|Business Times Tuesday
April 19, 1988
By Rema Devi
Seminar organizing is more competitive
The course content and speakers are the most important elements that determine the success or failure of a seminar. One has to be honest to successful in the business. The quality of a seminar is based on the delivery skills of speakers and this is what makes and retains clients. In the last few years the corporate sector which had initially been extremely supportive, has shown disillusionment with privately organized seminars and grown cautious of them.
General conference organizing has grown increasingly competitive in recent years, characterized by the entrance of companies innovating in as many ways as possible to maintain a competitive edge.
The present situation in this low-capital business can be described as tight, but expectations are nevertheless high that boom times will return when the economy improves.
Another welcome sign for conference organizers has been government support in the form of tax relief for approved training programmes in the manufacturing sector implemented in July last year, which it is hope will be extended to service areas such as tourism and hotel management.
There are at present between 15 and 20 conference organizing companies in the country. They offer a wide range of seminars and conferences in fast growing service area.
The major innovators have been Times Conference and Institute of International Research, both of which are Singapore based.
Among the local-based companies are Professional Employees Training (PET), Unico Management, Malaysian Strategic Consultancy, Consembition Jaya and Rayma Management Consultants.
Sometimes, these companies call themselves management consultants or human resource development agencies, but the mainstay of their business is the organizing of seminars and conferences for a specialized clientele.
Professional accounting and auditing companies, too, organize seminar series both for the public and as a one-stop service to their clients, as do association –based organizations such as the Malaysian Institute of Management and Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.
General conference organizing started about 10 years ago, said Ms Pat Lu of Rayma Management Consultants. During the boom time then, it was easy for the conference organizer to chalk above $10,000 a seminar.
Today, the situation is such that being able to break even will be welcome to most companies. She will consider her company to have done well if she can gross $10,000 a month, she says of her young, seven-month old company.
Ms Lu set up her company after serving four years with an established conference organizer.
Conference organizing seems to have evolved into three tiers: public scale seminars, in-house seminars and contracts to manage conferences for others.
In the case of public seminars, the company may either identify local speakers for overseas organizers or register overseas participants if the seminar is organized locally.
The cost charged depends on factors like who the speaker is and how in-depth the seminar is expected to be. This may vary from $200 to $300 a day a person for public seminars. In-house seminars cost about $2,000 a day for a maximum of 20 persons in a group.
The course content and speakers are the most important elements that determine the success of failure of a seminar. Course materials may be in-house or put together by the speaker who has been approached to deliver it.
According to Ms Lu, one has to be honest to be successful in the business. The quality of a seminar is based on the delivery skills of speakers and this is what makes and retains clients.
There is also a tendency for topics to be overdone. In the last few years, corporate sector which had initially been extremely supportive, has shown disillusionment with privately organized seminars and grown cautious of them.
As such, the biggest challenge to general conference organizing may be to gain the confidence of the people, she says.
Ms Doris Ang of Malaysia strategic Consultancy (MSC), a member of Organisational Resources Corporation Bhd argues that in recent years the response to conferences organized has been extremely selective.
When it started in 1983, MSC emphasized national interest topics. It expected to fill a void in the business into which competitors had not entered.
Seminars and workshops on agro-based industries were organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and a series on securities was conducted together with the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Conference organizing may be the fastest way to get known if done properly to achieve desired objectives, she says. Service must be personalized and a lot of thought given to the topics and speakers planned for.
MSC has branched into a more specified range of topics including finance, sales, marketing and secretarial studies.
However, MSC is fairly confident of the clientele it has built since its formation and feels that it is better placed to face the competitiveness in the business at this point.
In the last years, conference organizers have had to balance the emphasis on formal job skills with interpersonal skills, a fact reflected in the shift in conference themes from management and finance into motivation and attitudes.
Leadership, motivation and personality development have spawned yet other areas of innovation in conference organizing.
Mr Steve Subramaniam, a corporate communications expert in behavioral management, relates how a key problem of corporate leaders appears to be the need to relate the high achievement characteristic of the corporate world and personal lives.
In sales, the drive for more aggressive sales has created interest in such motivational areas such as confidence building and leadership.
Mr Subramaniam says that there is a big market in motivational courses, but regrets that the nature of the competition has resulted in the tendency to adopt instant techniques.
“People are being trained for the final product rather than the process and this is dangerous. Instant techniques do not mean total personal development,” he said.
With increasing importance placed on education, he envisages that in the future, the achievement drive and the need to master new skills will also be stronger. The inability to cope with change will be correspondingly greater and it is here that the conference manager of the future will play the role of a “business psychiatrist”.
He will feel the pulse of Malaysian companies and link their need to master new techniques and cop with change at the same time.
The challenge for the future, however, lies in greater follow-up with seminar participants and not treating them as part of a one-shot effort, says Mr Subramniam.