The art of the seminar: bringing retirees truthArticle added by Phil Cannella on September 25, 2012
Phil Cannella

Phil Cannella

King of Prussia, PA

Joined: August 15, 2012

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I would like to offer advice on how others around the industry can become senior advocates and find success in the way they deliver truthful and accurate information to the retirement community by hosting educational events.

Although there has recently been a declining success rate for financial advisors looking to create business through hosting seminars, I have applied my 37 years of experience to perfecting the art of the seminar. The firm I founded has been growing at alarming rates each year as more and more retirees recognize the firm as a leader in retirement finances. The fuel to this success is the weekly seminars I speak at in the tri-state area.

I have made it my career goal to become a leading advocate in the retirement community and educate retirees on how they can secure a safe and happy retirement. I would like to offer advice on how others around the industry can become senior advocates and find success in the way they deliver truthful and accurate information to the retirement community by hosting educational events. In this article, I will cover the invitation, setting the right atmosphere, the psychology of communicating, getting the message through and creating clients from your listeners.

The invitation

The first thing you want to make clear when sending out invitations is who you are. Consumers aren’t going to go out of their way to hear Joe Schmoe talk about something as complex and important as their retirement. Validate your name in the opening paragraph of the invitation with your title and some of your achievements. The beginning of the invitation should be treated as if it were your resume.

It is important to insert a picture of yourself. People are instinctively attracted to the human face, and it will better harvest their attention if you have a warm, inviting picture next to your name. This way, people know who they are coming to see.

You will have to separate your invitation from the rest of the sales junk these people receive regularly. Give a brief mission statement on what you will be providing at this event, such as, “Free event educating the community on how to best prepare for retirement!”

Make it clear that this is an educational event, not a seminar. The word seminar carries a negative connotation and sounds boring. Be sure to insist that there will be no obligations at any time during their visit.

Make sure that they realize this is an educational event catered to the American retiree. If you specify the value of this event to appeal directly to that target audience, they are much more likely to consider coming to see you.

You are going to want to provide a good idea of what they are coming out to hear. It may be useful to bullet point some of the topics that will be covered. For example, I might use:
  • Hear how to get long-term care protection without paying annual premiums.
  • Find out the best kept secrets in the banking industry.
  • Learn about investment vehicles that provide excellent growth without market risk.
It is important how you word things here. Don’t give them the same boring information they have heard about before; word it so they get a real sense of how it applies to them.

For example, instead of saying, "Find out how to have a Roth conversion," try saying something like, "Learn how you can avoid taking your required minimum distribution, even well into your 70s."

This revised statement may trigger a specific interest for a consumer, rather than just throwing out a generic phrase. So don’t settle for simple wording, make sure you are targeting people’s interests and concerns directly.

Setting the right atmosphere

The setup of the room in which you will be speaking may not seem like a big deal to you but in reality, it can make all the difference. Most importantly, you are going to want the seating arranged theater style, rather than have your guests sitting at tables. Theater style seating is much more engaging for the audience. It makes all the difference when keeping your guests' attention. At a table setting, your guest will be too distracted. They will naturally be distracted by others at the table, plus the table setting will keep them thinking, “When is the food coming?”

Arrange the speaking stage so that there isn’t too much light coming from behind you as you face the audience. Seniors have trouble seeing silhouettes, so ensure that there is proper lighting on you and nothing too distracting behind you.

It is a good idea to have some feel-good music playing in the room as your guests begin to arrive. It helps to select music that this age group can relate to, like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. You want to settle people into a relaxed and good mood so that they can absorb the information without distraction.

When the room starts filling, be sure to fill all the seats. A solid plan is to have less seats available than expected guests. As your seats begin to fill, have your staff start pulling out extra seating for the late-comers. Empty seats can create an impression that this isn’t an important event. At the same time, pulling out extra seats as guests arrive creates a positive reflection on you. Guests will think, “Wow, this guy must be pretty popular.”
The psychology of communicating

Public speaking is an art. You need to find a way to interact with a group of people while still conveying a message as if you were talking one-on-one with each of them. In order to do this, you will need to acquire a certain set of skills and pay attention to important details.

Don’t just regurgitate information; entertain as well. No matter how useful the information, constant facts and figures will lose anyone’s attention. Be sure to maintain some entertaining elements throughout your presentation to keep the guests’ minds awake.

I turn to humor when I am trying to keep my audience alert. Everyone likes hearing a good joke, and we all like receiving a good response from a joke. It not only keeps them interested, but it makes the whole thing more fun for me, too. And people can see that I am enjoying myself and they really respect that. I love what I do and they can sense that.

Be confident and start with a joke; you will immediately grip the interest of your audience, and they will better absorb what you have to say from then on. Remember that some of the things you will be saying are very serious and important for them to know, and the mood of your audience might come down from time to time. So be sure to know when it is a good time for a little comic relief after some heavy-hitting information.

