Steve Delott, CLU, ChFC, has a rebuttal to proclamations that the seminar is dead, that it’s a feast for plate-lickers but a famine for advisors seeking new business.

“The seminar is alive and well, and probably still the warmest appointment you can get,” says Delott, principal and founder of Delott and Associates, an annuity-oriented field marketing firm in Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Indeed, some of the industry’s leading marketing minds contend seminars still yield a solid return on investment — provided they’re done the right way, every step of the way.

“I’m definitely still a believer, and the reason is because a lot of advisors are still making seminars work,” echoes Maribeth Kuzmeski, head of Red Zone Marketing, an advisor-oriented consulting firm in Chicago, and author of “… And the Clients Went Wild.”

While the formula for seminar success differs from advisor to advisor, the bottom line is making every detail count, say the experts, from the invitation on through to the appointment that hopefully lands that coveted new client. Here are some best practices for realizing a robust seminar return on investment.

BEFORE

Target prospects with precision.
Methodically select the ZIP codes to which invitations are mailed, recommends Jennifer Butts, field marketing manager at GP Creative, an arm of GamePlan Financial Marketing outside Atlanta. And avoid mailing to high-net-worth targets. They tend not to respond to direct-mail solicitations.

Go with a pro.
“Use a professional service for list selection, invitations, and mailing,” Kuzmeski
says. “If you try to do it yourself, at the end of the day, you’re going to spend time and money on something that doesn’t really work.”

Choose a compelling topic.
“It’s a matter of having an issue that people can relate to, such as ‘Are you going to have enough income in retirement?’” says Butts. Nowadays, Delott adds, asset-protection topics resonate the most.

Keep seminar subjects fresh.
“I consistently change seminar topics to avoid hitting the same area with the same information over and over,” Delott says.

Practice creative cost-control.
To reduce seminar expenses, “think out of the box a bit,” Butts suggests, noting that many vendors (mail houses, printing companies, venues, etc.) offer discounts for prepaying for a year’s worth of services. Holding seminars in partnership with community facilities, senior centers and affinity groups can also save on room fees, she adds.

Choose the day, time and venue wisely.
Delott says events held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting around 3:30 p.m., tend to produce the best results. And “you need a nice restaurant, but not one that’s over the top. Make sure it has a great private meeting room,” he says.

Confirm attendance the day before.
Having staff call registered attendees on the eve of the event makes for better attendance, Delott notes.

Get licensed.
“I tell all my agents to get their Series 65 license, so they’re qualified to talk about a wider range of solutions, including switching a variable annuity to a fixed index annuity, fixed index annuity income riders and annuities with a long term care component,” Delott says.

DURING

Provide chow.
Seminars where food is served yield a better ROI than do events without grub. Delott says events where dinner comes after the seminar work best.

Solve problems; don’t sell products.
“You’ll turn people off quickly if they perceive you as a product pusher,” Butts insists.

Use your evaluation form correctly.
Distribute forms at the close of the event, instead of at the outset, Delott advises, so you’re not demanding that attendees provide personal information before they’ve had a chance to develop a trust in you. It’s also important, Kuzmeski points out, to include questions that lead attendees to say, “Yes, I want more information.” That might be a query like, “Are you concerned about having enough income in retirement?”

Set appointments on the spot.
An event’s success is largely measured by how many appointments it nets, so this is where the rubber meets the road. Delott brings his appointment book to seminars and books appointments himself at the close of the event. What’s more, instead of asking attendees to circle their chosen appointment time from multiple options on the evaluation form, he works with each person individually to find a time that’s mutually convenient. That approach, he says, enhances the perception that the advisor’s time is valuable. Further, he adds, “don’t allow the wait staff [at the restaurant] to start serving food until the last person is done scheduling an appointment.”

Tease the audience.
Provide them with enough information to satisfy them, but make them want more, so they’re compelled to set an appointment, advise the experts.

Take a break.
Tell attendees at the outset that there will be a mid-point break, so they’re less likely to leave during the advisor’s presentation.

Present with flair.
Avoid canned, sleep-inspiring PowerPoint-style presentations, Delott suggests, and instead get interactive, keeping the lights up and using a whiteboard or easel to illustrate points.

AFTER

Follow-up promptly and methodically.
It’s vital to strike while the iron’s hot by confirming the appointment the day after the event, Kuzmeski says. Then confirm the appointment a day in advance as well.

Invite them to another seminar.
With attendees who actually made a purchase commitment to you in their appointment following the seminar, invite them to another seminar during the down time when the annuity or insurance contract is being processed, Delott suggests. “It helps avoid buyer’s remorse.”

Advisors who put those best practices to work, along with the ones they develop through their own experience, are destined to see a solid seminar ROI, Butts says. “They’re definitely an effective way to get in front of new prospects and get new business. You just have to be sure you do things correctly.”