When I'm hired to direct a race, the client will often ask, “Do you think we should put on a clinic for the runners, too?” I am always torn as to the best way to respond to this. I’ve been to many clinics that were well organized and well attended but I’ve also been to as many or more that bombed, especially in terms of attendance of participants running in the race. It can be incredibly embarrassing to both the organizer and the presenter to be talking to an empty room with only six pigeons and three squirrels present.
Like anything else, I always say if you aren’t going to do it right and truly get behind it, then just don’t do it. You can do more harm than good. You shouldn’t hastily commit to it. Most of the time, you don’t really owe it to anyone to offer a clinic. So, why do it unless you are really confident it will be successful?
The obvious first question you have to ask yourself is what is the purpose and objective of the clinic? Usually, they aren’t a significant reason why runners sign up for your race. Most offer clinics just to enhance the overall experience for all the participants. Sometimes races do it to fulfill an obligation to a sponsor, which isn’t always the best reason to offer clinics.
However, if you do decide to offer a clinic, the following issues must be considered:
- When are the best times to schedule the clinics?
- How many sessions do you want to offer?
- What are the clinic topics?
- Do you repeat certain sessions and topics?
- Who are the presenters?
- Do you have to pay them and/or cover their expenses?
- Do you have a budget for this?
- Would you ever consider charging a fee to the runners to attend the clinic (hope not!)?
And the list of questions and areas you need to consider can go on and on. Some of the following tips might help you decide what is best for you:
- Location – Exactly where you conduct the clinic is critical. Personally, I think the best place is in a side function room right next to registration and the runner’s expo. It is important to have lots of signs and banners directing runners and others to the clinic. If they can’t find it, you’ve done all this work for nothing. Many races like to have their clinics right in an open space in the middle of their expo. I actually don’t like this. It’s noisy, there are lots of distractions, and it isn't fair to the clinic presenters to be competing with the exhibitors. You must limit, or better yet, eliminate any and all distractions.
- Topics – What specifically are you looking to present to the runners? One or more sessions should definitely focus on race instructions and logistics. Runners are always interested in getting all the race facts and having their questions answered. Other popular sessions usually focus on medical coverage, nutrition, and inspiration speakers or celebrity appearances. Having sponsors speak about their products and services may be of interest to the sponsors but not always the highlight of the clinic series. Of course, it depends on what the product or service is that they are promoting. If it is of major interest to the runners, then perhaps that session could be a huge draw.
- Presenters – Of course, attracting presenters who are experienced at doing this and who prepare well is always a challenge. If you haven’t seen them present before, how do you know if they are or aren't good at presenting? Even though having a celebrity may create a buzz, somehow you need to be sure they can present well, too. This could also be a potential area of significant expense depending on who you are going after.
- Promotion - Getting the word out through advertising, marketing, social media, and runner information packets and emails may be the most important part of producing a successful clinic. Don’t keep the clinics a well-kept secret. You don’t have a fighting chance if no one knows about them in advance. Place ample signage throughout the expo and registration with the clinic schedule listed. Maybe even hand out flyers to everyone as they walk into the registration/expo hall. Make periodic announcements over the expo public address system. If you have thousands already present at your expo, you should be able to create some immediate interest by making announcements right before a clinic.
- Presentation – Once you have an audience, be sure you give them a good experience. Having a knowledgeable “m/c” can be very valuable. They should properly introduce the speaker to set the stage and be available to help the speaker with anything they need and especially with the Q&A that may follow their presentation. Many times just the m/c interviewing the guest speaker can be a very entertaining session. And, be certain you have a good PA system so everyone can hear the speaker without straining.
There are many other tips I could offer but you get the point. Again, if you decide to offer clinics, make an early commitment to it, find a good location for them, assign an experienced person or team to oversee the program, pick exciting and “hot” topics, choose your presenters carefully and heavily promote and market the sessions.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t even remotely consider offering a clinic series. Most runners probably won’t even notice it isn't offered.