a wellness coach or a licensed therapist to review common techniques and other practices that are well within scope. That workshop could lead to other events that support the weight loss theme.
Here are the steps that will guide your planning process successfully and streamline your ability to host a profitable series of educational speaking engagements.
Step 1: Choose the Topic
First, find out what your facility’s members are most interested in. The more information you obtain, the better your chance of providing a successful experience. It’s essential that you know your market, figure out your target group and select the topic based on this information. There are several ways to do this.
- Front-desk staff can do informal polling by casually asking questions as clients enter or leave the gym. Or you can have members complete a short list of questions that will give you specifics on interests and topics.
- Another option is to use your mailing list to send out a formal survey on the topic of speaking. Any of these four platforms will help you do the job: SurveyMonkey®, SoGoSurvey, Google Forms and Typeform. Keep the questions short and include some multiple-choice responses that will narrow the ideas down quickly. If possible, offer an incentive for participation.
- Use your club demographics, offering topics that members relate to and that affect your current clientele. Often, people are confused by conflicting information on diets, nutritional supplements, environmental health, holistic practices and fitness trends, so there are many options for this type of client education.
See also: Benefits of Having a Client Avatar
Step 2: Pre-Plan the Speaking Series
Consider whether you will offer a single, one-off workshop or a series of speaking sessions. If a series, keep the commitment short: no more than 4–6 weeks. Know how many participants you could accommodate, where you would host the meetings and what resources you have available.
- Figure out the minimum number of participants you need to make the program worthwhile. Will you open it up to the public, or will it be just for your members? What is the best way to sign up participants?
- Is there already money in the budget for this, or do you need additional funding?
- Do you plan to charge for the course, or will you offer it as a membership perk? If you’ll need to charge for it, should you offer an early-bird rate to encourage early sign-ups? You could offer discounts to members or employees who bring in an outside guest.
As the business owner/sole proprietor, you may not have the time or bandwidth to do all the work yourself, and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. You could assign the organization to a reliable employee, as a special project, and offer that person an incentive for doing the work.
Step 3: Find the Speaker
Finding the right person, whether he or she is a professional or a nonprofessional, is an important piece of the puzzle. You will have to choose a topic based not only on the information obtained in the surveys but also on the presenter’s strengths. The successful candidate should be a dynamic, well-practiced speaker who will keep attendees engaged. It is best if you see the presenter in action firsthand before you decide.
Use your professional network to find the right individual. Many times, you can find people who will speak for free or in exchange for being allowed to promote their services. Check out local colleges, nonprofits, churches, hospitals, etc. Some businesses already have outreach programs and speaker bureaus. Try to pick someone from your community who will cross-promote the event and can bring potential new members to your business.
Be sure to vet the individual by checking references beforehand. Draft a contract or an agreement to ensure that you and the speaker are on the same page. Offering a specialized lecture series is a great way to charge for special events that benefit everyone involved.
Step 4: Plan the Speaking Series
It will take 4–6 months to design and plan all the specifics of the event. Select the date, secure the speaker and roll out the promotion campaign.
- Allow no more than 90 minutes for the presentation, including a question-and-answer period. Add 15 minutes before and after for attendees to mingle. TED Talks and studies by noted educator Wilbert McKeachie agree with this. Inc.com put the point simply: “Long keynotes are becoming a thing of the past” (Nihill 2015).
- Set up the room, including the audiovisual equipment and seating, well in advance. Provide healthy snacks and a comfortable, well-lit environment that is not too hot or too cold. Make sure support staff are in place. Plan the session during off-hours or on light days or evenings so that other facility members are not inconvenienced and do not experience front-desk delays.
- Create awareness and excitement for the event on your website by posting an online countdown and a dedicated page for previews. Vistaprint® is a great online resource for producing fliers, banners, T-shirts and posters. Advertise locally to bring in potential leads, and blast announcements on social media. Tease interest for your event, little by little, with snippets of information to pique excitement. Contact local press, print and radio outlets for additional exposure. For example, if the speaker is doing a three-part series on preparing for a first triathlon, drive interest by sharing stats and data on the benefits of competition and by sharing a client’s success story.
Make sure you detail what participants will learn and how they will benefit by attending. Be specific and cover WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? What value will each attendee personally gain by attending?
As the date for the event approaches, review the to-do list to ensure that you’ve covered all the details, collected the money (if applicable), confirmed the speaker, etc. Try to be prepared for the unexpected. It’s not a bad idea to have a Plan B in place, just in case something unforeseen happens.
Step 5: Post-Event Follow-Up
After the program, ask attendees for specific feedback so you can assess the success of the topic, the speaking experience and the room. Send personal thank-you notes to the speaker and the attendees, and ask for suggestions for the next series. Highlight the session on social media and additional community outlets.
Plan for the Future
Once you have the infrastructure in place, along with firsthand knowledge about organizing such events, planning will get easier. People are looking for more personalized interaction, whether it be a specific kind of training, a place where members can mingle with others who share similar interests, or a learning experience with people of the same age or fitness level. Now, with so many fitness choices, the focus has to be on how to enhance clients’ overall experience, reduce attrition and provide the best services possible. Adding unique, creative programs can accomplish these goals and help to generate the revenue you need in order to thrive.
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