Simon O'Shaughnessy, one of The Executive Connection’s Chairs, looks at the pros and cons of businesses hosting seminars as a way of developing contacts and clients.

The Executive Connection (TEC) is an international network of CEOs, MDs and entrepreneurs who meet monthly in small groups to share knowledge, address their business issues, and learn from international expert speakers on subjects the members request. They also have individual mentoring.

Why can it be a good idea for companies to run topical seminars for contacts and clients?

From a company's perspective I can see this is an opportunity to offer additional value to clients, but the question that needs to be asked is: "Is it real value add or possibly just a tick in the 'marketing' box?

Real value add needs to be authentic and would be an exchange that delivers: an expert view, a relevant topic for the clients, some tools or take-aways that the client company can use - without employing the host! - be personal and create a connection. Ideally it should be something that is a little untested - in other words it's not a set piece forum but a place where the clients can create as well. If clients can create an outcome at the event - that would be memorable, and likely to encourage more engagement in the future.


How should SMEs go about running these events?

We are very quick these days to detect a marketing ploy hidden as a "valuable seminar", so it is better to say what it is up front. I think it's OK to say this seminar is delivering an expert speaker to showcase the company so that you can, for example: buy us, try out our new product, let us have a chance to pitch, but it's not OK to demand clients' response at an event without warning. So, in my view, it's a no-no to require guests to fill in keep in touch forms and if materials are there to take away, it should be optional.

Is it a good idea to appear to be a thought leader? Can this backfire?

Thought leader is often used and seldom true. In global terms there is little genuine thought leadership, which should be new, groundbreaking and lead a discussion in a different direction. So, if the term thought leadership is emphasised and then the seminar doesn't live up to expectations, then it can backfire.

Should experts be invited along to speak or should the business present itself as the expert?

Authentic delivery is more important for most business. So if you are promoting an international speaker you need to make sure he or she will be a draw-card and have something interesting to say. However, if you or another in your company has the ability to speak to a subject why would you not do it yourself?

I suspect that even a poor, but honest speaker will create more engagement than a person brought in to wow, who would then travel away and leave little to attach to once.

If a business is an expert in an area, why not share it - what are we protecting? Most IP is not really IP; it's just the business's version of some knowledge dressed in some branding. Sharing creates connection and trust, which is the most likely desired outcome for a company that put on an event. This is the best outcome.

What should companies running these seminars be expecting to get from leading the discussion on important topics in their field?

As long as seminars are authentic and managed well, they are good for a business' reputation and relationships with clients, employees and other stakeholders. I do believe a business can expect new or more business as a result but using seminars to sell-hard will backfire.

There are plenty of examples where SMEs in the same sector or the same location have joined forces to make a bigger splash locally or internationally. Tell us your experiences.