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The Five Secrets of Seminar Success

If you're new to seminars, or a savvy veteran, these tips will sharpen your game.

By Gary F. Thomas, CLU, ChFC

I was in the business for nearly four years before I qualified to go to my first MDRT meeting. That was, coincidentally, the first year that I began using seminars as a means of meeting prospects. It took me two additional years to qualify for Top of the Table. Seminar marketing has been the key to our growing practice ever since. Through this experience, I discovered these seven secrets of seminar success:

1. You can’t have a successful seminar if no one comes.
Your existing clients are the people most likely to make future purchases, hopefully from you and not your competition. Start your seminar career by inviting some of your better clients and prospects to your seminar and asking them to bring a couple of friends. You may find that different age groups have different interests. Offer 30-year-old clients an educational funding seminar, and preretirees one on retirement planning.

There are some ways to present invitations that will be very important to your ultimate attendance. We always put four tickets to a seminar in an invitation. Including four tickets in an invitation has served to dramatically increase results when we solicit to qualified leads and prospects. The No. 1 reason why people with an interest in your seminar won’t attend is fear. Fear that they are going to be cornered by a pushy salesperson whose only objective is to separate them from their money. Everyone knows there is safety in numbers. Include four tickets with your invitations, allow your prospects or clients ot invite friends, and they will feel more comfortable.

After holding seminars for quite some time, I made one of my first great discoveries: You can nearly double the number of people attending your seminars by offering at least two alternate dates. Many people have an ongoing commitment on a particular weekday. When we started offering prospects a choice of two different weekdays, we doubled our attendance without increasing promotional costs.

2. Little things matter
In seminar marketing, as in life, prospects will be quick to judge you. Everything matters, from your initial contact with the prospect prior to the seminar, to their first impressions of you, and the seminar environment. Here are some questions to keep in mind while planning your seminar:

  • Is your invitation clear and well written?
  • Are directions and a map to the seminar site provided?
  • Have you taken the time to confirm attendance?
  • Have you chosen a location that is attractive and well maintained?
  • Is your room the appropriate size for the number of people expected to attend?
  • Is the seating ample, or do your prospects feel crowded or uncomfortable?
  • Is the site accessible to the disabled?
  • Are you as well groomed as you would be meeting your best client?
  • Do you have a method of seating those who arrive late without making them feel uncomfortable or disturbing others?
  • Will your presentation allow for adequate breaks for the personal comfort of your guests?

After the seminar, remember that all prospects who attend a seminar must be called within 24 hours to schedule an appointment. We have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as being too busy to follow up. The longer you wait, the colder the prospect gets.

3. Seminar prospects are already sold
Prospects who agree to visit with you after attending a seminar are already sold. Make sure you don’t un-sell them. When I first started holding seminars, I was almost exclusively a life insurance salesperson. I still believe that all my clients have unfilled life insurance needs. However, not all individuals who attend our seminars had life insurance as their first priority. But when I met with them, I tried to sell them life insurance as quickly as possible, without taking the proper time and effort to determine their real needs. I met with little success.

Take the time to listen to your prospects and discover their fears and danger zones. Then provide the appropriate solution for them, even if it is not the one that gives you the greatest compensation. Remember that during the seminar, you took great care to present yourself as a competent, trustworthy professional. Take off your salesman’s hat and put on your advisor hat.

4. The principles of good salesmanship apply
Because you are salesperson, you are not afraid of speaking in front of a group. The principles you already know that enable you to have a successful sales career are the same ones you need to present a successful seminar. Here are some of them:

Keep it simple and sincere. Many new seminar presenters overwhelm their prospects by flooding their material with information, statistics, tax tables and facts and figures. If you overload your attendees with information, it will be impossible for them to focus on key points.

Establish credibility. I like to say there are two kinds of credibility. The first is what I call “external credibility.” It includes evidence that you have tried to grow in your business, have done well and have made an effort to give back something to the world at large, thereby grounding yourself firmly. You should inform your audience of your accomplishments through handout materials or references integrated into your talk.

The second kind of credibility is “internal credibility.” This is the feeling people have about you, personally, and the way you run your business. Internal credibility stems from your actions before, during and after the seminar.

Ask for commitment. You are not selling a product at the seminar; you are selling yourself. Do not let your prospects drift away before asking them to fill out a seminar evaluation form. The form solicits relevant client contact information, identifies their interest in future seminars and allows them to ask for an appointment. Generally 20 to 40 percent of those attending the seminar will want to see you immediately.

Mail them until they buy or until they die. One day, an old seminar prospect called our office and wanted to see me. I did not know it at the time, but his brother had died the previous year leaving him as sole heir. He had just received his inheritance, and was concerned about two issues: his own mortality, and his newfound wealth. He left our office with a substantial life insurance program and an investment program.

The wheels began turning in my brain. Could there be other old seminar prospects who have had a change of circumstances or a change of heart? I began mailing my old seminar prospects, as well as my existing clients monthly. In addition to my clients, old prospects began to call.

But something was still missing. Every client and every prospect were receiving the same letter. I knew I needed refinement when an 80-year-old client called me, wondering why I’d mailed him a retirement funding idea when he had been retired for 25 years.

I purchased a database program and hired a college student to run it. We entered all known information about clients and prospects. These include age, work status, interests, investments, income, life and other insurance owned, etc. We then began mailing our clients and prospects more targeted letters, based upon the seminar evaluation forms we collected.

5. Hold a lot of seminars
My agents never fully developed a seminar-marketing program because their first few seminars produced disappointment. Just think if we gave up our selling career because one or two prospects proved to be difficult and did not buy what we were selling. With seminar marketing you are developing a new skill. The development of any worthwhile ability takes time and effort. You will make mistakes.

We hold several types of seminars. My favorite ones are our client-appreciation seminars. We currently have about 700 clients. During our last series of client appreciation events, about 200 clients came and brought along friends and family members. We hold our client appreciation dinners in an upscale restaurant where dinners generally cost around $50 a couple.

Another source for a seminar venue may be your local university. Local colleges and high schools hold adult education classes on a variety of subjects. Volunteer your services as an instructor and adapt your seminar for presentation as an educational course for adults. Many people attending such courses are searching for a financial professional. Once you favorably impress them, they will be asking you to help them.

Have fun!
A wise sage observed that most successful people don’t need to be taught, they simply need to be reminded. Much of what is required to have a very successful practice built on seminar marketing is simply courtesy and common sense.

Gary Thomas is the founder of The Wealth Technology Group, which provides retirement, wealth preservation and estate planning advice. He is an eight-year MDRT member with seven COT and five TOT honors. He can be contacted at

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