According to the British bank Lloyds, the average person’s attention span these days is down to five minutes. So if you have a 20-minute presentation to make, there’s a good chance your clients will miss 75% of it unless you communicate in a way that keeps them listening.
Does that startle you? It should. Getting clients to really listen to you is critical to your success as an advisor. By communicating well you can give current clients the confidence to take the next step and build trust with prospects.
A key part of engaging listeners is making your ideas easy to understand, which was brought home to me recently when I heard Josh Braun’s terrific presentation at a Women for a Secure Retirement conference. The author of “The Art of Communication: How to Explain Complex Ideas in Simply Delightful Ways,” Braun is vice president of business development for Jellyvision, a digital agency dedicated to making learning and decision-making more enjoyable—or, in Braun’s words, “delightful.” I caught up with him after his speech and asked him for some tips that would help financial advisors grab their clients’ attention while educating and informing them and, possibly, even delighting them.
Olivia Mellan: Many advisors think they are excellent communicators, but often their clients feel lost, confused or overwhelmed. Why is this?
Josh Braun: Like many experts, financial advisors often suffer from the “curse of knowledge.” When you are so close to the subject matter, you have a very hard time being empathetic with people who don’t have your level of expertise. That’s problem No. 1.
Problem No. 2: You were probably never taught how to explain things. There’s a real art and a science to get someone from no understanding to understanding. So what you see is people giving PowerPoint presentations riddled with bullets. We like to say that “bullets kill.”
Problem No. 3: Technology today makes it very easy for people to regurgitate everything they know on the screen. TMI—“too much information”—leads to MEGO—“my eyes glaze over.”
OM: So when advisors have important information to communicate, how can they get their clients’ attention and help them understand?
JB: Instead of explaining everything you know, you need to ask yourself, “Why should the client care?”
In other words, instead of talking about the features or the data, you need to explain what’s in it for them. For example, if you’re talking about a 401(k), you could describe all the features: pre-tax contributions, choice of investments, and on and on. Instead, think of the real benefit: Clients want to have a certain lifestyle when they’re older. So show them “before” and “after” scenarios. Without a 401(k), there’s a lot of money stress and worry, a constrained lifestyle. With a 401(k), there’s peace of mind.
OM: In my work, I’ve found that telling stories is a good way to get a point across.
JB: Yes, storytelling is very important. We’re wired for stories from a young age. “Here’s Bob and here’s Sally. Sally doesn’t participate in a 401(k) plan and here’s what happened to her. Bob does have a 401(k). Here’s what happened to him.”
But words alone are not enough. If you see something that’s very information-dense, the brain switches off. Combine words with visuals.
For example, instead of just saying that a 401(k) can help you pay less tax now, show the hand of the government coming in and snatching away some of your money. Or if you’re explaining the power of an employer match, you might show one piggy bank being filled with the client’s contributions and another piggy bank being filled by the employer. Get creative. Don’t just explain, entertain.