I love plain English. So I was delighted to find a section called “Speaking in Plain English” in How to Give Financial Advice to Women: Attracting & Retaining High-Net-Worth Female Clients by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. I’ve known the author since at least 2010, when she guest-blogged for me about “Five Tips for Delivering Bad News to Clients.”
Kingsbury suggests three ways to improve your in-person communications with clients.
1. Work with a partner
Work with a partner, suggests Kingsbury, following a method suggested by Jennifer Moran of Daintree Advisors. If you present to the clients while your colleague observes, your colleague can “be on jargon patrol” and watch for signs of client confusion, she says.
Your partner’s polite request for clarification of jargon, “allows the client to save face.” It’s probably a bit awkward for your colleague to attend strictly as an observer, but you could switch roles for part of the meeting.
If you attend enough meetings using this approach, I imagine that you’ll gradually improve your use of plain English.
2. Record some client meetings
Sometimes it’s not practical to bring a colleague to meetings. In that case, ask some clients if you can record meetings. Phrase your request carefully, so you don’t alarm them. “Explain that the purpose of the tape is to improve your communication skills and that it will be kept in confidence and promptly destroyed after it is reviewed,” says Kingsbury.
Later, listen critically to the tape. When you notice jargon, think about how to explain those ideas better the next time.
To take Kingsbury’s approach one step further, I suggest you test your plain English explanations on family members or friends who are not experts.
3. Empower clients to stop you
“. . . empower your clients to stop you when you use words or concepts they are unfamiliar with,” suggests Kingsbury. In an email to me, she provided some suggestions about how to word the request.
In the financial field we use a lot of jargon. While I try not to do this in client meetings, sometimes I forget. Please let me know if there is anything we discussed that you don’t understand or that you would like me to explain again.
Another way is to say,“We covered a lot today and I have a bad habit of talking in technical terms. I know you are very smart, but I want to make sure you understood what I covered today. Is there anything that you would like to go over again or have me explain in non-technical language?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Kingsbury. At a quick glance, this book looks like a practical resource for advisors to women. It’s scheduled to become available on September 7, 2012, but you can pre-order on Amazon.