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The art of the seminar

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Phillip J. Cannella III has the art of the seminar down to a science.

Cannella, president and CEO of First Senior Financial Group in King of Prussia, Pa., has been working in the senior market for the past 33 years.

In that time, he has gone from selling nursing home insurance and being a pioneer in LTCI to becoming an expert in IRA rollovers and IRS rulings affecting seniors, as well as being a coach and a mentor to other advisors.

He has leveraged that knowledge by building a highly successful seminar program, which put him on pace to write about $25 million in fixed index annuity premium in 2007. His firm, with 12 offices in five states, stood to total about $40 million. Many of his clients, meanwhile, have seen an average return of 9.5 percent over the past five years, and he says some of his clients have even seen 25 percent returns or more in the past three years.

Married for 25 years and a father of four children ranging in age from 22 to 6, the 53-year-old Cannella admits to virtually no hobbies beyond work and family: “I’ve never worked a day in my life, because I live, eat, breathe and love what I do,” he tells Senior Market Advisor.

Cannella has a lot of strong beliefs about what he calls the “insidiousness” of the securities industry and how it is stacked against the retired person, and he frequently challenges authors of articles that denigrate indexed annuities. He is currently financing and starring in a television program that aims to “educate the nation” on what is happening in the financial industry to retired Americans.

“What I’m trying to make retired Americans realize is that they don’t need to risk their nest egg in retired years,” Cannella says. “If they are trying to stay ahead of inflation, they don’t need to do that on the market. There are financial vehicles available in the insurance industry that have the potential of keeping them ahead of inflation without the market risk, without the market fees, without the taxes on accumulation.”

Cannella also wants to help more advisors help retired Americans by showing them how to gain credibility with consumers by leveraging true and accurate information. He is a big believer in being a well-informed specialist, rather than a general practitioner, financially speaking, who deals with all age groups. That belief provides exceptional value to his retired clients.

He also believes he can help you make big improvements to your own seminars, and the following pages are full of ideas and philosophies – in Cannella’s own words – to get you there. – Brian Anderson

How to create a compelling invitation

Right in the opening paragraph, [my invitation] tells people I’m an expert, I’ve authored books, I’m a Master Elite IRA advisor, and I represent the top half percent of the country’s advisors.

I also have a little picture of myself on the invitation. It lets people see a face. It brings credibility. Don’t let them see an invitation just with words on it.

[You need to convey that] this is not a sales seminar. It’s an educational program that deals with the facts. The good, the bad, and the small print. You’ll notice I never refer to our programs as seminars. That’s how everyone else in the industry refers to them, so separate yourself from your competition. “As president and CEO of First Senior Financial Group, I’ve seen it all. I’ll explain how to avoid the most common mistakes to help you make good, sound financial decisions.”

Then I have bullet points:

  • Increase income, reduce taxes and guarantee you’ll never run out of money without market risk or fees.
  • Hear how to get long-term care protection without ever paying annual premiums.
  • Find out how you can avoid taking your required minimum distribution, even if you are over age 70 1/2 .
  • Find out how anyone can turn their existing IRA or retirement accounts into tax-free accounts.
  • Learn how to use a little known IRS rule to receive up to 85 percent tax-free income for a decade without ever depleting your nest egg.
  • See how you can benefit from the performance of the markets without market risk or fees.

Once they see this, I get them to come to the program. There are many ways to present a Roth conversion. “Find out how you can avoid taking your required minimum distribution, even if you are over age 70 1/2 .” What am I talking about? I’m talking about a Roth conversion. Most advisors will just put, ?Find out how to have a Roth conversion.’ What does that do to get people in the room? Nothing. These are just some of the ways to separate yourself from other less-informed advisors – and that’s just the invitation.

Setting up the room

This is the psychological approach towards giving a program. It’s all how you position yourself as an advisor. It’s how you stage your programs before people come into the room.

If all you’re doing is trying to romance them with an expensive restaurant or food, you’re going to get plate-lickers in the end. You’re going to convert people who came in for the information into a plate-licker because the information in the room wasn’t set up right, so now they just came to eat lunch. What happens with my program is the opposite. I know I get plate-lickers that come out just for the food. But I convert a lot of them into appointments. I do something very special in setting up these seminar rooms. That has a lot to do with the response I get. It’s not just the invitation driving them into the program. It’s not just Phil Cannella speaking at the program and what I’m saying. It also has to do with the sociological way the room is set up.

