Don’t Be Like Kant.

If you took political science or philosophy in college, you may have encountered the legendary Immanuel Kant. His work is infamously difficult to navigate. In English translation, at least, Kant’s voluminous sentences and word choice are… Well, have you heard of the Pink Floyd “wall of sound” concept?

It’s like that. Only words.

Thanks to some very talented professors, I developed a healthy respect for how innovative a thinker Kant was. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it past page five, not even as a pedantic college student (…I know, I know).

My point: Don’t be like Kant.

In our modern world of information overload, the more rapidly your ideas can be digested, the better. This is especially true if you’re selling something.

Most people have neither the expertise nor the time to fully engage with complex pitches in a rigorous way.

Instead, they’re going to throw out your deck (or white paper, or email, or website) and move on to the next one. That’s just the brutal reality of selling, whether it’s to consumers or institutions. We’re busy, we get a lot of content, we’ve become addicted to Tik Tok, we don’t have patience.

Of course, this can present difficulties—mo re so if your ideas are sophisticated or your product is highly complex.

So don’t be like Kant, but also: don’t despair. Here’s what you can do instead.

Your mantra: Don’t dumb it down. Distill.

This might sound like a straw man, but in my experience, there is a common misconception that simplicity is the enemy. I almost always ask my clients to distill their message or idea for me to its core, and not everyone likes that.

In fact, I once had a long debate with a client who claimed that the reams of explanatory charts for their pre-IPO pitch deck were absolutely necessary. They weren’t. They aren’t. No one wants that.

Distillation is your starting point. It’s your way of inviting someone into your world without scaring them.

That means starting with something I can grasp. What is the point of what you’re doing? What is the philosophy, the intent, the essence?

If you’re not sure how to think about this, I recommend the Einstein quote about explaining a concept to a six-year-old. Try it out on your kids, or on your dumb neighbor (sorry, but let’s face it we all have one). My mom was a geneticist, and I had a fairly decent handle on DNA replication by the time I was in first grade. Not the details of course, but the essence. And I thought it was really cool! And that made me like science.

That’s what we’re going for here.

Not sure where to start? Scratch the itch.

A key aspect of distillation is looking out for your clients’ #1 priority: themselves. Whatever problem they have or itch they need scratched, prioritize that first and foremost in your communications.

In other words, don’t focus on how brilliant your ideas are; demonstrate that you care about and can solve your clients’ problems.

This is a lot harder than it sounds, especially for technologists.

I’ve encountered it many times, and I get it: you’ve spent years, maybe even decades, refining and perfecting your ideas. Your work is probably a labor of love as much as it is a business. Your product is probably really, really cool.

However, for the uninitiated, hearing all about how amazing your ideas are is a turn-off. It’s the reality, I’m sorry.

It’s like going on a first date, getting drinks, and sitting in stunned silence listening to your date tell you all about why they are so smart and marriageable. Off-putting, right? You don’t do that. If you want someone to like you, you ask about their interests and passions first.

Thus, your very first order of business is to think about what your product or service can accomplish for your client.

This is not about the features you developed. This is about the benefits you are offering that can improve and beautify their life.

The language we use around this will of course vary, and if you operate in a regulated industry like finance, you need to be aware of how you’re framing these points. But the idea remains the same.

Right off the bat, have an answer for the question, “What can you do for me?”

Metaphor and analogy are your friends.

Whether it’s in writing, over the phone, or in person, you need to hook your client. This applies to ideas of any complexity level: people need to be able to follow along—preferably with enthusiasm.

Wherever possible, leverage the power of metaphor and analogy to explain what makes you different.

These are powerful tools for getting conceptual themes across without overwhelming your audience. If you can attach your analytical process, investment approach, or whatever else to a pattern or process your client already understands, you’re halfway to delivering your message in all its glory.

You notice that in this article we’ve covered Pink Floyd and first dates. This is the reason why.
In my experience, the best analogies are highly descriptive, broadly understood, and, if possible, emotionally evocative (every single person I work with has heard me say the following: never underestimate the role of emotion in decision-making).

Either way, you need to provide some imagery that helps people understand what you do. This can take some time to figure out. We usually bat ideas around for weeks, if not months, and try them out on people and go back to the drawing board and try again. After all, the shorter the description or hook, the longer it takes to get right.

Practice. A lot. Again.

For many people in financial services, sales conversations are conducted with a combination of words and pictures.

A distilled, elegant deck is a good starting point. But what will get you over the finish line is a great presentation style.

You might already be good at this! Or you might need to work on your narrative structure and client journey. You might need to tee up the sales conversation with a great marketing program that helps clients self-select into your service or away from it.

Regardless, it needs to look, sound, and feel natural. And for that, the only answer is practice.

But it pays. I promise you it pays.

The AUM you can pull from a great conversation is worth far more than the time you spent to practice it or our consulting fees. Whether you’re presenting to one person at a time or ten thousand, practice. Learn from every audience encounter. Revise. Repeat. It’s always worth it

Need some help with all this?

That’s what we’re here for. Drop us a note or schedule a call and let’s get started.

August 23, 2021

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