Effective Communication in Today’s Environment

Published May 5th, 2020 in Blog |

A common theme for advisors working in today’s environment is that client outreach is key right now. Whether it be an annual review, an unscheduled call to discuss new opportunities or just a personal check-in, advisors should be reaching out proactively. Clients need information and education now, more than ever, and likewise advisors should be thinking about brushing up on their own knowledge and skills.

In a recent Valor Virtual Workshop, Apollo Lupescu, Vice President at Dimensional Fund Advisors, discussed the building blocks for an effective communication framework. The key differentiator between effective communication skills and basic communication skills is putting those skills into a structure, or a framework. An effective communication framework allows you to practice your communication more purposefully, with more awareness and, consequently, with the ability to improve on things as you become more aware of them.

Advisors who are adapting well to the heightened need for communication are catching the attention of prospects who may not have seen the importance of financial advising before. Would-be clients are noticing who is being proactive right now – who is giving the best advice and who is offering the most engaging education. The primary component of what’s drawing people in is effective communication.

The Art of Persuasion

When trying to communicate, we’re trying to change, somehow, the way people are seeing a situation. It can be hard to change people’s minds, but many times clients need to be persuaded. Advisors need to have the skills to persuade their clients especially when trying to show them what’s in their best interest. To further elucidate the value of persuasive communication, Apollo references Aristotle’s The Art of Persuasion, and the three-part framework Aristotle describes:

  1. Ethos – Ethos is the way you are perceived. In this philosophy, the way you are perceived is the most important part of communication. The way you come across can have an immediate influence on establishing credibility, expertise, and overall character. In today’s virtual environment, advisors may need to consider new aspects of how they come across. Even seemingly simple details like the background you use in a Zoom meeting will make a huge difference.
  2. Pathos – Pathos addresses the emotional side of an issue. Advisors need to put emotions first, always staying attuned to what the emotion of the client is. Especially now, it’s important to validate clients’ feelings. Let people know you can connect and empathize, whether you agree or not. Make them feel heard and understood. Practicing this can help establish ethos too, because being curious and asking thoughtful follow-up questions shows character.
  3. Logos – Logos refers to numbers and evidence. Logos is the knowledge itself, which is important because you want to make sure that the content of your communication is valid. Having an authoritative understanding of the knowledge being shared can also contribute to establishing ethos, because it will further showcase credibility.

Content and Delivery

Really good communicators don’t only practice what to say, but also how to say it. One UCLA study, cited by Apollo in his workshop, looked at what it takes to communicate – what aspects really contribute to getting through to an audience. The results were broken down into the following three categories:

  • Verbal – the words that you say
  • Vocal – the way the words are said
  • Visual – the nonverbal behavior you communicate when speaking

Of these three, visual communication was weighted as the most important factor, vocal communication was the second most important and verbal communication was the least important.

The importance of visual communication tells us a lot about what clients are really paying attention to. Visual communication includes how we look, eye contact, our energy and movement, as well as our emotional engagement and demeanor. Another important takeaway from this information is that tools like Zoom, Skype, and Facetime – anything that allows your client to see you – will be the most effective forms of communication during this time.

Calling clients would be the next best form of communication, because in the absence of a visual, you can still preserve the voice. Vocal communication includes features like voice inflection and pace. When you have a voice that resonates with people, this can go a long way in effectively communicating. You can practice your voice communication skills through things like volume control, modulating between high and low tones, and not talking too quickly or slowly.

Verbal communication includes the content of the communication – the words and information. Of course, the content of a communication is critical, but in the absence of any visual or vocal communication queues, word-based communications like emails and documents are likely to be the least effective form of client outreach.

Relate to Your Audience

In order to have an effective message, communicators need to know who their audience is. Having a clear understanding of who you are talking to will make it easier to answer the following questions:

  1. Is this communication important to me?
  2. Or, is it important to them?

As advisors, many of us have built up these successful businesses. We all want to be able to communicate our value proposition, telling our clients what we can offer them and how we are going to offer it. But are we really relating to our clients when we communicate our value proposition?

Sure, there are clients who want to just cut to the chase. They want to know the facts – the numbers, the evidence, the research, and the data – and they want you to just do your job. Most people, however, want something with more of an emotional connection. They are looking for an advisor they can relate to and who can relate to them. The facts remain important, but advisors can be thoughtful about which facts. As you communicate those facts, mix in other communication techniques like personal stories, humor, analogies and quotes. This approach makes you more relatable and ultimately gains more trust with your client.

Create Your Playbook

The best communicators are the ones who prepare. Effective communicators need practice. They cannot rely on winging it, even when they might not be sure who their audience is going to be or what they will ask. When facing a meeting with an existing client, a new prospect, or some other audience, the most effective way for advisors to stay prepared is to have a playbook.

This is Apollo’s “4S Framework” to systematize creating a playbook:

  1. Scripts – Think of scripts as a roadmap for your client communications, rather than something you need to memorize. Scripts are a set of talking points that help remind you of important things you want to communicate. You can have multiple scripts for a particular issue, and you can decide which scripts are going to be right for which audiences.
  2. Stories – Stories are more elaborate than scripts. Stories help humanize situations, when relevant, and often they can be more powerful than data. They help clients relate better to you and can also help them understand concepts better. The stories you catalog in your playbook can come from personal experience, the media or wherever.
  3. Sketches – People are visual learners. As such, they may need concepts drawn out for them or demonstrated to them. Include a library of sketches in your playbook that you regularly draw in your more successful or common communications.
  4. Supplements – Supplements are things like slides, packets, handouts or anything else you commonly share with clients or in other presentations. Especially in today’s world, it’s harder to get to a whiteboard or to sketch things out for clients in real-time. Prepared supplements that are engaging and informative are an effective alternative.

Playbooks are living documents. Advisors can update their playbooks anytime with information they gather from pretty much anywhere.

New, frequent client questions can become the inspiration for new or revised scripts. So can interesting facts from podcasts or other advisors. New stories can be added and memorized as needed, and sketches and supplements can be crafted and improved over time.

Conclusion

Advisors are poised right now to reach clients and prospects in a way that they’ve never been reached before. The ability to effectively communicate in a way that is both empathetic and persuasive can go a long way in providing the kind of support and leadership that people are looking for. The building blocks outlined in this blog post are just a few of the concepts Apollo offers advisors in his virtual workshop.

For more information on all these concepts, how to apply them to specific questions that are coming up now and also how to create your own playbook, watch the recording of this workshop here.


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Dave Alison

Article Author

Dave Alison

Dave Alison, CFP®, EA is a founding partner of C2P Enterprises, driving a vision to help financial advisors across the United States simplify financial planning. Dave’s professional capabilities to coordinate tax, financial, insurance and estate planning needs are what led him to found Alison Wealth Management as a boutique tax, financial planning & investment management firm bringing household CFO services to affluent families & high-income professionals across the United States.

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