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Seminar Mistakes

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There are countless ways to mess up seminar marketing. Of all the possibilities, the following six are the worst. Commit two or more of these seminar sins, and you will join the legion of advisors who mutter “Seminars don’t work anymore.”

Seminars do work, by the way, so long as you get everything right. “Everything,” by the way is spelled out in my white paper, “Seminar Success Zone” available free at

#1: Ignore Competitors. You can have a great seminar idea. But if five other people in your market have the same great idea and each of them is blasting out 5,000 invitations every month, results are likely to be around 0.2%. Yikes.

Ignore what the other people in your market are doing at your peril. Research your market first.

Call half a dozen clients in as many different areas. Ask them to save all the seminar invitations they receive. Even take a box to each home prominently labeled “Seminar Invites for Buford.” In a month, go pick up the boxes, bringing a nice thank you gift of course.

 Your boxes will contain the invitations sent out by Response Mail Express, CIS Marketing and Emerald. You may see invitations created by advisors and printed locally. With a little practice, you can recognize the style of each of the big three. But if you see that one company is dominating the market, consider using another so that your invite stands out.

What you are really looking for is one or more invitations being sent month after month. Odds are, invitations sent out repeatedly are the ones that are working.

It’s time for onsite research. Certainly do not sign up for a competitor’s seminar. You would not want someone doing that to you. But there’s nothing wrong in paying a visit to the restaurant or hotel on the night of the event. Walk past the registration table a couple of times. Are people showing up? Or is it empty? My guess is the room will be full.

Now you know what invitation is working in your marketplace. I’m not saying copy it, but certainly take into account the subject, invitation style, bullet points and location etc. According to me, “It’s easier to rewrite than it is to write.”

 #2: Don’t Test. Before committing the troop to a particular seminar idea, let’s test market. Your day job, of course, is financial advisor. But your other job is direct response marketer. As such, the first commandment is: test.

Instead of blasting out 5,000 invitations, I want you to test small. The big mailing houses may require a 5,000 minimum. So you need to work with a local mail house or printer to test small. What’s small? Maybe 1,500 or 2,000 invitations.

 You need a minimum response rate of 0.8%. Obviously, 1% or 1.2% is better and, by the way, is quite achievable in today’s market. But, you can be extremely profitable at 0.8%, assuming everything else works.

 Suppose your first mailing fails. You sent out 1,500 invitations and only two couples accept. You spent $1,000, or whatever. Not $5,000. You didn’t blow your whole budget. Round up four or five client couples and invite them to dinner. By surrounding your two prospects with clients, you have an excellent chance of getting one new account. You made profit on a failed seminar campaign.

Now, test again. Change the invitation. Or change the list or location. Test again. Keep testing small until you hit 0.8% or better.

#3: Bad Invitation. If you want a bad invitation, here’s how to create one: (1) Go cheap. Print a wedding style invitation on your laser printer. (2) Don’t sell.

 I am looking at an invitation right now headlined “Savvy Medicare Planning: What Baby Boomers Need to Know about Medicare Coverage.” All it offers is “Up to date information you need to help you understand the basics of Medicare.” With that little bit of information would you give up several hours of your time?

A good invitation has a good title. This one actually did. But a good invitation also has three to five bullet points arguing persuasively for the reader to pick up the phone. A good invitation sells. It does not merely inform.

#4: Bad Location. A few years ago, I was helping a client debug a failing seminar. As I went down my little checklist, I asked, “What is your location?”

He answered: “A quality Holiday Inn.” I replied: “There is no such thing.”

We moved his location to the best restaurant in town. He sent out another invitation, identical except for the restaurant. Both events were booked solid.

 Make no mistake: People will come for food. It is the skill of the presenter that converts the so-called “eaters” into prospects. (Advisors who complain about “eaters” generally have poor presentation.)

 Wrong locations include: country clubs, ethnic restaurants (Mexican, Chinese, Thai, etc.), public libraries, community meeting rooms, Moose Lodges (yes, I had to reprimand someone for using one of those), and worst of all, your office.

Don’t get me wrong. You can use your office but not for a public seminar. It’s fine for an educational seminar for clients and client guests. The usual social contract for people you have never met is: you buy dinner and I’ll give you some time. Use your office for a public seminar and I guarantee failure.

#5: Boring Presentation. Let’s say you are served a delicious bowl of soup. A fly lands in it, struggles for a moment and then drowns. Of course you’re done with the soup. Your otherwise perfect meal is ruined.

Your droning speaking style is the fly in the soup. Those eight couples who came to check you out begin mentally checking themselves out within minutes, or even seconds of the drone beginning.

You’ve heard it said, “Seniors have a short attention span.” Rubbish. If you believe that, you have a serious droning problem. I have personally attended many advisor seminars, some lasting as long as two hours, and I have seen these same “short attention span seniors” totally engaged, and then even hanging around after the seminar for spirited conversation and even more question asking.

Let me define professional-grade speaking skills: You know your material cold and deliver it with passion and conviction.

You can measure the quality of your speaking with a statistic you gather from your post seminar report card. It’s the appointment request rate.

The question on your report card should read something like, “Yes! I would like an appointment to review my situation.” Here’s what the results mean:

40% or more request an appointment = professional grade presentation skills.

30%-40% = adequate speaking style, but improvement needed.

20%-30% = boring. No passion or conviction. Probably reading bullet point slides.

Less than 20% = paralyzing experience. Join Toastmasters or get a speaking coach.

First master the your content. That means you go “noteless.” OK, for your first few seminars, you can have all the notes you can put on a 3×5 card.

I have developed a procedure to master content. I named it “The 25% Solution.” You can get a copy at my Seminar Success Zone web page. The key to presentation style is actually content mastery.

#6: Misuse PowerPoint. I cannot even begin to count the number of seminars wrecked by misuse of PowerPoint. With PowerPoint misuse, even a good speaker can put an audience down. Those splashes you hear? That’s members of the audience pitching forward into their soup.

There are two main ways of misuing PowerPoint. One is using too many slides (also called “PowerPoint poisoning.) Somewhere, someone got the idea that a seminar with 150 slides is a good thing. Guess what. If you give a seminar with nothing more than a flipchart, no one will approach you after you wrap up and say, “I am very disappointed that you didn’t have any slides.”

Slides are visual aids. They are not the show. A good rule of thumb is: Only use a PowerPoint slide if it shows a picture of something that cannot easily be put into words. And NEVER use bullet point slides. And even worse is reading bullet point slides. No bullet point slides, ever.

For your standard presentation, five or six slides should be about right.

Second misuse: Leaving a slide on screen when you are talking about something else. When not talking about a slide, turn it off. Press the “B” key. When ready to resume, press “B” again.

As you cure an ailing seminar campaign, start with these six factors. Handle them well, and if you can also sell, you can build a great business from seminar marketing.


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