Speaking to eighth graders: why you need to simplify your technical financial jargon during media interviews

Public Relations

When it comes to the financial services world, the jargon can seem as though it is a foreign language and the acronyms can feel like alphabet soup to the average consumer. While some of these financial terms may be unavoidable during your client meetings, you also have the time to explain what they mean, if necessary. But when it comes to media interviews, there is more than one reason to keep your insight concise, simple and easy-to-understand.

In the news business, most journalists are taught to keep their stories at a comprehension level of an 8thgrade reader and I believe this advice holds true for financial professionals conducting media interviews as well. Yes, there are some exceptions for more sophisticated outlets like the Wall Street Journal or CNBC, but when you’re speaking to a reporter at an average consumer-friendly or local media outlet, it’s important to eliminate the financial jargon and speak in such a way that not only the reporter understands, but also the readers, viewers and listeners, and here’s why:

  1. It can lead to misinterpretation in non-live interviews: This primarily applies to print interviews, but it can also hold true for TV interviews that are recorded and later edited into stories. In either case, your complicated explanations could be misinterpreted by the reporter and therefore, result in a misrepresentation of your insight. You must remember that you are the expert on financial matters – not the reporter. This means if you fail to fully explain a financial term or investment strategy that the reporter does not understand, it can easily result in them reporting your advice inaccurately.
  2. It can eat up your time during live interviews: In live TV and radio interviews, your time is limited and usually, your segment lasts anywhere from 3-5 minutes. Your answers to most questions should be no longer than 30 second sound bites so if you’re spending most of that time using overly complicated language, you’ll fail to successfully convey your message during your interview. Additionally, if you’re using terms that the average consumer doesn’t understand, more often than not the anchor or host will ask a follow-up question to have you clarify, using even more of your precious time. Before you know it, your segment is over and the only real thing you covered was the definition of net unrealized appreciation. Instead, prepare talking points in advance that are concise and easy-to-understand. This proactive step in preparing can help you organize your thoughts and help you identify the most important key messages to share with the audience.
  3. You’ll lose audience interest: Readers, viewers and listeners can quickly lose interest if you’re using terms they don’t understand. It’s just like meeting with a client or prospect – if you’re providing financial insight that’s way over their head, they aren’t likely to sign on for your services. The luxury of these one-on-one meetings is you can usually pick up on the confusion and help provide further clarification. But that’s not the case during media interviews. The client or prospect will likely be sitting right in front of you, making it obvious they are lost with their facial expressions and questions, but that’s not the case with media readers, viewers and listeners. During media interviews, keep advice as interesting as possible – this can be done in a number of ways including anecdotes, a bit of humor, and personal stories. Real-life examples or scenarios can help you explain why a Roth conversion can be a tax-smart move to make. Analogies are also another great way to take a rather boring explanation and make it interesting and easy to understand. For example, to explain the importance of a long-term financial plan you could say, “A long-term financial plan is like the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, slow and steady wins the race.”

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