by Beverly D. Flaxington
Knowing how to communicate well-whether talking to a prospect, a longtime client or a roomful of hopeful retirees-is an important skill to master. Good communication is the key to successful prospecting, client retention, referrals and simply getting your ideas across in a clear and effective manner. There are six keys to confident presenting. Learning each key and considering each one before any communication can help you present your ideas with confidence and impact.
The first key to confident presenting is to know why. Why is this communication taking place, and what is the objective for the communication? Why does this information matter? Why now? What do you hope to accomplish as a result of this communication?
Before you plan how to present or what to say, establish why and identify your objective. Do you hope to move a prospect along in the buying cycle? Do you hope to quell investor panic during a difficult market ride? Do you hope to clearly illustrate how your firm is positioned against your competition? Write down your desired outcome for this exchange before you begin to prepare information. For example, if a client has referred a friend to you and that person is coming in for an initial meeting, what do you hope to gain from it? Do you want to learn more about the prospect and qualify him or her for your firm? Do you want to establish a rapport for future discussions? Be clear about your desired outcome.
Know Your Audience
Find out as much as you can about the person or people you are presenting to. What do they know? What do they care about? What is their filter on the information you are sharing? Who are they and why are they listening to you?
Getting information in advance by surveying, questioning or doing background research can be very helpful. If you can't do this well in advance, probe and ask questions just before you start your presentation to learn more about your audience. What do they hope to get out of the exchange? What do they know, and what do they hope to learn? What's most important to them?
We all love to focus on our own interests, so most people willingly answer questions about what they care about. Get the audience to open up and talk before you offer too much information. Additionally, some advisers think using complicated terminology or sophisticated industry jargon impresses a client or prospect. That might be true, but only depending on the person. For some it is a negative. It's important to know what your audience cares about and speak to what's important to them, not what's important to you.
Be sure to create a clear flow of information so your audience can follow along with what you are saying. Flow means taking all of the information you want to get across and before you deliver it, chunking it into segments. Look at everything you want to convey, and see how you can categorize different ideas and concepts. Do you have three segments of information? Five segments? Figure out how the material breaks down, and let your audience know before you begin: "We'll cover three important areas about living well in retirement. The first is this, the second is that and the third is the other. Let's look at each segment now in some detail." Then outline your information for that segment. Open each segment reminding the audience of the focus, give the supporting data or details for that segment and close the segment reminding your audience of what you've just discussed. For example: "We just looked at health-care options in retirement and covered these three points about it, so let's move on to segment two."
If you are meeting with a longtime client worried about the market rides, you might segment the information and say, "First we'll look at your long-term goals again and review the assumptions we've made in reaching them. Next, we'll review the market ups and downs over the last 10 years and discuss what's happening. Lastly, we'll review your goals in the context of the recent market difficulties. At the end, we'll establish the best plans for your portfolio and your long-term objectives."
Make it clear to your listener what the relevant sections are, and when you are in each section, provide supporting information.
Adult learning principles tell us that adults learn best when new material is given to them in a context that they recognize and that makes sense to them. We need someone to make a connection for us and tell us why we should care about something. So, if I am trying to sell you on an idea or concept I want you to care about, I need to show you why you should care.
I might say to a prospect, "Most investors who are 55 to 62, like you and your spouse, don't realize the impact of tax considerations when planning for retirement. Have you explored your tax situation and the impact on your investments?" If the listener is in this age range, and is worried about retirement, you have now captured their attention with context. I connected the comments to their age and stage of life instead of just giving general information about the tax implications of retirement planning.
If I am a listener, I may not realize how important it is to me and my situation unless you make it about me. There is a saying that we are all tuned in to our favorite radio station at all times-WIIFM (what's in it for me?). When we want to communicate clearly to another person, we must keep in mind their WIIFM and help them to see why what we are saying should matter to their life and situation.
Match Your Communication Style
When presenting well and communicating effectively, it's important to know your own communication style and to pay attention to that of your audience. Are you a fast talker speaking to someone who is slower and seems to need to process? Are you a slow, thoughtful, data-oriented person speaking to someone who just wants the bottom line?
We need to watch the cues our audience gives us and modify our style accordingly. In sales this is called matching or mirroring. It's a subtle shift. It doesn't mean that you imitate everything the other people do; it means you pay attention to their style of communicating, and you endeavor to match your style a little more closely to theirs.
For example, sometimes advisers will slowly plod through a pitch book page by page when presenting to a committee, while the members of the committee are clearly giving off cues that they want things to move a little more quickly. Or an adviser might present information and expect an immediate response from someone who needs time to think and ponder about what's been presented. We tend to present and communicate in the style we are most comfortable with, rather than a style that matches our audience. Focus on the person or people on the other side of the table and give them information in a way that works for them.
Bring closure when you get near the end of the presentation. What do you want to happen next? What will you do? What do you want your audience to do next? Be clear about the next step. Don't assume and don't leave it to chance. It's typical to spend a lot of time preparing for a communication or presentation but then leave the final portion hanging.
If you need a client to make a decision about something, let them know. ("Now that we've reviewed this information, I need you to decide between these two options. Can you let me know by next Tuesday what you want to do? Shall I call you or email you to find out your decision?")
Be as crystal clear as possible about what needs to happen next. This is the time you go back to your desired outcome, the "why" that you established at the beginning. If the objective was simply to inform someone, confirm that the listener learned what he or she needed to. If it is a group setting, ask people to raise their hands or go around and get a commitment to the next step from each person. Always bring your audience back to where you started: "We said the objective for our meeting was for you to learn the key differences between our firm and our competition. Have we accomplished that objective? What else would you need to know? What needs to happen next?" Be sure to have a clear end and a way to bring the conversation to a close with agreed-upon next steps.
Communicating and presenting with confidence is such an important skill to master. Use these six keys to improve your day-to-day interactions and become more effective at getting your message across clearly.
Beverly D. Flaxington is principal of The Collaborative, which, along with its division, Advisors Trusted Advisor (www.advisorstrustedadvisor.com), is a consulting, coaching and training firm exclusively serving the financial industry.