With coronavirus cautions remaining prevalent, the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas opted to host its 58th annual Joe Vincent Management Seminar virtually. Over the course of three days, 600 agency owners and managers were treated to three keynote presentations, each one an hour. Featured presenters were futurist Chris Riddell, communications specialist Vanessa Van Edwards and sales leadership trainer Nathan Jamail.

Riddell, an Australian who appeared for a previous keynote presentation during 2020’s Joe Vincent Seminar last January, led off the virtual conference on Feb. 1. Riddell’s central message was that the world has changed since COVID-19’s appearance, never to return to the way it was; so, be ready for a cocktail of technological advances.

On a personal level, Riddell saw his career change from traveling around the world to deliver his predictions to live audiences to remaining home and appearing only virtually to audiences globally. The change in his world is but a microcosm of the massive changes he sees around the world.

“There is no new normal,” Riddell said, “but rather new normals. Plural.” The world’s response to the pandemic has changed the course of our lives forever, he said.

“Everything that we planned for was tested,” said Riddell. Instantly, he said, the quality of our lives depended on consistent Wi-Fi service.

“We are never going back,” was Riddell’s certainty; as a futurist, he considers the future to be laden with uncertainty. Last year “was just a warm-up act. We must brace ourselves for seismic shocks.”

Riddell advised that people who strive for success build for resilience where the “super ingredient is elasticity.” Riddell’s vivid analogy: It’s the flexible kayak that successfully navigates white water.

Businesses survived 2020, said Riddell, by adapting to the crisis. Lego skipped making interlocking blocks and started producing facemasks and visors for use in hospitals. Disney closed its theme parks, as did other theme parks and movie theaters; Disney committed to its new business priority of streaming service.

If 2020 taught us anything, said Riddell, it is to experiment. “Push yourself to being brave and innovative,” he advised. “Rethink your organization. Don’t wait for the final sign to implement change.”

Riddell said that trying and failing are just two parts of the learning cycle that deserve to be repeated. He left his audience to ponder others’ words of wisdom: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough,” (Mario Andretti); “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how truly amazing you can be,” (Maya Angelou).

Edwards is a noted author, behavioral investigator and communications trainer who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her presentation, The Science of Succeeding, was on Feb. 2.

Edwards’ goal was to impart science-backed people skills to enhance their success. She concentrated on charisma, an easy to spot trait but a difficult to define one. Her analysis is rooted in a study published by Harvard Business School.

Charisma, she said, is a blending of warmth and confidence, which successful business people adjust relative to the people they contact. Most people, she said, have a dominant trait; they are mostly warm (sweet, compassionate, relatable) or they are mostly competent (smart, dependable, important). The successful person blends these traits in a manner that makes him or her appealing to clients, colleagues and employees by matching relative levels of warmth and competence to the other person.

A person who remains dominantly warm becomes a mismatch to clients who prefer competence, she said. Highly competent people want data and research; they hate chit-chat. “The people you don’t connect with are on the opposite side (on the charisma continuum) of you,” she said. Edwards advised reading your individual clients and adjusting your balance of warmth and competence to match theirs.

Both verbal and nonverbal skills make up charisma, she said. Research has shown that 60 percent of communication is nonverbal; 40 percent is words. The pandemic adjustment to virtual meetings has increased the power of words, Edwards said.

Edwards advised improving verbal, both oral and written, communications in the new virtual and electronic communications world by avoiding sterile communications. Sterile communications, she said, miss the opportunity to prime others to be receptive and to become energized.

Motivate people through your choice of words, she advised. Using achievement oriented words like “win, succeed and master” create excitement and motivation. Achievement words, she said, double participants’ desire to keep working on tasks. This advice is based on science published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, she said.

Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, found that dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Words heard can stimulate dopamine, awakening the brain from autopilot. Using winning words makes what you say more memorable, she said. “You have the power to change an entire interaction with one word.”

Edwards gave some practical tips on movement and posture during virtual on-camera meetings, some of which carry over to in-person encounters:

-Make eye contact with the camera while speaking.

-Avoid ending statements with the question inflection; doing so makes it sound like you are begging people to question you. This is especially important when naming the price of the client’s purchase. “People who ask their numbers don’t make the sale,” she said.

-Use the lowest end of your natural voice tone. Higher tones make a person sound anxious and can be painful to listen to.

-Maintain voice volume. Lowering voice volume reveals nervousness and betrays the confidence you want to inspire.

-If possible, stand during Zoom calls.

The third presentation was held on Feb. 3 and featured Jamail who presented The Sales Leaders Playbook for 2021: Building a Winning Mindset and Culture. Jamail is a bestselling author and sales coach from Marble Falls who considers himself more a business leader than a writer.

Successful selling is a skill, Jamail said. To be a professional salesperson, committed practice, including role playing, is essential. Practice matters in sports, business, life and sales, as practicing is important to developing talent, he said. “If we are successful with our gifts, how much more successful can we be with more practice and effort?”

Jamail recognizes that successful selling has shifted over time. Old school selling, he said, relied on persuasion. That method leads to buyer’s remorse, said Jamail. New school selling makes excitement about the product a priority.

Virtual selling is more difficult than in-person selling, Jamail observed. It’s harder to build rapport with a virtual meeting, he said. Likeability is harder to convey through a computer screen.

Jamail’s tips for successful selling in today’s on-line environment include:

-Employ the FBI selling technique: Provide the features, benefits and impact of the product.

-Be genuine. “No one is a better you.”

-Gain trust. Ask questions to connect with the customer and understand their perspective and priorities.

-Treat customers with the Mom Theory; that is, never tell them anything you wouldn’t tell your mom.

-Anticipate objections and provide answers to objections before the customer raises them.

-Develop your unique closing statement. Jamail has adapted his closing statement over time and said it applies regardless of what is being sold. His closing statement is: “I think the worst thing you can do is make a decision based on price.. Go with the person you trust and like the most, the person you think will help you the longest and make the biggest impact. If I’m not that person, you shouldn’t buy from me, no matter what. If I am, you should buy from me. You should make that decision. I’d be honored to work with you.”

All three keynote presentations from the virtual Joe Vincent Management Seminar will remain accessible through the IIAT website until April 5. IIAT Executive Director Marit Peters recommended that managers replay the programs with their staffs.

Peters added that the plan for next year’s Joe Vincent Management Seminar will be a combination of in-person and online presentations.