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10 proven tips, techniques and tactics to make every presentation count.

Veteran advisor June Schroeder, CFP, has been in the business long enough to know that every presentation she delivers is an opportunity to sell her skills, expertise and services. Yet Schroeder, a financial planner with Liberty Financial Services in Elm Grove, Wis., says sales are the last thing on her mind when she’s giving a presentation. Instead, it’s all about the people in front of her. “They need to know you can help them, that you care about them and are interested in making a difference in their lives. You don’t need a lot of glitz and glamour to convince them of that.”

What advisors do need, Schroeder contends, is a presentation that plays not only to the audience’s sensibilities and sensitivities, but also to the advisor’s skills and strengths, whether that’s storytelling, a mastery of tech tools, whiteboard wizardry or a way with numbers. When it comes to presentations, she explains, as important as it is for advisors to develop their own style, they also need to understand how their audience prefers to receive information. From there, they can craft and communicate content accordingly, so it gets the desired message across. “Being 66, I’m a senior myself, and I don’t use a lot of technology in my presentations. You don’t need to dazzle people this age with technology.”

“They need to know you can help them, that you care about them and are interested in making a difference in their lives.” June Schroeder, Liberty Financial Services

Yet because today’s younger seniors are an increasingly tech-savvy bunch, there’s plenty of room for technology tools in a presentation. “We’re comfortable using technology in our presentations—we’ve been doing it for 20 years now,” says Briggs A. Matsko, CFP, CRPC, a financial planner for Lincoln Financial Advisors in Sacramento, Calif., “and most of our clients, even older boomers and seniors, are comfortable with it, too.”

With a presentation style that meshes old-school approaches with tech tools, Timothy A. Knotts, CFP, a financial planner with the Hogan-Knotts Financial Group in Red Bank, NJ, says his primary goal when presenting to prospects is to convince people he’s the most uniquely qualified person to handle their financial planning needs. “The whole idea is, in a very short period of time, to develop trust and credibility with the person or people in the room with you, and the way to do that, I think, is to differentiate yourself.”

From the grand gesture to subtle, nuanced details, here are 10 tried-and-true ways to distinguish yourself as a presenter with both style and substance, whether you favor a tech-oriented approach or more old-school, unplugged methods.

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1) Ditch the sales pitch. Opening with a sales pitch or a self-serving monologue about why you and your practice are so special can be an instant turn-off. Instead, ask questions that invite clients/prospects to talk about themselves. Basic ice-breaking questions like, “Why did you come to see me today?” and “What concerns you most about your retirement?” help build trust and rapport, while opening the door to a more detailed discussion about assets, goals, priorities, life circumstances, etc.—“exactly the kind of stuff I need to know about,” says Knotts. 

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2) Make them feel comfortable and cared for. “Our conference room has couches, coffee tables, wood paneling—it’s very much like a living room,” explains Knotts. “That’s by design. We want people to feel comfortable with the setting.” Offering a beverage and a light snack may also boost the comfort level.

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3) Humor and storytelling. These are indispensable tools for effective presenters. “I find that telling personal stories about myself and people I know, and using a little self-deprecating humor, helps engage people and makes them feel more comfortable revealing things about themselves to me,” Schroeder says. “Stories help people relate to me, and they help show that I understand them. And when you’re talking about a serious subject like money, laughter lightens the mood.”

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4) Use objectivity and transparency to differentiate yourself. From the get-go, Matsko and his practice partner, Jeff Maas, make financial planning a collaborative process with clients. “It’s all done interactively, so there are no backroom secrets. It’s about objective problem-solving—making decisions based on facts and on science,” explains Matsko. “This shows them we’re not trying to sell a specific product to them, that we have their best interests in mind.” 

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5) Come with a written agenda. Then, give the client/prospect a copy. Not only does this show you’re organized and prepared, says Knotts, it also gives the client/prospect something to take home, so your discussion remains front-of-mind with them after they leave.

“It’s about objective problem-solving—making decisions based on facts and on science.” Briggs A. Matsko, Lincoln Financial Advisors

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6) Invite interactivity. People are more apt to follow a plan or recommendation that they believe they had a hand in developing. In their presentations, Matsko and Maas rely heavily on financial planning and modeling software that gives clients an opportunity to make choices and see the long-term ramifications of their decisions. “They get to see these robust ‘what-if’ charts to go with all these different variables, so they see the impact of their choices,” Matsko explains. “They’re participating and they feel like they’re driving the process—that they’re being collaborated with, not just talked to. That makes a huge difference with engagement and with affirmation.”

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7) PowerPoint as a support tool. As popular as PowerPoint is with presenters, advisors like Knotts and Maas say it’s best used in a supporting role and not as the focal point of a presentation. “People have been PowerPointed to death,” says Knotts, “and we’re sensitive to that. The magic’s in the mix. Don’t build an entire presentation around PowerPoint. Instead, mix it up with screen shots from other software, with spreadsheets, graphics, stories and Internet activity.”

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8) Practice smart production values. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes, then produce a presentation tailored to their needs, using the various elements referenced by Knotts previously. “Instead of fumbling around with all this stuff in front me, which can make it seem like I’m unprepared, I have it all preloaded on my laptop computer, which I use to control the presentation. With the laptop, you can pop back and forth between things really easily and seamlessly.”

Both Knotts and Matsko display their presentations on big-screen TV monitors (Matsko’s is a 53-inch) for viewing ease. Likewise, Knotts says he creates all written material related to the presentation in at least 14-point type for readability. And since many people are more inclined to understand material when it’s presented to them graphically, Matsko and Mass rely heavily on simple graphics—a pyramid model to illustrate expenses, charts to demonstrate longevity risk, etc.—to get key points across. To further flesh out a point or idea, Knotts recommends using a whiteboard, too.

“The whole idea is, in a very short period of time, to develop trust and credibility with the person or people in the room with you.” Timothy A. Knotts, Hogan-Knotts Financial Group 

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9) Get financial planning software. Having a presentation with interactive elements and professional-looking, seamlessly integrated graphics demands a financial planning software program robust enough to produce a high-end client-facing presentation. That kind of software is central to Maas’s and Matsko’s interaction with clients and prospects. “They have an epiphany when they see what’s happening on screen,” says Matsko.

Even non-techies like Schroeder are finding merit in tech-based planning tools. A software suite that she began using about a year ago is helping her build deeper relationships with existing clients and forge relationships with new ones through questionnaires and surveys. “It has really been very useful,” she says.

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10) Hop on the iPad.Notice all those clients, even older ones, toting iPads or other tablet computers around with them? Knotts has, and as a result, he and his practice partner are considering purchasing iPads for advisors and clients to use in the office during presentations. “Sixty-somethings are a tech-savvy group,” he says. “Many of them have adopted this technology.”

That’s one advisor who’s tuned into the needs of his audience.