Between competition from robo-advisors and upcoming regulatory changes, advisors are feeling pressure to differentiate themselves, says Shauna Trainor, engagement manager with the Covenant Group in Toronto. Holding an informative lunch-and-learn session for your clients is one way to distinguish yourself from your peers.

Lunch-and-learn events are particularly effective because they offer a quick, one-hour networking opportunity. People will attend to learn about a topic of interest to them, with the added incentive of a free lunch.

To be successful, your session must be well planned. Here are three tips for hosting a successful lunch-and-learn event:

1. Draw upon your network
Collaborate with a member of your professional network. For example, Trainor says, if a real estate agent has provided referrals to you in the past, you can return the favour by inviting him or her to make a presentation to your client group. This type of collaboration can help you deepen the professional relationships you already have.

Trainor calls this strategy — which involves doing a favour for another professional — “netweaving.” While networking means seeking advice and support from other professionals, netweaving is based on the principle of what you can do for them.

Both you and your guest speaker should invite your clients, along with their friends and family.

2. Organize a meet-and-greet
The purpose of a lunch and learn is to not only educate your guests, but also to provide a networking opportunity for those in attendance. Allow some time for attendees to get know one another — even if it’s just for ten minutes at the beginning of the event.

Aside from providing an opportunity for you to introduce your clients to each other, a mingling period will often generate buzz around your practice. People in the room will likely introduce themselves by explaining their relationship to the host, Trainor says. As a result, your clients will inadvertently be advertising your services for you.

3. Provide a call to action
Bringing a group of people together is only the first step toward generating new business, according to Trainor. “You have to facilitate dialogue around what you’re looking to achieve,” she says.

For example, you might describe your services and provide contact information after the educational component of the event.

As part of your call to action, you can also hand out evaluation forms seeking feedback, Trainor adds. If attendees provide thoughtful comments alongside their contact information, you can use this information to follow up.

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