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The Dos and Don'ts of Effective Virtual Communication

March 19, 2020 

Conduct an effective virtual meeting with ease while avoiding the most common mistakes.

Financial Advisors: This article is based off of our popular Communicate to Connect module. Click here to access additional content to share.

Ryan Sullivan, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®
Managing Director
Applied Insights
Ryan is responsible for engaging and educating financial advisors and their clients about current and emerging opportunities in the financial services marketplace. These range from areas such as retirement-income planning, investment planning, and charitable giving, to anticipating and preparing for long-term demographic and lifestyle changes. He also has extensive experience coaching professionals on public speaking and applied improvisation.
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*Source: Technology is redefining that client-financial advisor relationship, cnbc.com, 10/19
 


By Ryan Sullivan

In periods of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to proactively contact your clients. If a client hasn’t called you, that doesn’t mean they’re not concerned. If they get the sense you’re avoiding contacting them, they may reach out to another advisor for help. This is the time to be pro-active. It’s said that in crisis moments, the “pros” are “active.” However, in-person meetings may currently be ill-advised and phone calls may not provide the level of connection clients need. But using virtual meeting technology (aka video conferencing) is a great option for staying in touch with clients right now.

 

Connect with Clients Anywhere, Anytime

If you’ve been reluctant to try online client meetings, now may be the time to jump in—and quickly. Think some clients may be hesitant to try it? Given that anxious investors need informed insights right now but understand the current precautions on “social distancing,” you may be surprised at how many will be open to an online meeting. If nothing else, offering an online session shows you’re being proactive about communication. Plus, you’ll be keeping up with your competition—in one recent survey, almost 70% of advisors asked said they were already using video conferencing.*

Following are some tips on how to conduct an effective virtual meeting while avoiding the most common mistakes. These tips are written to primarily cover one-to-one client meetings, but most would apply for one-to-many webinars, as well. (This is also a great time to be reaching out to groups of prospects and clients.) As with any online tools, check with your firm first for any compliance restrictions or system requirements.

 

number1a

Set the Background

Dos

Don’ts

Consider an external webcam with a light and a USB microphone. You want to keep the same professional standard as your office environment.

Have primary lighting to the side or behind you. Instead, keep it in front of you and near eye level, if possible.

Remove clutter or mess from your physical background as well as from your computer desktop

Use a glass window as your background. Walls or bookcases typically work better, and healthy-looking plants are a bonus.

Look into platforms or webcams that “blur” the background behind you to limit visual distractions

Allow unexpected interruptions from co-workers, kids or pets. Consider putting a “do not disturb” sign on your door.

Use a private setting and avoid public Wi-Fi unless using a VPN

Allow sunlight, directly or reflected, to shine into the webcam

 

 

number2a

Dress the Part

Dos

Don’ts

Wear neutral tones in blues, greens, and browns

Wear black, white, or bright colors that may reflect light. Also avoid thin stripes or busy patterns.

Wear contact lenses instead of glasses to minimize screen reflections that may limit eye contact

Wear a business-like shirt or top with gym shorts, in case you have to stand up unexpectedly

Look professional and well kempt, as always

Wear jewelry that may reflect light or make noise as you motion

 

 

number3a

Immediately Before the Session

Dos

Don’ts

Have water and tissues handy. Warm up your voice, if needed, and take a few deep breaths before you start.

Wait until the last minute to call and log in, as you won’t have time to fix any technical problems before start time

Ensure your devices are fully charged or plugged in to avoid depleting batteries mid-meeting

Assume clients can’t see or hear what you’re doing before or after the session if you’re logged in. Make sure to mute as necessary and disconnect afterwards.

Close any applications or files you don’t intend to display. If you’ll have a browser open, close any unneeded tabs.

Let any background noise on your end go unaddressed. It may not bother you, but may affect clients with hearing issues.

 

 

number4a

As You Get Started

Dos

Don’ts

Verify it’s still a good time to meet, especially if they seem distracted or preoccupied by children, pets, etc.

