By Ryan Sullivan
The event’s going to start in 15 minutes. Where is everyone?
We were befuddled with our turnout. Over 100 people had RSVP’d, yet we were looking at a nearly-empty room. We didn’t realize there’d been a car accident on the main bridge over which most attendees would have to pass to get to our meeting. Thankfully there were only minor injuries. Ultimately, we had less than 10 people attend. Our planning was thorough, but attendance was lousy due to circumstances beyond our control.
Unlike that unfortunate situation, you typically have more control over attendance for your virtual client events. But you still need to motivate clients and prospects to attend, especially with so many online activities vying for their attention. You can’t eliminate all unpredictability, but there are a few key steps to planning a virtual client event that can help ensure a solid turnout.
What We’ll Cover
- Choose a compelling topic
- Consider a guest speaker
- Ace the invitation process
First, How to Choose a Compelling Topic
Let’s face it—getting clients and prospects to attend a virtual event can be more challenging than getting them to attend in-person events. Many are experiencing Zoom fatigue, some may get busy and forget, while others may think, “I’ll join the next one.”
This is why choosing a compelling topic for your event should be a top priority—it can make or break attendance. A detailed lecture, new product pitch, or routine economic update can become just another meeting on the calendar.
Topic Categories: Educational and Purely Social
For financial education topics, choose something that’s as specific as possible rather than a topic that’s general. What problem are you going to help clients solve? Is there a concern you’ll address, or a major question you’ll answer? For example, we offer client seminars such as Maintaining Perspective in Uncertain Times, which helps clients make rational investment decisions, even when it feels like the world is falling apart. Another, Social Security: Unlock Its Potential, explains three critical factors that can negatively impact Social Security benefits.
Financial education topics don’t always have to be investment-focused. Investor behavior-type events provide value with an interesting twist. Do you have clients who’ve expressed concern about their own spending habits? Our client seminar, Your Money Story, is designed to help clients uncover how their unique history with money may influence their financial decisions in ways they don’t even realize.
Or you may have longstanding relationships with couples who are financially well-equipped for retirement, but have they discussed their individual visions for this phase of life? Our You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato client seminar can help them find out if they’re aligned.
Purely Social Topics Can Boost the Fun Factor—and Attendance*
You can surprise clients by taking a break from the financial stuff and hosting a social event. If a wine- or beer-tasting is something that would appeal to your invitees, you can ship samples in advance (after they commit to the event). Bottlesnation.com offers a one-hour event led by a certified sommelier. Kits begin at $85 per person and include four full bottles of wine. However, you can upgrade wine choices as well as cheese and chocolate selections.
If there are pet-lovers on your list, consider a virtual session with a local professional dog trainer or pet nutritionist. If you’d like to host a trivia night, Triviahublive.com offers all-inclusive party planning, even delivering food and drink packages to enjoy as you quiz one another. The standard package costs $449 for up to 75 participants for 60-90 minutes.
You Might be Wondering, “Why Would I Host a Purely Social Event? I’m a Financial Professional, Not an Entertainer.”
Non-business events are a useful way to bring clients and prospects together. The light atmosphere of these events can help build connection, and they allow people to feel more comfortable asking investment-related questions. However, avoid giving detailed answers. If someone asks you multiple questions, offer to meet with them. You might say, “You’re asking great questions. Would it be all right if we schedule a meeting in the next week or two to discuss them?”
Another bonus is that, according to Oechsli research, clients who have both a business and social relationship with their financial professionals are more likely to introduce and refer their financial professional to friends, family, and colleagues.
Second, Why You Should Consider Inviting a Guest Speaker
Guest speakers are a great way to provide additional, and sometimes unexpected, value to your event. At Hartford Funds, we have experts who can fill that role. These polished virtual presenters share interesting insights from the MIT AgeLab, psychologists, physiologists, professors, and practice-management experts in an engaging and entertaining way.
