A few weeks ago, I was traveling through Spain and I quickly realized that I should have done a better job learning the language in advance. Sure, we got around okay using a mixture of muddled English, Spanish and Catalan — yes, knowing some Catalan is helpful in Barcelona — but as a communicator who prides herself on trying to use the right words to get messages across efficiently, I was quickly humbled by my inability to easily communicate with locals.
It got me thinking about how important language is to communicating effectively (whether through written or spoken language), and especially for professionals who advise clients for a living. You can use all the precise words you want in your profession, but are they the best words to use to truly engage clients? If you manage money or advise clients about their financial plan, using words like “smart beta,” “market cycle” and “indexing” may mean something to you and your colleagues, but do they mean the same thing to your clients?
Lost in translation
Jargon, acronyms and abbreviations are often at the heart of poor communication. Jargon is specialized words or terms used by experts. But, your clients aren’t financial experts. Too much jargon leads to confusion, misunderstanding and can cause people to tune out. And, too many acronyms, abbreviations and insider talk can make you sound inauthentic, even untrustworthy. Ultimately, too much jargon can jeopardize your relationship with clients.
How can you make sure you communicating effectively?
- Review all your materials. Are your on and offline communications clear? Do the words you choose speak to your clients and prospects? If a word is not in Webster’s or another prominent dictionary, find a different word or phrase to get your message across. And remember, some financial terms are abstract. Do all your prospects understand what it means to be “risk averse?” Try instead, “willingness to lose account value.” The phrase may sound simplistic, but that is what you mean.
- Read everything aloud. Listen to how your words sound. “Secular trend” may conjure up a religious viewpoint when you are really describing a long-term time frame. Simplifying the sometimes complex world of financial services will make you sound more authentic, lead to better questions and ultimately better service.
- Vet your presentations with others. This includes assistants, friends, even mom. Have them listen to your presentations and then elicit their feedback. People who know you may be more honest than a client who may be too embarrassed to ask, “what do you really mean by diversification?”
- Limit the use of today’s trendy buzzwords. “Bottom line,” “Drill down” and “paradigm shift” are overused by many businesses, and they show up in many media. Limit the use of such buzzwords in your materials and in your digital communications. Also, be careful of popular words like “leverage,” which among its technical connotations means speculating with borrowed money. It does not mean “use.”
- Be careful with acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms (pronounced words like NASA) and abbreviations (shortened phrases like CFP) can be helpful in your PowerPoints. But, if they are unfamiliar language to your clients, you may be better off spelling them out. “Price-to-earnings ratio” may be more clear to clients than P-E.
By using words to which your audience can relate, you become a better communicator, a more trusted advisor and a navigator for your clients’ financial lives.
By Teresa Dougherty, strategic communications consultant firstname.lastname@example.org