What do advisors and penguins have in common?

Tom Foster

By Tom Foster
E. Thomas Foster Jr. is head of strategic relationships for retirement plans for MassMutual.
Posted on Jun 28, 2017

Why are penguins socially awkward? They find it difficult to break the ice.

Like penguins and many people, financial advisors can sometimes find it difficult to break the ice, especially with prospects, new clients and groups. While some advisors excel in social interactions and are extroverts, others find it just as hard as everyone else to connect with people they don’t know. It’s a situation that calls for ice-breakers.

There may be no better way to make an instant connection than to share a humorous story, one-liner or short exercise that gets someone’s attention in a positive way and leads to communication.

Ice-breakers can be helpful in a variety of social situations, including meetings and presentations to name a few. As someone who speaks at literally scores of meetings every year and often meets with small groups, I keep a small cache of proven ice-breakers that always seem to connect.

One ice-breaker I like to share takes advantage of what many presenters consider a huge distraction: smart phones.

It’s twice as hard to get someone’s attention when they are holding a smart phone. In a public setting, smart phones can and often do compete with the speaker. It makes it more essential than ever before to engage your audience as soon as possible and keep their attention by involving them in your presentation.

So instead of competing with your audience’s smart phones, here’s an ice-breaker that may actually help you benefit from them.

When speaking to a group of any size – or even an individual in a meeting -- tell them that you’re about to reveal a mathematical formula they can use to calculate critical personal information about themselves, their families, friends or anyone they meet.

Start the exercise by asking your audience to pull out their phones and open the app for the calculator. Give them a few moments to do so and then ask them to enter a series of numbers.

First, enter the last digit of your cell phone number. Let’s say the number is “8”.

Then, ask your audience to multiply the number by two. That gives you 16.

Now, add five to that number. Sixteen plus five equals 21. Multiply the total by 50. You now have 1,050.

Add the total – 1,050 in this case – to 1,767 (2,817) and then subtract the year of your birth (let’s say it’s 1970). The result should be a three-digit number (847 in this example).

The result: the first of the three numbers is the last digit of your cell number (example: 8). The next two numbers are the age you will be at the end of this year. (If the last digit of your cell number is zero, you will wind up with just two numbers or your age.)

You are now “Merlin the Magician” and your audience will be left trying to figure out just how that calculation worked. Most individuals and audiences alike never fail to be fascinated and entertained by this fun exercise. It’s just one way to break the ice and may jump-start your relationship with a group of people or someone new.

Whether you’re a penguin, a seal, the Coast Guard or an advisor, you’re sure to find ice breakers helpful to get you where you want to go.

Now if penguins could only add and subtract…