Creative Contests for Seminars

For today’s helpful tip on Professional Speaking I took advantage of being in the studio already making some new product.

Today’s question was submitted by Cavet: “What kinds of contests have you run on the stage and which have worked the best?” I’m going to assume that by “contest” they are referring to a means to get people to buy products. Generally speaking, any type of a contest that has a hidden purpose or agenda can be performed best if you are doing something from an educational standpoint. In other words, contests are usually conducted to engage the audience, get them out of their seat, and participating.

I will give you an example of a contest that has a hidden agenda, not a sneaky one that tricks people into buying, but teaches a moral or lesson. One of the contests we run at Roger Hamilton’s Wealth Dynamics has people from the audience do a pitch for their cause to qualify for a chance to win a prize. We don’t tell them what it is, but they know it’s going to be something cool. So, we break everyone up into groups of about six, let them pitch to each other, and then they vote on whose was the best. Then we merge two groups of six, have their winner’s compete, and then have everyone vote again. Depending on how large the audience is we continue this exercise until we have four or five people pitching their program to the entire audience. After everyone has pitched, the audience votes on which one it felt was the most worthy.

Once a winner is selected, I reveal the lesson. The lesson is there are four traits that the finalists possess: four powerful traits that compel people into investing their time and money into the program offered. It’s a cool thing because once I have a random audience member in front of the room and tell everyone they have something you don’t have, but may want, people tend to listen more intently. This exercise is a mid-program kind of thing.

If you were asking what kinds of contests I’ve had to compel people to buy product, then unfortunately, I have a different philosophy than the typical speaker. The reality is, the speaking business has far too much manipulation going on these days. It is wrought with fake discounts, bullshit promises, and too much pressure to buy. There are programs that give no regard to people and their decision-making processes that try to force people into things without caring that they might like to speak to their spouse first. There are too many sketchy things going on in the professional speaking business. Sketch is not my style.

I always joke around, admitting, “Hey, I will never sell as much as other speakers do on stage, but I can promise you this: I sleep a heck of lot better than them,” because I know when people come to my programs, they are coming for the right reasons, not because I pressured them into anything. The reality is humans need to have some level of urgency. I like to try and elicit an appropriate amount of urgency within people who are ready and willing to do my programs, but just need a little push.

For example, I do a lot of international events, but I usually host my main ones in the US. The biggest obstacle for people to overcome is the airfare. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, “Oh! I do not want to pay for the airfare.” So, at big events I stand before the audience with five airfare vouchers in hand and announce, “Here is what I am going to do, I’ve got five airplane tickets right now: these are vouchers for a round trip ticket to America. The first five people who decide to buy this program, are going to get one of these tickets and ONLY the first five.”

So we would max out at five and, oddly enough, the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth person would come up and go through with everything. We never had anybody walk away. Frankly, if somebody had walked away because they didn’t get the free ticket, who the hell cares? They are probably a whiner and wanted to do things their way anyways. So, I think that incentives in the form of contests, where people get rewards that other don’t can work. I cannot stress enough though, that bullshit contests do not ever work.

For example, I saw this financial planner guy who specialized in investments and day trading and he announced that he was giving away 15 free notebook computers to the first 15 people that ran to the back of the room. After that, he said, “Listen, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do! I’m going to give it to everybody who goes back there now. We’re going to send you a notebook computer!” The fact is, he knew he was going to do that, he was just trying to create a buzz. I’m not a fan of that sort of stuff.

Unfortunately, the question did not include ethics context, so I suppose any contest that makes people feel like they are missing out on something would work. Rather, if they are missing out on something if they do not take action. I love the plane ticket thing, but you could also do something like, “Listen the first five people who sign up for my program get a one hour personalized mentoring session or one day mentoring session.” You could do all sorts of things like that, but just make sure it’s not bullshit. Make sure that it is actually a real contest that you cap off at the first five, ten, or twenty. Make sure that you have some sort of level of integrity and ethics. Let’s face it, this business is running rampant with scammers, so you have to watch out.

Cavet, I hope that helps and at least somewhat answers your question. Everyone, make sure to write your questions with as much detail and context as possible, so I can effectively answer them. Thanks for checking out my blog!   If you would like more strategies on how to shift from public speaker to professional speaker you can check out my free living eBook at 


I just had a new page created on Facebook that has a cool 3 minute video that gives you 3 simple strategies for making your  videos more engaging.  You can access that at:  Professional Speaker Training by Topher Morrison

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