  • I don’t sit people at tables. When you sit a person at a table that is set even though there is no food there, what are they going to think of every time they look at the table? Food. When they’re thinking of food, they’re not listening to you. I don’t provide water until the break. What happens when they start drinking water during your presentation? You’re going to have people getting up and disturbing the rest by going to the bathroom constantly. I set the room up theater-style. Their faces are going to be facing me and their backs are going to be towards the door.
  • Once I start my program, I tell the staff at the restaurant that no staff member may come into the room while I’m speaking. If they see a waiter, what are they going to think? ?When is the food coming?’
  • As they are filtering into the room, if I’m expecting 80 people, I put 60 chairs out. If I’m expecting 60 people, I put 45 chairs out. Because I want to pull chairs out as people come in to make me look like, ?Hey, he’s busy.’
  • As they are filtering in, I have music from their era playing. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Durante, Louis Armstrong. I’ve got a melody of songs playing. It puts them in a nice mood. When people come in, I don’t want them tense – I want them relaxed.
  • Once everyone is in their seat, we entertain them as well as educate them. I go up and shut the music off and I say, ?Frank has left the building.’ Immediately everyone laughs and we start.
  • They need to see your eyes. They need to see you. When you stand in front of an audience, if there is a window behind the speaker and there is light coming through, did you know seniors have a problem seeing silhouettes? They’re not going to see your facial expressions. They’re not going to be able to make eye contact with you. That is all-important in communicating.
  • If you don’t have to use a PowerPoint presentation – don’t. When the audience sees you stand up there without a PowerPoint presentation, they’re going to think you know your business.
  • I hand out a workbook that goes over the seven money traps that I’m going to go over. I hand out a pen so they can take notes. If they hear what I’m saying, they are going to absorb 25 percent of it. If they hear and see what I’m saying, they’re going to absorb about 50 percent. If they hear, see and start to write the things I tell them, the absorption rate skyrockets to 75 percent or more. Do you think that will help my responses?

Now, any one of these things by itself is not getting the results, but if you put them all together, it becomes a great result. When people get into the room, they don’t know each other, but they see all the people clamoring to see me. That alone gives me credibility before I even speak.

Involving the audience

Here’s how I get them to take notes. I tell them two things: One, “I won’t have time for questions because we’ll never get through the program. So if you have a question, please write it down, I want to answer it.” Two, “you have a pen because I’m going to be giving you information that you’ll want to immediately use today. You can’t hope to remember it all.

“You’re going to want to take notes because I’m going to tell you things that your attorney doesn’t want you to know. I’m going to tell you things that the banking industry doesn’t want you to realize. I’m going to tell you things that your financial advisors and brokers weren’t trained on, and because they’re less informed, they can’t tell you. For those reasons, you’re going to want to take notes. Today, I’m going to tell you how to avoid probate without paying thousands of dollars for a trust. Today, I’m going to tell you how you can have a 10-year tax-free income and not report 85 percent of it and it’s available to anyone in this room. I’m also going to tell you how to have a tax-free IRA in retired years. Once you do that, I then can show you how to parlay that account into three generations of tax-free income. For all those reasons, you’re going to want to take notes.”

Do you think I motivated them to take notes? All this boils down to a good response.

How to set appointments

I have people fill out an information sheet during the presentation. At the end of the program, I tell people in the room, “We are a busy firm. Take a look around. There are a lot of people in the room. We can’t sit down with everyone, but I want to make an offer. Those who are interested in taking advantage of a two-hour consultation, I will waive our fees – there is absolutely no obligation. This is not going to be a sales call. We don’t even make recommendations when you come in for the initial consultation. This is an evaluation and to answer any of your concerns you may have realized today. So if you are interested, we want you to take your information sheet at this point.”

Based on that, I get between 65 and 70 percent of the people who attend our programs to come and see us. Most guys in my industry, they tell people at the end of their programs, “Now don’t get up until we collect all these information sheets, and once we get every last one, we’ll all get up and eat.” What are you saying? We’re not eating until we get your sheet. I’ve actually seen advisors walk around at the end of their programs with menus in their hands and trade the menu for the information sheets. That’s like holding their lunch hostage. It makes you look desperate.

Be a specialist

I successfully separate people who have been with brokers for 25 years or more. Not just because they believe me, but also because I can talk logically to them and I can show them that their broker is less informed than I am, and may not be the professional that can take them through the second half of their financial life: Their retirement. Those brokers work with all age groups, and don’t have the specialized training to know and apply the age-favored IRS and IRA rulings that predominantly benefit people in retired years. Prospective clients will recognize that you are a specialist and in turn that will separate you – and the client – from that competitor. This has worked for me for years.

Wield the “sword of truth”

With advisors, the best part of their career lies ahead of them if they can learn how to leverage and gain credibility by dealing with accurate and true information. If you are out there as an advisor and you are dealing with truth and accuracy, you then carry what I call the “sword of truth.” The sword of truth will cut down any misinformation a client has. It will mow down any competition who is less informed. You need to get informed with accurate information, and by learning how to leverage it, it gives you credibility. That’s the strongest position an advisor can deal from. If you are dealing with inaccuracies, or you are selling just to get a commission – which is to say you aren’t being forthcoming – then you are dealing from weakness, and a whole set of suitability and other regulatory problems will inevitably arise.

You’re always going to be on the defense if you are dealing from weakness by being less than honest. With extraordinary success comes constant attacks, especially from competitors. If you are dealing from strength, because of accuracy and honesty, you are going to be on offense. You will be giving blows, not taking them. Your competitors and other attackers will be unable to hurt you.

What I tell new advisors is go out there and use the sword of truth that any honorable person can carry. When you come across an advisor who is less informed because they don’t know the IRA rules that you know; when you come across the broker who is less informed and they don’t have that specialized retirement training, pull the sword of truth, point it, and you’ll soon see that it will cut a path to great success.

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