Retirement plans can be funny

By Tom Foster
E. Thomas Foster Jr. is head of strategic relationships for retirement plans for MassMutual.
Posted on Apr 19, 2017

Victor Borge, a popular comedian and pianist who performed on both radio and TV, understood the power of humor to connect with others. “Laughter,” Borge explained, “is the closest distance between two people.”

Humor may also help financial advisors connect with clients, especially during a finals presentation for a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan. Winning a client’s business is not just about providing retirement options, it’s also about creating a memorable presentation and building relationships.

Borge was a master at connecting with his audiences. During a performance, he would reach out to someone in the front row and ask, “Do you like good music?” or “Do you care for piano music?”

Upon hearing a “yes,” Borge would then take a piece of his sheet music, say, “Here is some,” and then hand it over. After the audience's laughter died down, he would say, “That'll be $1.95.”

Not everyone is naturally funny but advisors can take some tips from entertainers about connecting with their audience when giving presentations:

  • Smiling communicates confidence. Smiling is also contagious, helps keep the meeting from becoming too serious and makes you more approachable.

  • Demonstrate passion. Use a lot of heart in your presentation, show that you care about the topic and especially about helping people reach their retirement goals. Clients will connect with this and it will make a difference.

  • Use visual aids. These can include video clips, a PowerPoint presentation, or a tour of the service provider’s facility.

  • Prop up your presentation. Silly props can help make your presentation especially memorable. Let’s face it, discussing the finer points of ERISA or fiduciary responsibilities may be a real snoozer. So before your meeting, tuck a dollar bill into your shirt pocket and while you’re discussing a financial issue, pull out the dollar and say, “Here, you can pass the buck.” Or if you’re introducing a newer concept or tool, why not reach into your bag, pull out a light bulb, and say, “I have an idea!”

Small gags may be corny but clients laugh because they don’t expect them. And light-hearted gags can help make your presentation fun and memorable. Who knew retirement plans were this funny?

Afraid of laying an egg or bombing? So was Borge, who like other entertainers, understood the risks. If Borge’s audience didn’t respond to a joke, he would often announce his next musical routine with the precursor, “...when this ovation has died down, of course.”

The lesson is to not take yourself too seriously. Self-deprecating humor may help ingratiate yourself with your audience.

Borge continued to perform until he was 90, appearing on Ed Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Sesame Street, What’s My Line? and many other popular shows of the era.

While you may not be performing before millions of people like Borge, it’s just as important for you to connect with your audience. Make sure your presentation is fun, memorable and delivered with passion.

Keep your clients engaged. Create a presentation that’s different from the norm so you and your message will be remembered long after your leave. Better yet, when you return to support the retirement savings plan, the greeting you hear may just be applause.