I'm thinking about running a graduate student seminar in the summer. Having both organized and participated in such seminars in the past, I have witnessed first-hand that, contrary to what one might expect, they can be rather successful. However I haven't been able to quite put my finger on what makes a good seminar good.
Certainly there are obvious necessary conditions for success, such as having sufficiently many (dedicated) participants and at least some semblance of a goal. But in my experience these conditions aren’t at all sufficient.
And on the other hand there are clear pitfalls that should be avoided, such as going too fast or not going fast enough, or scheduling the seminar at 8 in the morning. But there are also more subtle pitfalls that aren't as easily avoided: for example, having consecutive speakers of a certain style that might put off or discourage other participants. (Of course a plausible solution to this specific problem is to not have such people speak one after another, but often this is infeasible.)
So I turn to the collective wisdom of MO: In your experience, what has made a specific learning seminar feel successful to you? Feel free to interpret the word "successful" any way you want. Anecdotes and horror stories welcome.
(Aside: The seminar I'm planning is a "classics in geometry and topology" type of deal. By this I mean, each participant will select a classic paper at the beginning of the summer and then briefly discuss its contents sometime during the course of the seminar. I would consider this seminar successful if, at the end, each participant walks away with a set of their own notes on each paper, explaining why it's important, and containing a sketch of its main ideas and how it fits in the grand scheme of things; the hope is that such a set of notes might prove useful if one were to take a closer look at the paper down the road. If anyone has any experience about running a seminar of this type, then I'd be especially interested in hearing their comments!)