How to Make a Seminar Interesting

A lively seminar won't put people to sleep.

If you're not even halfway into the seminar you're leading and your listeners are already yawning, looking at their watches or working crossword puzzles, it's a good indicator that you're not keeping them totally engaged. While part of the problem could certainly be the topic, the length of the presentation or even the time of day in which the course is taking place, making a seminar interesting and dynamic isn't that hard if you understand how to make it relevant to your participants' wants and needs.

Invite participants to introduce themselves and tell you the takeaway value they'd like to get from your seminar. This exercise reduces the level of anonymity that often results in nonparticipation and "tuning out." If you know their names, you could likely call on them, which translates into an incentive to pay attention. In addition, the responses they give — which you should be writing down — tell you where their interests are and allow you to tailor your presentation content to address those concerns.

Create audio-visual content that supplements your lecture material in an exciting way. Examples include videos, photographs, cartoons, graphs, maps and pie charts. Reinforce the principles you are imparting with short, simple sentences that appear on individual title cards or PowerPoint slides. This gives your participants time to write down each sentence without missing anything pertinent.

Assign in-class analytical or writing activities that can be done by individuals or small breakout groups. Divide participants into debate teams. Have them script and perform hypothetical situations. Award small prizes for the best ideas that come out of brainstorming games. Ask questions that invite participants to share their experiences with the issues in discussion. The more participation you generate through interactive exercises, the more ownership your participants will have in a successful outcome of the seminar.

Prepare handout materials such as articles, templates, reference guides and recommended reading lists. Unless your participants will need these items during the seminar, however, hold off on distributing them until after your presentation. Otherwise, they will likely read them and rustle pages while you're talking and not be as engaged.

  • Never read out loud to your seminar participants unless it's a short quote. Also, never read aloud any text that they are already holding in their hands.
  • Make eye contact with your seminar participants.
  • Chat with participants in the hall or while you're getting coffee before the seminar officially begins. Making these personal connections can put you at ease and make you feel as if you already have some friendly faces in attendance.
  • 1 "How to Run Seminars & Workshops: Presentation Skills for Consultants, Trainers and Teachers"; Robert L. Jolles; 2005
  • 2 "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience"; Carmine Gallo; 2009
  • 3 "Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations"; Nancy Duarte; 2008
  • 4 "The Presentation Skills Workshop: Helping People Create and Deliver Great Presentations"; Sherron Bienvenu; 2006

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.