I was speaking with my friend Saijal Patel recently.  If you don’t know, Saijal is a well-respected journalist/reporter and finance educator/consultant.  Among her arsenal of gifts and talents lies a ‘superpower’.  She has an uncanny knack for simplifying complex financial concepts.  She has mastered the art of balancing accessibility for the novice, while retaining sophisticated insight for the educated.  I asked her how she refined the skill.  

She told me, “I had years of preparing reports that would be presented in a format of a TV anchor feeding me questions -which invariably I wrote out for him/her- followed by my answers substantiated from my reporting.  I had one terrific anchor who called me out on the complexity of one of my reports.  Essentially, he said, “If I can’t understand it, our audience will never grasp it.  Simplify!”

Lesson well learned.  

Which lead me to a place of self reflection.  In my current role of Executive Partner, I have a dual messaging responsibility. On one hand, I need to socialize corporate policy, technology innovations, and optimal practice management solutions to our Partner Firms while simultaneously, create a platform (including copy and interaction structure) that will be presented to their end user client.  

Essentially, it demands me taking complex concepts and articulating them to end users which I would not classify as, ‘not having the intellectual acumen to grasp the material’, but rather, ‘not having been exposed to this information previously, therefore lacking the background knowledge base, in turn limiting their ability to intuitively internalize the material’.

Put more succinctly, it is not that either camp is incapable of grasping the message, it’s simply, this is their first kick at the can.  

So back to self reflection, if I am being honest with myself, I would grade myself a C- regarding simplifying message.  I am not indecipherable, but I’m also not Saijal.  Which got me thinking and questioning: Why am I falling short?  

At this point, it may be worth mentioning, prior to entering the world of finance, I was a professional actor and director.  So, I come at this with a well-honed understanding of whether or not someone has fundamentally understood what I am trying to say.  But knowing whether your message has landed or not, or for that matter knowing techniques on how to present that message, is different from knowing what to present.  In other words, ‘writing the script’ is different than ‘acting it’.  

Additionally worth mentioning are two specific idiosyncrasies inherent in my firm - Q Wealth Partners - which may not exist in the Dealer model.  That said, these potential limitations should be addressed by anyone wanting to structurally change the advisor/client experience as well as redefine their corporate environment.  

To be clear, Q Wealth is structured as a partnership.  Meaning I work for our partner firms.  I do not have the luxury of stating, “this is the way to do it”, or “this is the way I want it done.”  Without complete buy in and understanding of message, anything I say or promulgate is essentially a ‘tree falling in a forest’.  It will not be heard!   I honestly believe that this sensibility is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s corporate culture regardless of corporate structure, so I may not be quite as unique as I perceive.

Additionally, our view of the client/advisor relationship is predicated on the idea that, “we are the firm that knows our clients better than they know themselves.” We are the antithesis of the doctor/patient model of “I will tell you what is wrong with you and tell you how to treat it.”  Rather, we are designed to support a model of “Tell me the journey you want to take, let’s prioritize each step, and I will help you to the best decisions and outcomes.”  So again, our core value proposition is somewhat new to our clients, reinforcing this idea of limited past exposure to our message.  Further highlighting the need for clear, concise, direct messaging.  

For me to improve, I identified three core areas that I felt I needed to improve upon.  I suspect these will have resonance for you as well.

Elimination of Metaphors

There is a simple truth to using a metaphor to illustrate a point.  If it isn’t a widely known frame of reference, the metaphor becomes as confusing as the initial message you are attempting to illuminate.  Moreover, metaphors take a long time to articulate.  Meaning, you have a high probability of losing the attention span of the listener, particularly when you consider they didn’t understand the original point you were trying to make, and they may or may not understand the metaphor you are explaining.  Point being metaphors rarely accomplish what you want and are not worth the risk.  

Taking it a step further, if I challenge myself to think of the occasions I am most likely to use a metaphor, almost without exception, it is when I am less certain about the point I am trying to make.  It is my own personal lack of certainty and clarity of message that inevitably has me searching for alternative methods of expression.  Which can be a helpful “siren call” to me.  The moment I find myself reaching for a metaphor, is the same moment I need to stop and clarify the point I am trying to make.  The metaphor will no longer be needed.

Elimination of Jargon

This is one that most people know in one form or another.  It gets talked about a lot and written about a lot.  Yet…it persists.  Go to the website of any firm and you will see reams of it.  So why is that?  Are we collectively, just bad learners?  I think it has less to do lack of desire and simple obliviousness.  We get so ingrained in speaking and writing within our own ecosystems, that we fail to recognize we are babbling “finance speak”.  Best solve, get someone outside of the industry to read or hear your message.  In my case, my wife knows nothing of the industry (and has zero desire to learn it either) and is the perfect sounding board.  If I see her eyes glaze over, I’ll know I’ve gone in the wrong direction.  

Elimination of Ego

This is obviously the hard one but, it is the root of hyper-complex messaging.  Reduced to it’s core, we overcomplicate because we think it makes us look smarter.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  If you are not understood, either in your writing or verbal communication, people shut you out. How many meetings have we all sat in where one individual absorbs all the oxygen in the room only to have another make one simple, direct, laser-focused statement that crystallizes the core.  Now we all have our own insecurities and confidence challenges.  We all have moments of feeling we need to “prove our status” or “wear our resume” to gain respect.  But overcomplicating messaging does not accomplish that.  Once that point is accepted, there is an easy solve.  Make it about the other person!  What do they want?  What are they struggling to understand?  What is the hurdle they are trying to overcome?  The only way to know the answer is to ask questions.  The moment you flip from “telling” to “asking”, you are on your way.  

I am committed to working on these three elements.  You are welcome to try along!

Clive Cholerton
Executive Partner
Q Wealth Partners