Rush into discussion without verifying they can see and hear you well

Display empathy by asking about them, their family, and their health before talking business

Invite distractions. Ask them to close open apps and turn down any music or the TV.

Let clients know a little audio/visual delay is expected and to inform you of any problems

Miss the opportunity to see them. Encourage them to turn on their webcam so you can see their facial expressions and body language.

Ask if there’s anything they want to be sure to cover in the meeting

Start talking about confidential information before getting permission in case others are present

 

 

number5a

In the Meeting—Visual Tips

Dos

Don’ts

Be aware of your body language. Posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and hand gestures can all be indicators of your perceived confidence. (See our resource for communicating confidently in a crisis.)

Show too many visuals or switch between images too quickly—your clients’ screen may be much smaller than yours. (Encourage them to use their PC or tablet versus their smartphone.) During stressful times, clients may also have trouble focusing on a lot of content.

If available on your platform, occasionally check the “audience view” window, so you can note any lag time as you change visuals

Move too quickly or excessively, as that can appear blurred on your clients’ screen

 

 

number6a

In the Meeting—Vocal Tips

Dos

Don’ts

Speak clearly and project your voice, but resist the urge to speak too loudly

Drastically change your distance from the mic, if not using a headset. Your volume will vary greatly, as well.

Add a bit more inflection and pitch variety to your voice as you speak. Your voice may sound a bit flat or monotone over the phone or through speakers.

“Up-talk” or end your sentence in a higher pitched voice, which may sound like you’re asking a question. Clients may perceive you as less confident about what you’re saying or think you’re actually asking a question.

 

 

number7a

In the meeting—verbal tips:

Dos

Don’ts

Have bullet points of what you want to cover, but don’t “wing it” or read from a script verbatim. Simplify explanations and provide insights─not just information. Stories also work well.

Speak too fast, which can sound garbled or cause you to add filler words such as “um,” or forget to add occasional pauses so clients have an opportunity to speak

Ask questions to encourage interaction and be sure to check for understanding

Stop talking as visuals are updating on the screen, as it may cause awkward silences

 

 

number8a

Troubleshooting

Dos

Don’ts

If you hear feedback, ask your clients to turn off their computer speakers if they’re using their phone

Push to continue the online meeting if you’re having major technical troubles or the client becomes frustrated. Resume the conversation solely by phone or reschedule.

If your clients are still having computer troubles, check whether they have any tech-savvy children at home

Be afraid to suggest rescheduling if there’s excessive noise or too many distractions on the clients’ end, and you feel the time’s becoming unproductive

 

 

number9a

Before Ending the Session

Dos

Don’ts

Ask if there are any last questions and recap your main points. It’s said people remember what they hear first, what they hear last, and what they hear often.

Forget to seek agreement on any follow-up steps, next appointment times, or open action items

Ask if there is anyone else the clients care about who may have concerns right now

Miss an opportunity to thank your clients for their trust in you

 

 

number10a

After the Session

Dos

Don’ts

Make sure to disconnect from both the online meeting and the phone call

Book meetings so close together that you don’t have a minute to reset and get centered before you begin the next session

Jot down any notes, reminders, or action items

Take your voice for granted. Remember to hydrate and use cough drops to soothe your throat, if necessary.

 

 

Your Guidance Is Critical in Volatile Times

This is a stressful time for both advisors and clients. But it’s also a great opportunity to help clients remain focused on their long-term goals and avoid costly mistakes, to be better positioned for near-term challenges in the markets, and to assist new prospects who are looking for sage advice and informed insights in this tumultuous time. Virtual meetings can help you to do that more efficiently and effectively, especially in light of social distancing (or current health precautions).

If you want content that can help you prepare for more productive client conversations, or material that can be used to guide your online discussions, please visit our Volatility Resource Center


Next Steps:

  1. Download a PDF version of this article. Keep a printed copy nearby to use as a guide when planning virtual meetings
  2. New to virtual meetings? Host a practice session with a colleague or friend to get comfortable with the format. Then start doing virtual meetings with clients this week.
  3. Visit our Volatility Resource Center and Communicating to Connect landing pages for educational resources and communication tips

 

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