How to make sure the enrollment meetings aren’t like funerals

When it comes to oral or written communications, it’s important that you play to your audience. Any communication that is above or below the audience’s comprehension is going to be a missed opportunity to communicate your message.

When it comes to 401(k) plan meetings with plan participants for enrollment or re-enrollment, the fact is that most of them suck.

The greatest education I ever received wasn’t at law school and it wasn’t working as an ERISA attorney for 9 years working for third-party administration firms. My greatest education was being involved in student politics and journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (which is now called Stony Brook University).

One of the simplest lessons I learned was from Ron Nehring, who has been a friend of mine for over 30 years and he basically told me that the goal of any organization in recruiting new members is getting them involved. I joined Ron’s political organization because they got me interested, got me involved, and kept on contacting me about other events. The Jewish students organization that I was going to be heavily involved in had a barbecue the weekend before freshman year started. I arrived 15 minutes late and there wasn’t any more food available. I was offered a bagel and people who certainly weren’t Jewish were enjoying a nice Kosher hot dog or hamburger. Needless to say, I didn’t get involved much there.

The point is that most 401(k) plan meetings suck because they really aren’t geared toward plan participants. The advisor conducting the meeting is giving the basics of investments and plan features that aren’t interesting or inspiring. The meetings tend to be really dry when they don’t have to be. I’ve been at funerals that have been livelier than enrollment meetings.

How would I liven up an enrollment meeting?

1) Raffle off a $25 gift card at every enrollment meeting. People like free stuff and if they know they can win something by attending, they will. Of course, have the raffle at the end of the meeting, so it ends on a good note.

2) Presentations need to be clear and crisp. Less is more. Powerpoint presentations and slide handouts shouldn’t be overloaded with details. Illustrate the important points.

3) Add humor and cultural references. With apologies to my former managing attorney who wouldn’t know good marketing if it was standing behind her, adding humor and cultural references goes a long way. My articles aren’t widely read because of my rugged good looks or lack thereof. They are widely read because the humor and cultural references engage the reader in reading what should be a dry topic, i.e., the ins and outs of retirement plan sponsorship.

4) Break it down. Again, my writings are written in easy-to-understand English, not what I call ERISAese. The easier for plan participants to understand what you’re saying, the more likely they will remember what you’re saying.

5) Keep it short. Spend more than a half hour or hour, you will lose your audience. Again, less is more.

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