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'No, Like This...'

When a simple drawing becomes a key tool to help clients understand complex information.

Carl Richards, 04/01/2015

Earlier this year, an advisor shared a story with me that sounded really familiar. Recently, he met with a client to discuss the plans for her upcoming retirement. Of course, he’d prepared a detailed, 60-page document and walked her through it, page by page. She seemed to understand the plan, but at different moments, the advisor noticed a blank look. What he was saying wasn’t making sense to the client.

I know you’ve been there, too. You’re in a meeting, trying to explain something incredibly important. You’re doing your best to make the information clear and avoid industry jargon, but all you get back are blank stares. Given the importance of the decisions we’re trying to make, we clearly have to do something different.

Light Bulb Goes On
In this case, the advisor grabbed a blank piece of paper and started drawing. Now, because he knew every detail of the plan, he was able to quickly and easily sketch out what her plan looked like. As he did, the light bulb went on, and the client asked to take the paper home with her. The plan finally made sense when she saw it visualized.

Surprised, the advisor offered to draw up a better version, but the client insisted she was happy with the rough sketch. He commented that it was the first time he drew a concept for a client, but in his words, he’d be “hard-pressed to not use it again.” But let’s be clear. Drawing wasn’t a shortcut.

He’d done the research and understood the client’s plan. The sketch worked for two reasons: 1) it demonstrated the advisor’s mastery of the material, and 2) it visually connected all the dots for his client. She left the meeting informed and happy.

Every time I tell a story like this advisor’s, the immediate response tends to be, “I can’t draw.” On top of feeling like they can’t draw, financial professionals at all levels hesitate to try it because drawing feels risky. We’re attempting to do art with everyone watching.

Try It Once
But I beg everyone to try it just once. Walk up to the whiteboard or grab a piece of paper and say, “No, like this....” as you start sketching out your ideas. You’ll be blown away at how people respond when you turn your ideas into simple drawings. What may feel amateurish to you appears approachable to everyone else. Plus, you’re demonstrating total command of the material.

Now, I know it may be tempting to say these drawings are too simplistic for our industry. Before you make that call, please remember one thing. It’s the combination of research, dedication, and experience that makes it possible for you to stand at the front of the room, pick up a marker, and say with confidence, “No, like this…” Your sketches may be simple, but the preparation that makes them possible is the furthest thing from simplistic.

Of course, we could continue to do what we’ve always done: walk people, page by page, through big, detailed reports and hope they understand. But imagine the possibilities if we embrace our inner artist and remember Da Vinci’s advice that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Time after time, I’ve seen the simplicity of sketched-out ideas cut through complexity and help people understand incredibly important information. Don’t be afraid to grab that paper or step up to the whiteboard. You’ll definitely see more light bulbs and fewer blank stares as a result.

The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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