RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Delivering CPD seminars – the good, the bad and the ugly

Delivering CPD seminars – the good, the bad and the uglyYou've developed a world-beating product and identified the benefits of using seminars to promote your expertise to specifiers; but are your presentation skills up to the job? David Mycock of Shepherd Gilmour describes how not to deliver a CPD presentation, and offers a few hints on getting it right.

Let's start on a positive note:

The Good

The Concrete Centre is a regular visitor to Shepherd Gilmour's offices. It's been a RIBA-approved CPD provider since July 2009 and its regional engineers deliver excellent seminars on topics ranging from concrete-specific applications and technologies to more general uses of concrete.

Sure, their experts mention The Concrete Centre's free technical advice and design service, but just as importantly they also acknowledge that concrete isn't the only solution to every problem, and will say so. The benefit to both parties is that their candid approach creates trust. We're not being flogged their latest widget (concrete widget, obviously). They know that by being honest we'll be more inclined to turn to them when their product and technology is appropriate to the project in hand.

The point is that their seminars include a mixture of technical detail, product information and relevant applications. So it's not an old fashioned sales pitch, more a melding of minds to solve a particular problem. As a result, The Concrete Centre provide us with several seminars each year and our engineers regularly use its advice service.

Old adages are no less relevant for having been around for a while. 'Prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance' should be the mantra of every company about to deliver a presentation.

The Bad

One CPD seminar I organised in 2008 included some classic examples of 'how not to do it'. The presenter (whose title, by the way, was 'sales engineer') failed to engage with his audience, didn't grasp what we wanted to know, couldn't use his presentation materials effectively, obviously suffered from a lack of product knowledge and never followed-up on questions. Admittedly, it was the first CPD seminar he'd delivered so some of the mistakes were perhaps understandable. But his company should never have put him in that position, or at least sent along a more experienced colleague to guide him.

The Ugly

'Car crash' presentations are fortunately few and far between. However, at a recent seminar we held the presenter used a flip chart (I'd almost forgotten they existed) to set-out details of his company and their products. He spent the first 15 minutes telling us about the history of his firm and the wider group it belonged to (even managing to misspell its name), none of which was relevant to what we do or to the seminar topic he was meant to deliver.

The remainder of the presentation was a bizarre concoction of anecdotes and case studies which, while offering clear evidence of his knowledge and experience, were liberally peppered with stories about ogling women on building sites, descriptions of family members, reminiscences of his homeland, rants about the English, and a variety of colourful expletives!

His performance was met with a mix of nervous laughter, embarrassed silence and a good deal of subsequent finger-pointing at me. What had I been thinking when I booked this person?

  • See the world from your audience's point of view and you're far more likely to have your product specified. The key is to understand what your audience wants. In particular, identify your audience's role in the construction process; know what they do and don't specify – pattern-imprinted concrete formwork may produce a lovely finish which architects will appreciate, but engineers don't care (or more to the point, aren't involved in specifying this).
    This is an important part of your overall marketing strategy. Delivering a seminar to the wrong audience will result in three outcomes: first, you'll have wasted your and their time; second, you'll have wasted an opportunity to present to someone more appropriate; and third – and most importantly – your wider reputation may well have been damaged.
  • Remember another marketing mantra: 'benefits – not features'. Your system may feature an innovative articulated locking mechanism. Who cares? Explain the benefits – for example, quicker construction time, less maintenance, higher strength and lower cost etc.
  • Keep the introduction to your company brief. Specifiers don't care that your firm was started in 1846 by the son of an Armenian goat herder who stumbled upon an alchemical method of manufacturing nails before expanding into cold-formed steel products.
  • Think about practicalities and make a checklist. Will you need a projector? Do you have enough brochures? Take samples. Everyone loves a product that they can play with. Practise delivering your seminar to friends/family/colleagues. Don't pad it out. If your narrative lasts only half an hour, then that's how long it is. But make it a worthwhile half hour.
  • Mix technical and product information to suit your audience, but be prepared to answer technical questions if you go down the technical route. If you can't answer a question, promise to get an answer, preferably within a day or so.
  • Recognise that your product isn't always the right answer, and be prepared to say so.
  • If you have a sales background, make sure your technical/product knowledge is up to speed. If you have a technical background, remember to highlight the benefits of your products.
  • Have interesting case studies ready, preferably with good quality images.
  • Avoid trying to be funny unless you're Lenny Henry, or you really know that your audience is on-side.
  • Finally, engage with your audience and they'll engage with you.


David Mycock is a member of the organising committee for CIMCIG and head of marketing at Shepherd Gilmour, an international engineering consultancy based in Manchester.


RIBA CPD Providers Network

RIBA CPD Providers NetworkThe RIBA CPD Providers Network offers architects and other construction professionals RIBA-assessed, high-quality CPD material. All Providers Network CPD carries with it the prestige, good name and industry respect that the RIBA provides.

A recent survey of architects and other specifiers revealed that 86 per cent turned to the RIBA CPD Providers Network for CPD, with a third of respondents using it for more than half their CPD needs.

Network membership is open to building product manufacturers and suppliers, advisory organisations, trade associations, universities and colleges, training companies, solicitors, IT specialists and any other organisation working in the construction sector. Together, members offer seminars, conferences, degrees, courses, books, design guides, CD-ROMs, e-learning and factory tours.

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