Even after attending more than 40 annual meetings of the Million Dollar Round Table, I still find it exciting and inspirational.

Today, one of the benefits of the meeting that I find most pleasurable is greeting longtime friends that I get to see only once a year. Though their ranks are thinning with the passage of time, there are still many who never fail to show up. Perhaps the best example of this is longtime friend Buddy Zais. Buddy is almost blind, has a hard time getting around and is usually being led by a fellow member–but he is always there and has been for more than 50 years.

Buddy reminds me of the story of the little old lady who, despite being blind and hard of hearing and hardly able to drag herself up the church steps, was nevertheless in church every Sunday. When asked why she still attended church when she could not see the pageantry or hear the sermon, along with her difficulties in getting around, she replied, “I just want everyone to know whose side I’m on.” Buddy continues to be an inspiration to all of us and there is no doubt whose side he is on.

This year’s meeting was different in one respect. I heard more foreign languages being spoken during the breaks than I did English. Members from 63 countries far outnumbered the 2,000-plus U.S. members in attendance. What a wonderful way to spread the virtues of self-reliance and capitalism through the mechanism of life and health insurance around the world. International understanding is also a natural by-product of this commingling of like-minded salespeople.

There were several highlights to the meeting that I found to be particularly interesting. First and foremost of these was MDRT President Stephen Rothschild’s statement in his presidential address that the MDRT was recommitting itself to insurance products.

In a conversation with Steve, subsequent to the meeting, I asked him to expand on that thought and how it will manifest itself. My interpretation of his response was that MDRT did not wish to be submerged into the financial planning landscape–trying to be all things to all people. Rather the emphasis in programming and related activities would be focused on ways that insurance products could best serve our respective publics. Steve was quick to point out that much of the momentum for this recommitment came from incoming MDRT President Phillip Harriman. Way to go Steve and Phil!

An aspect of the meeting in San Diego was the elimination of presentations of grants to various organizations for socially beneficial activities by the MDRT Foundation. This activity was quite properly featured at a separate event–the Excalibur Dinner. I am a strong supporter of and great believer in the work of the MDRT Foundation–but the main platform should feature the way that insurance people and their products enrich the lives of others and how best to accomplish this.

Two Canadians, Brian Burlacoff and Mark Coutts, did an excellent job of doing just that in their main platform presentation titled “Conceptual Selling.” The central thrust of their presentation was that people are more inclined to buy a concept rather than a spreadsheet of numbers. Their use of concepts illustrated by analogies or metaphors not only clarified the sales process but also made people more comfortable and willing to listen.

Brian and Mark pointed out that Canadians love ice hockey and anytime they could draw an analogy between hockey and the insurance concept they were selling, they were assured of the prospect’s full attention and likely understanding. Understanding is the vital first step toward a sale.

My minister used to say, “the parable is not the truth–rather it is the basket in which you bring home the truth.” You easily can substitute metaphor, analogy or anecdote for the word parable in this statement. All are meant to create understanding and understanding makes a prospect comfortable.

As I listened to Brian and Mark, I was reminded of one of the all-time greats of conceptual selling, John Riddings Lee. In a MDRT session that I moderated years ago, John presented numerous anecdotes of ways he used to promote clarity and comfort in his presentation. One that I remember in particular was his approach to contractors. Contractors are accustomed to reading blueprints, so when he was making a presentation to one of them, he would take his written material to a blueprint shop and have it blueprinted. Anything to make the prospect comfortable.

At the other extreme, years ago, we had a very capable secretary who prepared our illustrations and spreadsheets. Occasionally, she would get mixed up or make a mistake in computing and she would bring her work in to me to locate the problem. When she laid all those numbers in front of me, I didn’t have the foggiest notion of what it was all about. Usually I said something like, “leave me alone while I figure it out,” and it wasn’t easy. It was at that point that I realized that when I threw a bunch of numbers at prospects, I was doing the same to them. A confused buyer is a non-buyer. Thank goodness for concepts that people can grasp.

And thank goodness for the magic of MDRT.