ATLANTA – To reach your customer, understand your customer.

The Million Dollar Round Table, Park Ridge, Ill., has started its 2011 annual meeting with a schedule packed with speakers embodying that philosophy.

The 5,800-plus attendees have flocked to sessions on topics such as understanding women, understanding adult children who are becoming caregivers, and understanding a firm’s own top employment prospects.

The early main platform speakers have talked about overcoming the kinds of hardships that MDRT members’ advice might ease

Walter Bond, a former star NBA basketball player with the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons, the opening main platform speaker, overcame a devastating, potentially disabling injury to become the first rookie in the NBA to play as a starter on opening night.

“The only way you make your dreams and goals a reality is by first developing the mind set to achieve the goal,” Bond said. “You have to keep dreaming. Whether it is for achieving your sales goals, learning new skills or expanding your knowledge, you first have to picture yourself doing it.”

Bond said he also learned during his eight years in the NBA about the importance of playing as a team.

Advisors can further their own careers by emotionally “connecting”–and not simply communicating–with clients and prospects when describing their services and how life insurance and financial products can fit into a financial plan, Bond said.

“People buy from producers they like,” Bond said. “If you really connect with the prospects, then when you leave their house, the decision to buy from you should be a no-brainer.”

Another main platform speaker, Don Meyer, retired as the NCAA basketball coach at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., in February 2010, after managing the team to 923 victories.

In September 2008, before Meyer retired, he faced a car accident that required one leg to be amputated. The doctor who performed the amputation discovered that he had cancer in his liver and intestines.

“I owe my life to my faith and my family,” Meyer said. “You have to establish goals and priorities for your life, find out what it costs to attain them, and then decide whether you’re willing to pay the price. You have to live a balanced life.”

Meyer also talked about the importance of courtesy and communications.

“When you fail to be courteous, you pay a price,” he said. “You have to [communicate] with compassion and passion with others.”

When the opportunity arises to show gratitude to others, “always send a thank you note,” Meyer said

About communication, Meyer said knowledge is “knowing what to say,” and wisdom is “knowing when to say it.”

Most people would rather be “ruined by praise than be saved by criticism,” Meyer said.

Tracy Hunger, the 2008 Grand Prize winner in the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program, hosted by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), Arlington, Va., recalled how the deaths of her parents affected her education.

A blood clot killed her mother, and Hepatitis C killed her father. Her father had no life insurance.

When Hunger was 18, she had to quit high school and become the guardian of her 14-year-old brother. She had to work working full-time at two jobs while attending college.

This May, Hunger received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Neumann University in Aston, Pa.

Hunger said she knows first hand how much life insurance advisors can do to protect a family.

“I know that my dad, if he could live again, would have made life insurance a part of the family budget,” Hunger said. “Life insurance must be a top priority.”

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