Rich and Co.

Tips for Communicating Technical Information

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Financial professionals are like other professionals facing the challenge of communicating a complex technical subject to clients and prospects that are not technically educated and informed.  This is true with institutional clients as well.  Institutional clients are technically skilled in their areas of expertise but not yours.

Here are some good tips for those of us in financial services and working with complex and technical matters.

The below is excerpted and edited from the article: “Top Five Tips For Communicating Science”  We have replaced the term “technical information” in this essay with “technical information” and “financial professionals” with “financial professionals.” Our comments are in [Bold]

Bottom Line:  Speak to your market in their language.  Not all the time, but more.

Take Aways:

  • Invest In Marketing
  • Tell A Good Story
  • Arouse, Then Fulfill
  • Show More, Tell Less

“Top Five Tips For Communicating Technical information

Invest In Marketing
Marketing is just a subset of a larger topic: communication.

Once you have a good, solid piece of information, you need to accept that in today’s information-glutted world, facts by themselves usually aren’t enough to capture the attention and interest of your market.

  • You have to wrap those facts up in a package (a process that is called marketing) and
  • “Sell” it to your audience.

The independent film Napoleon Dynamite was produced for only a few hundred thousand dollars, but the distribution company that bought it, knowing it had a winner on its hands, gambled $10 million in advertising. So it ended up spending over 90 per cent of its budget on promoting its product. It was a winning strategy, and the movie earned over $50 million. 

In contrast, the heavily technical information-influenced Pew Oceans Commission released its final report in 2003, spending only 3 per cent of its budget on promoting its product. Is it any wonder that it failed to have much effect? 

Yet this is what financial professionals tend to do: they tend to believe in the power of information alone to sell itself.

In today’s world of noise, [good] information is too easily drowned out.

Knowing that fact isn’t enough. We need other people to know.

We have a good product that we believe in. Now we’re doing the dance of marketing it.

Arouse, Then Fulfill
First you need to arouse the interest of your audience

  • Then you need to fulfill the expectations that you’ve created.

Arouse and fulfill.

Do it in that order. Don’t do it in the reverse.

  • Don’t tell me a ton of information,
  • Then tell me something intriguing that suggests why I should care
  • You will have lost me by then.

Financial professionals have very little problem with the second part. They know how to fulfill you to the end of time. Just wind most financial professionals up and let them go.  

Telling someone how interesting technical information is comes easy; showing them takes effort. 

It’s the difference between a statement and a question. If I ask you to tell me about yourself in three statements you can probably start talking immediately, but I may not find it very engaging.

But if I ask you to say it in the form of questions, they will take some time to craft. The time you spend coming up with good questions will be doing me a favour, because the questions will light a fire in my mind that will make me want to hear more of what you have to say, not less.

Be Bilingual — Speak One Language at Work, Another Talking to Your Market
Ever hear someone “talking shop” at a cocktail party? Ever done it yourself? It’s awful, really.  But there’s a way to avoid it: be bilingual. Learn to speak one language at work, and another at the cocktail party.

When it comes to technical information, there’s an expert language and a general market language.

These elements are not as intuitive – such as the need to be more visual with your market.

Show, Don’t Tell — If you want them to get something, you’d bettershow them rather than just tell them.  Seeing is believing, so most people simply have to be shown. 

Tell A Good [Problem Solving] Story
In the end, this is perhaps the most important piece of advice, and it grows out of the “arouse and fulfill” principle.

The world today is so overloaded with information there simply is not enough time to process everything that everyone is saying. How many books do you have that you still want to read but haven’t gotten to? How big is your stack of unwatched DVDs?

And yet, if a friend tells you tomorrow that a certain movie is, “A really great story about…” you’ll probably move it to the top of your list.

Tell a good story and the whole world will listen.  And this is a principle that holds for both audiences: professional as well as the your market.

Great storytelling is infinitely difficult and elusive. If it were easy, they wouldn’t pay so much money in Hollywood to professional story analysts. It’s not easy, but it’s so powerful it’s worth the effort.

Who’s the life of the party? The guy who tells the great stories. And who’s the most popular speaker at a financial  meeting? Usually the speaker who also tells good stories, even though they are woven out of completely accurate facts.

Storytelling is the unifying trait between the technical information and the media. Financial professionals don’t like to think about this, but it’s true. The world of financial services has storytelling at its core.

If you don’t believe it, all you have to do is look at a typical research paper: it’s written in the basic three-act structure: act one is the introduction (exposition!); act two is the methods and results (the body of the story, where events actually happen); act three is the discussion (the return of the subjective element for the grand synthesis).

It’s a formula old as the ages, and as important today, in the age of information overload, as ever. A good story is like Jello: there’s always room for it.”

Take An Acting Class
Financial professionals are instilled with a dreaded fear of being wrong.  To say something wrong as a financial professional is to not be a financial professional at all.

The fear is justified at financial meetings, but when you’re talking to the general your market, it’s a different arena. You’re at the introductory level of knowledge. Relax. Trust yourself. Your audience can sense the fear, and they don’t like it.

There’s a way for financial professionals to deal with this. It’s called acting. Acting teaches you to relax, be “in the moment”, to “get out of your head”, to be more spontaneous – all things that the general your market responds to.

Financial training by itself won’t lead you in this direction. Sometimes you have to take extra efforts to offset what technical information does to your mind and your persona.

Acting training is usually geared towards comedy, but the basic rules and techniques apply to life in general. One of the best traits it teaches is how to listen. This is something financial professionals often have difficulty with.

As a financial professional you are trained to know your field, then be authoritative and give lectures. While lip service is paid to the idea of listening to feedback and interacting, the truth is that the intensity of financial research can lead to a tendency to want to plan and control everything (isn’t that what controlled experiments are all about?).

That’s fine in the laboratory, but when it comes to speaking to the your market, an overly controlling tendency can be off-putting. Acting leads you in the opposite direction.

Look into an introductory class. If nothing else, it will be a huge amount of fun.”


In scientist-turned-film-maker Randy Olson’s new book, Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance In An Age Of Style, he argues that scientists ought to take a few notes from Hollywood when trying to communicate ideas to the general your market.

Whether you are trying to persuade people of the dangers of climate change, the reality of evolution or the mystery of dark energy, here are a few of Olson’s tips for scientists who want to get their message across.



Written by Rich and Co.

October 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm

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