GP MENTOR: Giving Seminars

Vol. 29 No. 1


Erik Hammarlund practices law in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts; he may be reached via his website,


Would you like to hold a seminar, but are uncomfortable “selling yourself”? Join the club. But you can still reach the public without donning a sales cloak. Here are my thoughts, experiences, and advice in that vein.



Teach. Don’t sell yourself. Give a seminar with the goal of goodwill, namely meeting the public’s hunger for good information. I’d rather teach than sell, and I think it benefits everyone. Remember the adage “show, don’t tell.” If you give a sales-focused presentation, it’s telling people that they should hire you. If you give an engaging, informative seminar on a subject where you have expertise, then you’re showing people that you’re worth hiring.

Don’t go it alone. Your first goal should be to find a partner: nonprofits, charity groups such as the local Rotary club, the local chamber of commerce, senior centers, and houses of worship—all may share common interests with you but don’t compete with you. Also, the people who run such organizations are likely to have a good sense of their membership. They can make sure that you don’t speak to an empty room and that their members don’t listen to an irrelevant talk.

Come to an agreement early on. It’s crucial that both you and your partner understand the deal you’re offering. You are giving detailed, high-value legal commentary to their members, for free. Ideally, your partner will supply space and refreshments, manage RSVPs, and help with promotion. You may not get all of these things. But don’t be afraid to ask. If you want to have third parties attend, or to advertise to your own clients, get that clear up front.

Outsource attendance. No, that’s not a typo. Ask your partner one simple question: “What do your members want to hear?” I find it’s best to discuss multiple options. And don’t cancel if there are few attendees. Do a great job, and the next time the room will be full.

Hold multiple sessions in a day. The day rate for most room rentals will cover both a morning and an afternoon session, with time for Q&A and meetings during the break. You’ll be preparing anyway; you and your partner may as well leverage your investment.



Thank your partners first. A heartfelt acknowledgment will go a long way toward a repeat.

Teach what you know best. Audiences like to ask questions, and it’s in your best interest to look smart.

Listen and improvise. If your audience looks bored, or if they are obviously hoping to change focus, do your best to accommodate them.

Don’t be afraid to give valuable information. If you’re not prepared to have folks learn something for free, then a seminar is a bad choice. If a question is too specific to be of use to the group, or if it seems risky to answer, make it general: “I can’t tell you whether to return your deposit without more information. But generally, if you are holding a deposit check and if the deposit is in dispute, then some things to consider are. . . .”

Take questions. You want it to be a conversation, not a lecture.

It’s okay to pitch yourself at the end. It’s reasonable to put some cards out, and it would be surprising if you didn’t mention it. But keep it short—a minute or less—and keep it at the end.

Think about why people attend. Some may be looking for basic answers to legal questions. Others may just want to know more about the law. Some may be screening you as a potential attorney. Identify their goals, and meet them if you can.

Close well. I find that the most popular closing segments are quick, short lists: “short solutions to common problems,” “call an attorney ASAP if,” “ten helpful websites,” etc. They’re a great way to summarize and lead in to a Q&A period.

Get a sign-in. Collect names, phone numbers, and mailing and e-mail addresses. I think it’s good practice to let the audience know what you will—and won’t—do with the information. When you give your next seminar (especially with the same partner), these attendance records can prove invaluable.



Consider your follow-up. I take a very light approach: I don’t hard-sell people. I use my contact lists only to announce other seminars. I can envision situations where a “thanks for attending, here is more information” communication would be appropriate. Trust your gut.

Adapt. Your seminars will never be perfect. But they should get better, every time. Take notes and make amendments right after the seminar, or even during the break. I once rewrote a presentation between the morning and afternoon sessions.

Get feedback. The best time to get feedback is right after a seminar. You can ask directly (this works best with people you already know) or request feedback through a form. Finally, be sure to ask your partners for the feedback they get. It will provide a different perspective, and—if the feedback is good—will reinforce your value.

Good luck!



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