People enjoy hearing from experts on topics that are interesting and relevant to them, but speakers don’t have to be from the financial services industry.
Consider the Various Professionals in Your Area
To help clients and prospects who are considering relocating or downsizing in the future, invite a local real estate professional or senior-move manager. As more people intend to continue working after retirement age or find a new role, a human resources professional or recruiter can offer advice on how to navigate a job search and interview. An elder care attorney can discuss legal issues that people commonly face as they age, as well as provide guidance to caregivers. Auto technology can help aging drivers drive more safely but it can also be complicated. A car-dealer representative can explain the ins and outs of the latest features.
Third, How to Ace the Invitation Process
Like your virtual event topic, your email invitation’s subject line can’t be bland if you expect to pique anyone’s attention. Be sure to highlight key points. If clients and prospects don’t have enough information to determine whether the event will be worth their time, they’ll likely skip it.
Some would argue that most of the time, the reason a virtual event doesn’t meet the expectation of the financial professional is that they didn’t personalize the invitation process. Sending an email invite to 1,500 contacts or posting an ad on social media doesn’t guarantee results. Even if you get a fair amount of attendees, they may not be ideal for the event and the event may not be ideal for them.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send emails or advertise, but there’s nothing like the power of the personal invitation.
The Power of a Personal Invitation
This is a maneuver that’s often underutilized. Taking the time to personally ask someone to join an event you’re hosting tells them that their presence matters to you. Your personal-invitation approach will depend on the type of event you’re hosting—educational or purely social.
For purely social events, if you aren’t able to contact each guest directly, reach out to clients with whom you’d like to deepen your relationship or who are especially valuable to you.
For educational events that are likely to have a more serious tone, consider calling them to say:
“Mr./Mrs. Client, I thought of you today. I remembered the conversation we had about [fill in the blank: your aging parents, your encore career, the passing of a loved one—whatever the case may be]. I’m planning a small online event with someone who’s an expert in [related topic], and I think it’s something that could really benefit you."
Not only did you tell the client that you thought of them, but you listened to them and remembered the conversation because it was important. And because it was important, you’re taking action by hosting and inviting them to this virtual event that you believe would help them.
“Why Focus on Virtual Events? We Should Be Back to Hosting In-Person Events Soon.”
That’s probably true. While virtual events aren’t a substitute for in-person ones, they have their place. According to research from Oechsli, 52% of affluent clients prefer meeting with their financial professional in some combination of video-conference and in-person.1 Video-conferencing (or virtual communication) has quickly become an accepted method of interaction for today’s affluent clients. Many have gotten comfortable with a virtual format and appreciate the convenience it affords.
Remember These Three Things When Planning Your Next Virtual Event
First, a compelling topic for your virtual event is critical. Clients need to be clear on what the event is about and how they can benefit—even if the benefit is just having some fun. Second, a guest speaker can discuss a broad range of topics related to your audience’s needs and interests. The subject matter doesn’t have to be financially-focused, just relevant. Third, inviting certain guests personally makes them feel important and valued, and increases the probability that they’ll attend.
Virtual Events Are Here to Stay
Enticing clients and prospects to attend digitally can be as challenging as filling a room used to be. Many are spending a lot of time on-screen already, or they’re plain busy. Just like hosting an in-person event, it takes focused effort to attract virtual-event attendees. Out-of-the-box thinking as you choose your topic, guest speaker, and theme—and using personal invitations—can help you have greater control over attendance success on your next virtual client event.
- Decide whether your next event will be educational or social
- Choose a compelling topic or engaging theme that will appeal to your audience
- Prioritize clients or prospects to invite personally
*Please consult your firm’s gift and entertainment policy prior to organizing your event.
1Your Virtual Reality, oechlsli.com, 4/21
The MIT AgeLab and Oechsli are not affiliates or subsidiaries of Hartford Funds.
Hartford Mutual Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced herein; however, no particular endorsement of any product or service is being made.