NEW ORLEANS -- "Make the good times roll," the National Association of Realtors (NAR) urged its members at the group's annual convention here this week, emphasizing what the organization said is one of a real estate agent's most valuable tools -- optimism.

To fuel that optimism in the face of slumping sales in many cities across the United States, the NAR offered its convention delegates scores of seminars on improving sales techniques and boosting their spirits. Some delegates said these sessions were the most important service the NAR offered at the convention.

Slow sales and declining prices of residential and commercial property have been enough to discourage agents during the past year. But many say that even in good times, they need the pep talks and salesmanship tips the NAR provides every year.

"Education and inspiration is what I come for," said Debbie Battersby, of Hanover Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb. "It's very easy to get discouraged in this business. It's absolutely wonderful to be around people who are committed to excelling."

Standing-room-only crowds got advice on "The Confidence Factor," "Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout," "Becoming the Person You Were Meant to Be," "Guerrilla Marketing for the 1990s," "Making It Great in Real Estate," "Guaranteed System to Get a Listing Every Week" and many other topics.

Seminar leaders, often speaking in the rapid-fire delivery of carnival barkers, delivered such tips such as "quit thinking like a real estate agent ... . Go back to basics. It's a people business."

And then there was a suggestion for what to say to would-be home-selling clients: "I may not be the person who sells your house but I will be the reason it sells."

Linda Vane, who is with Long & Foster Realtors in Herndon, said the seminars are "great" because "they remotivate you and keep you up with trends in the industry."

In a session titled "Guaranteed System to Get a Listing Every Week," leader Bill Barrett advised agents to stop giving their clients the traditional "closing gifts" when homes are sold. Instead, he urged agents to spend the money on annual gifts to past clients who have referred other potential sellers to them.

David Knox, discussing "Personal Performance Principles," said vigorous exercise is a must. "Exercise where you can smash something," he said. "You can put buyers' names on it so you can say, 'Hit me Jones.' " And, he advised, "massage is required for anybody in the real estate business," as are foot rubs. Use warm, scented massage oil, he said.

Sales techniques were frequent themes. "Develop rapport and trust" with prospective buyers, said seminar leader Del Bain in a session on "Developing Buyer Loyalty in a Disloyal Market." One key to developing such loyalty, he said, is to tell buyers "what reality is." He said he believes "most buyers want to pay less than a house is worth and most sellers want more than it is worth."

Said one delegate, "This is the most important part of the convention." Talking to other sales agent is important, too, because "at a convention people will tell all their secrets because you're not in their area."