The classic educational seminar still works if you spend the time, and yes, the money to do it right.

My podcast guest today, Matt Gulbransen, has mastered the science—and art—of delivering seminars that convert. 

Matt is the President of Pine Grove Financial Group, which is an RIA operating in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. In our conversation, Matt discusses what attracted him to seminars, what works for him, a few things that don’t, the kinds of events he hosts, the formula he uses to calculate his ROI, and, maybe most importantly, the emphasis that he and his team place on rehearsing your presentations until not even a power outage is going to throw you off your game.

To read Matt’s 3 keys for creating seminars that connect with audiences and convert clients, please register below with your email address.


Key one: Be prepared.

Matt became interested in seminars in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Folks were nervous about investing and he was struggling to sign up new clients. With his back up against the wall, he knew he had to do something new to generate more clients and keep the lights on.

“I went all in on this,” Matt remembers. “I literally rehearsed and practiced that seminar for probably a month straight, literally every day. I practiced in front of a mirror. I recorded myself and basically just sat in front of my computer with the slides and went through it. Once I got really comfortable doing it, then I went to my wife, and I was confident enough to actually do a good one for her.”

Today, Matt has built out his seminar program to include other presenters. Matt insists that they run through their presentation a dozen times before they go in front of an audience. This focus on repetition is the key to gaining confidence in yourself as a speaker, as well as pushing past canned delivery.

“If you practice enough to where you know the content, then when you’re delivering it, you’re going to be so focused on the content that it’s going to sound very robotic,” he says. “If you practice it more, where you know the content really well, but you can maybe get off track, or tell a story, or answer a question, it makes that presentation that much smoother, and you build a lot more trust when you have that level of comfort.”

For an extra level of comfort once it’s time to hit the stage, you need a backup plan. One of my recent podcast guests, retired Naval Commander David Sears, told me that the Navy SEALs have a saying when it comes to mission prep: “Two is one, one is none.” If you only bring one radio into the field and it breaks, your communications are cut off. If you have a second radio, you’re safe.

Turns out some past experiences with power outages and faulty equipment led both Matt and me to the same seminar contingency plan: always bring a paper printout of your presentation. Even if you are confident about the tech available to you, bring an extra flash drive with copies of your PowerPoint and any other audio-visual material you want to share.

Key two: Be personal.

Most seminars are going to have a three-part structure: the Open, the Middle and the Close.

Matt believes that the Open is the most important, and probably the piece you need to work the hardest on. You can rattle off tax advice and retirement stats in your sleep. But so can the guy presenting somewhere else tomorrow night. If you want to turn those prospects into clients, you have to make an emotional connection. That starts with sharing what makes you uniquely you.

Matt says, “There’s the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Well, the reality is we all judge all books by their covers, meaning that first impressions are really critical. So when you go out to give a seminar, you really need to nail that open. You need to tell them why you’re there, why you do what you do, and why it’s important to them that they listen to what you have to say during that presentation.”

Matt’s Open leans on his experiences growing up on a farm. His parents paid him for the work he did, but in order to get paid, he also had to track his hours and submit invoices! As he grew older, his parents helped him make his first investments with that hard-earned money, which lead to an interest in finance. The experience taught him the real value of money, the need for good stewardship, and the importance of a strong work ethic.

In the Middle, Matt says you need to educate your audience without educating them so much that they think they can be their own advisor.

“This lady came into my office,” Matt remembers, “and she said, ‘I went to this presentation once, and the person told me I should have a Roth IRA, so I took all my IRA money, and I put it into the Roth.’ Well, what she didn’t realize is she had just created a huge, taxable event for herself, and she clearly shouldn’t have been handling those things for herself. There’s a fine line of educating to help them, but also educating them so that they know they need help.”

Many presenters will use their Close as a call to action: take a card, sign up for an appointment, etc. Matt has a subtler approach.

“At this point, people have, for the most part, decided if they’re going to come see us or not,” Matt says. “I don’t think, if I create this amazing offer with all these great benefits, that I’m going to sway a ton of people in the room. When I’m talking about a topic, I would say something like, ‘If you were to come in for an appointment and have a consultation to work with us, this is how we would approach Roth conversions and distributing money in retirement.’ I’m continuously planting the seed of, ‘Hey, when you come into our office,’ or, ‘If you’re someone that works with us …’ I’m trying to paint the picture of what the client experience is. I literally describe every single part of it.”

What I like about this strategy is that Matt is essentially personalizing the part of the presentation that can feel the least personal: the pitch. He opened telling a story about his life on the farm, and he ends with another specific story that, hopefully, the audience is going to want to be a part of.

And the more specific and personal that story is, the more effective it will be. Your audience isn’t going to remember every fact and figure you project in front of them. But I can imagine an audience thinking back on Matt’s presentation and saying, “Oh yeah, the guy who grew up on a farm. He seemed nice.” The farm story is his “thing,” for lack of a better word.

When I speak, I often talk about my passion for climbing, running, and art. I think touching on those topics helps my audience to understand who I am, where I’m coming from, and how I can help.

So … What’s your story?

Key three: Be ready to work – and spend.

Succeeding with seminar marketing takes a lot of work.

You’re going to be refining your presentation and rehearsing for hours. You’re going to be capping a long day at the office with a presentation to an audience that may or may not respond to you. And if you really want to up your game, you’re going to attend other seminars, read books, and watch online videos so that you can study how the best of the best work a stage. (Side note: Matt picked up that tip about visualizing the client experience from Tony Robbins, whom I talked to on a previous episode. Tony also has a Netflix documentary where you can watch him in action and see how he motivates people to take action.)

Then there’s the investment. Matt estimates he spent upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 on his initial batch of seminars before he was able to perfect his pitch and fine-tune his funnel.

Today, Matt targets a 3x – 4x 12-month ROI on his seminars. For example, if his seminar costs $6,000, then he targets $1.8 million in new AUM from the attendees. At a 1% AUM fee, that’s $18,000 of 12-month annualized revenue and a 3x return on his $6,000 investment.

And when it comes to marketing his seminars, direct mail is a key component.

He’s recently been experimenting with digital advertising but so far, it’s a more expensive way to generate new clients. “It takes about two to three times more, money-wise, to acquire a client digitally than it does via a live seminar. Typically, it’s costing us about $5,000 of digital ads or sequences or funnels or webinar money spent, in order to acquire a client.”

Call to action.

Whether you tried seminar marketing in the past and gave up on it, or you’re considering it for the first time, now’s the time to get in the game. So if you’re interested in seminars let me “close” with a little call to action of my own: 

1. Find your “thing.” Think about life experiences and hobbies that will humanize you to an audience.

2. Do some research. Listen to my previous podcasts on seminar marketing with Stephan Cassaday, Bill Keen, and David Bach. Watch some seminars online. Check out the Resources section below for a book that Matt recommends and my book recommendation, “The Story Factor,” by Annette Simmons. Download my Values Toolkit and think more about how to personalize your presentation.

3. Get going! The hardest part of any new marketing initiative is starting. I recommend you schedule your next seminar for 60 days from now. Then work backward on everything you need to do to deliver on that date.


Pine Grove Financial Group Visit Matt and his team online.

“Expert Secrets” by Russell Brunson Matt Gulrransen says that Mr. Brunson, “really studied the art of persuasion and sales processes. He’s a master storyteller as well.”

“The Story Factor” by Annette Simmons A great book for folks who really want to do a better job of telling stories and understanding what type of story is appropriate for what type of situation. 

– Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

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