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Seminars have never been easy but with costs rising, audience sophistication growing and regulators cracking down, this time-tested marketing tool is in need of a major renovation.

Audiences are still packing the house and overall seminar attendance is strong in nearly every region of the country. This isn’t surprising since we have 78 million Baby Boomers reaching their most important financial life-stage. They need help with critical decisions and are seeking guidance, but their time is precious and they want more from an event than a free meal. Here are a few things you can do to breathe new life into your seminar program.

To be effective in today’s competitive environment seminars must do three things:

1. Engage. Get me interested and keep me interested. Make your message meaningful and connect it to my world and the things I care about most. Don’t just pitch products or you will lose me forever.

2. Enlighten. Give me some knowledge and wisdom that helps me take greater control of my life. Don’t dumb it down; challenge me to think and learn new concepts. Make me smarter.

3. Entertain. Don’t bore me with a canned presentation. Let me laugh, have fun and feel some emotional stimulation from the experience. I have a lot of things I could be doing tonight so make this event something to remember.

Here are 4 steps to take to re-energize your seminars:

(1) Clarify your message — What are you trying to tell clients and why is it important? Don’t overload the event with too much technical content. A seminar is not the place to teach the history of the universe. Build your seminar on 3 main points and use the hourglass format to structure your discussion. (See chart.)

For each segment of your talk ask yourself, “Why should my audience care about this?” (because that’s what they are asking). Tell people why your concepts are relevant to their lives; don’t make them connect the dots for themselves.

(2) Stop selling and detach the strings — Give your audience at least 3 practical steps they can take entirely on their own and that will improve their lives. Don’t attach any conditions to your content; people are too smart for that. Only by respecting and empowering your audience will you earn their trust. Also, giving them valuable insights without a sales hook displays confidence on your part and makes intelligent clients want to work with you.

(3) Sharpen up your slide show — Stop boring prospects with overly complex slides and tired brochure-ware. Give your audience something to see that makes sense and that is visually appealing. Use music, video, colors and movement to keep their attention and help them understand what you’re saying. But remember, a great slide show should support your message, not overwhelm it. You are the show, not the PowerPoint, so don’t distract them with too much fancy technology.

Whatever you do, make sure people can see your visuals clearly. What looks great on a desktop monitor can wash out in a bright room from 50 feet away. Use large fonts, reduce your bullet points to 4 words or less and make your charts and graphs come alive by using builds and high contrast colors.

(4) Move beyond slides — There is a critical point in your talk when you may want to shut the slide show off and “go naked” with a flip chart and marker. This is a very useful skill that shows you really know what you’re talking about and can think on your feet. It dramatically enhances your credibility with an audience and positions you as an expert.

A gameshow is also great way to make your seminars come alive and provide valuable wisdom. For example, to teach the concept of “personal inflation rate” I created a fun little game called “The Price Was Right.” Here we look at products and services from 20 or 30 years ago and have folks guess what they used to cost. Then we show today’s price and the accompanying inflation rate, which usually is quite a shocker. This is a simple idea that engages an audience and gets their juices flowing.

You can download PowerPoint gameshows from several websites. In Google, type “Powerpoint game shows” and explore some of the links that pop up.

Finally getting tactile with physical props can be fun and really cement an idea by appealing to multiple learning modes. In discussing asset allocation and diversification, I pass around a plastic model of a military Humvee. This leads to my explanation of the “all-terrain, 4-wheel drive portfolio.” It’s amazing to see the look of understanding on people’s faces when they literally grasp an abstraction like portfolio design in a hand-held example.

If these ideas seem far out to you, all I can say is think again. I’ve done and seen thousands of financial seminars in my career and I can assure you that being too exciting is not our industry’s problem. There’s plenty of room on the creative side of the presentation process.

Finally, have some fun! Seminars are a blast and letting people see just how much you enjoy the process is a great way to build a relationship. Successful, intelligent clients are attracted to financial professionals with passion. The hidden power of the seminar is that it lets you shine brighter and in ways that no other communication modality can do. Done well, seminars and events can be an exciting ticket not only to a bigger business but to massive personal enjoyment.

Frank Maselli, CIMC, is president of The Frank Maselli Company, Inc., Franklin, Mass. You may e-mail him at .


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