Be sure to make eye contact with your audience. If you are scanning the room and making frequent eye contact with your listeners, they are instinctively compelled to pay attention to what you are saying. When speaking, avoid speaking from script. Scripts tend to handcuff you from working with the energy of the audience. So be loose and engaging. Emotions are contagious; if you are excited, the audience will also feel excited. This can be achieved by maintaining plenty of facial expressions and lively body language.

Try not to refer to a Power Point presentation. Visual aids are great for public speaking, but they take away from the interpersonal communication you are trying to achieve. Limit your visual aids to condensed vital information that simply backs up what you will be telling your audience. If these people wanted to read slides or look at graphs, an email would have sufficed. They are here to have an expert, like you, really help them understand what they need to hear.

Keep it passive. Never get too aggressive when speaking about the products you are promoting. This will raise red flags in the minds of your guests and they will begin questioning your motives. Keep the presentation objective and educational at all times.

Nothing works better than the truth. Don’t spin information or create fairy tales for your audience. You promised them an educational experience, so just educate them the best you can. The rest will work itself out.
Getting the message through

Having the right atmosphere and knowing how to speak to an audience is worthless if you don’t have a message to deliver. Your message has already been addressed in your invitation; now you just have to be sure you deliver it in a clear and comprehensible way that will make it memorable in the mind of your audience.

Hand each guest a workbook with a pen and some information to help guide them take notes. This will help them organize their thoughts in a way that will make sure it sticks with them. If your audience can hear you, you will get a quarter of the message through. If they can hear you and see you, about half of your message will get through. If they can hear you and see you while having the ability to take notes on their thoughts, your message will get through and stick with them.

Encourage note-taking throughout the presentation. Ask your audience to write down any questions that arise so that you can answer them later. This is also a great way to get them to come to you for any of their retirement planning needs.

Keep your promise. If you invited these people to learn about how they can avoid paying taxes on their retirement income, you better make sure they leave will a clear idea on how they can avoid paying taxes on their retirement income. Refer to your invitation’s bullet point list. Make sure you address each and every topic these people came to hear about. Missing even one makes you look like you set out bait for them to come to your event and you lose credibility. If you address them all, you won’t give any guest a reason to feel unsatisfied.

Provide original content. Don’t deliver a message backed by a bunch of information you found on Google. Do some legwork and show them why it is you that they came to see about their finances. If you can show the audience that you personally put forth an effort to provide them with information you feel they need to know, your credibility level will soar.

Distinguish yourself as a specialist. You will need to separate yourself from your competitors. The best way to do this is to entitle yourself as a specialist. You are there speaking to retirees about retirement finances. These people want to hear from a retirement finance specialist; otherwise, they would have just turned to some mainstream general advisor who would likely set them up with a faulty retirement plan.

If you needed surgery, would you go to your general practitioner to get it done? The same concept applies to finances. If you are entering retirement, why would you go to an advisor that deals with all types of clients? Your needs are best suited to be handled by a specialist, as retirement is a very delicate and complex sector of one’s financial life.
Creating clients from your listeners

Once again, we refer to truth and accuracy. If you present your information truthfully and accurately in an efficient way, you will have make a profound impact on your listeners. Now is when you should feel comfortable inviting them to come to your firm to answer any of their questions and provide further education on their retirement needs. Within the workbook, you should hand out an information sheet that is optional for the audience to fill out in case they are interested in furthering their education.

Never be too aggressive when collecting these information sheets. Your job is done through the way you present your message. The collection process is just a measure of how well you pulled it off. If you insist people turn in their information sheets, you may scare away some genuine guests that were considering continuing their education.

Again, remind them that there will be no obligations if they decide to continue their education and their information will not be used for anything other than an initial contact by your firm to set up an educational visit.

If you are offering your guests lunch, be as inviting and passive as possible. People coming to free lunch events are expecting that there will be a catch when it comes time to eat. In fact, some hosts will only offer lunch in exchange for the listener’s information sheet. But that’s not you! Just wish everyone an enjoyable meal and extend your gratitude to them for coming. If the guests can walk away from a very informative and valuable presentation and then have a no pressure meal to follow, you will really hit home when gaining their trust.

My most important advice

Wield the Sword of Truth. I developed the Sword of Truth as a metaphor for commitment to honesty and accuracy. It is a character-defining weapon that can only be acquired through implementing the use of truth and accuracy in your life’s work.

Those who carry the Sword of Truth are protected from adversaries at all times. As long as you work from a foundation of truth, you can never lose your footing and you will always find success.

The concept of carrying the Sword of Truth directly applies to your ability to host an effective educational event. You must use this opportunity to let the consumer know that you are there to do what is right for them. Use the truth to position yourself as a consumer advocate, not a self-invested financial advisor.

Nothing breeds confidence like always telling the truth, because you’ve got nothing to hide. If you only work from truth and accuracy, you will find success in everything you do and your confidence will soar.
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