how are your storytelling skills?

The era of content overload is here. Millions of shows scream for our attention to be watched and, while it can be overwhelming, it reflects an underlying human truth—we love good stories.

Stories help us make sense of the world we inhabit, teach us about what’s beyond our ken and can stick in our memories for life. Storytellers, particularly skilled ones, hold our attention and engage us through words. They can make any topic compelling, which explains why I know the history of Airdancers—the giant inflatable waving tube people you often see outside car dealerships—thanks to Roman Mars and his podcast, 99% Invisible.

The opportunity for financial advisors to create vivid stories that resonate with clients is vast. It’s a technical field with an overabundance of numbers shrouded in jargon that’s lost on most people. Additionally, the ups and downs of the markets add a layer of emotional complexity for clients to navigate. By using stories to explain, teach and describe the multi-faceted investment world you can help your clients relate to their financial plan, and you, in a deeper way.

Here are four ways an advisor can use stories to connect better with prospects and clients.

Distinguish yourself from the sea of sameness

What makes you different from other advisors? Products, process and even price are no longer key differentiators. Even your mission statement, and the phrasing you spent hours crafting with your team, isn’t going to be what a prospect remembers. They will remember the story you tell to breathe life into your investment philosophy and paint the picture of your client experience. Set yourself apart with something memorable and engaging, to help them see you as the right financial advisor for them.

Clarify client-centric perceptions of your role

Some financial advisors toe-dip into the pool of storytelling using figures of speech to describe their role to prospective clients. Often, they begin with “I’m like…” and ends with something cliché such as “the quarterback” or “surgeon,” which mostly lets prospects know that you think highly of yourself. Remember, you shouldn’t be the hero of your own metaphor. It’s better to reframe it to be more client-centric. Even a small tweak, like beginning with, “Our role is to be…” can go a long way in helping you re-position a metaphor that emphasizes the client benefits your role provides.

If you are the third, or fourth, advisor a prospective client meets, how will you stand out? There could be a number of prospects who don’t really know what your job is—let alone why they should pay you. Find a way to clarify and connect using strong imagery or a figure of speech that could be accessible for most people. In other words, don’t invoke a hyper-specific or obscure simile that requires extensive backstory to understand. Stick with the everyday examples of how you improve your clients lives and help them achieve their personal goals. 

Show confidence and expertise

When you can explain a dry or complex idea using a vivid story, you convey competency. It shows you have such a comprehensive understanding of the concept that you’re able to make it relatable for the benefit of others. Explaining technical products using a figure of speech like a metaphor can paint a picture that is more memorable than a jargon-heavy definition.

Take, for example, diversification. The definition: a risk management strategy that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. The rationale behind this technique is that a portfolio constructed of different kinds of assets will, on average, yield higher long-term returns and lower the risk of any individual holding or security.

That description is likely to cause a lot of eyes to glaze over, yet diversification is an important concept for your clients to know. Even using the tried and true story about not putting your eggs in one basket is better than the textbook definition. Consider relating diversification to dietary advice (daily hot dog consumption may not lead you to optimum health) or even fashion (a wardrobe of only tank tops makes you ill prepared for changing seasons) to convey it in relatable terms.

Stocks, mutual funds, net asset value, capital gains—most people don’t know what they mean. Select the words and phrases you use most often in client conversations and consider ways you might describe them in accessible terms, while the essence stays the same. If you feel stuck, start by searching online—you’ll find many examples and can select and build on one that resonates with you.

Demonstrate understanding of client emotions

Managing client emotions can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. It’s easy to convince clients that they should stay invested for the long term when the markets are bullish and the economy is thriving. But, when the market takes a hit, even a small one, those same clients are thrown into an emotional state and may scramble for the sidelines.

Helping clients connect to long-term investing in real terms can go a long way in reinforcing their good behavior. Sailing and other journeys are good examples to draw from because there is an ultimate implied destination and lots of room for variability along the way. One advisor I know likens long-term investing to having children, telling clients that she knew how she wanted to parent and what choices she wanted to make—until she actually had a baby. It’s a story clients may relate to as parents but it also highlights the differences between hypothetical and real experiences. It lets clients know she can empathize with the emotions clients may feel during bouts of volatility. Clients who feel understood may end up being less defensive and more willing to listen to what she has to say during high stress times.

There are several irrational emotions and behaviors that clients may reveal over time. Show them examples of what happens when people have followed the herd, stayed too long in cash or tried to time the markets. Let them know that fear and frustration are, unfortunately, part of investing, but reinforce staying the course. Check out our behavioral finance videos here, for some examples of animated stories that can help support your conversations or give you ideas for connecting everyday examples to investment ideas.

I want to point out that stories are not about ambiguity or flowery language to disguise or misdirect.  Instead, they’re meant to help your clients understand your methods and teach them what they need to know about investments. They should be used strategically to engage clients and prospects with you and your business. When you can master storytelling and integrate it seamlessly into your conversations, it helps your clients remember you favorably. It might even lead them to repeat your stories and give out your name to friends. If they’re repeating your stories, it means they understand your point well enough to teach it to others and that is a job well done.

The views expressed in this article should not be considered investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or adopt any investment strategy.

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What Are the Risks?

All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity. Investments in fast-growing industries like the technology sector (which historically has been volatile) could result in increased price fluctuation, especially over the short term, due to the rapid pace of product change and development and changes in government regulation of companies emphasizing scientific or technological advancement or regulatory approval for new drugs and medical instruments.

Important Legal Information

The companies and case studies shown herein are used solely for illustrative purposes; any investment may or may not be currently held by any portfolio advised by Franklin Templeton Investments. The opinions are intended solely to provide insight into how securities are analyzed. The information provided is not a recommendation or individual investment advice for any particular security, strategy, or investment product and is not an indication of the trading intent of any Franklin Templeton managed portfolio. This is not a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any industry, security or investment and should not be viewed as an investment recommendation. This is intended to provide insight into the portfolio selection and research process. Factual statements are taken from sources considered reliable, but have not been independently verified for completeness or accuracy. These opinions may not be relied upon as investment advice or as an offer for any particular security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.