Written By: Jacquie Carroll, Ed.D, AFC
You Had Me at Hello: Three Strategies for Making Initial Connections
Anyone who has ever tried to teach personal finance either to a client, a group of workshop participants, or actual college students, knows that all too often, eyes glaze over and shoulders shrug—let’s face it—personal finance is not that sexy to most—obviously they are not Accredited Financial Counselors (AFC®s). However, personal financial knowledge and skills are very important and valuable and can have a significant impact in peoples’ lives. As trained AFCs we know that these efforts and payoffs are worth it. So, whether you are teaching financial education skills, fundamentals, or strategies to an individual or a group, the findings and resources below will help create connections with your clients and make learning meaningful, fun, and memorable. The good news is that applying these strategies has the same benefits for you!
Take a moment to reflect on the following questions as it relates to you and your clients:
- Why is it important to connect with your client/audience?
- How does connecting benefit you as the coach/presenter?
- How does connecting benefit the client/audience?
Summary of Findings
Although some of the strategies discussed may be common sense, I think it is important to reiterate their impact. Making a connection is key! These articles addressed some common misconceptions about making meaningful connections.
First, many times, people believe that in order to make connections with others, in particular, if you are teaching, one has to be charismatic or charming. Of course, we have all met dynamic individuals, and we enjoyed being around them. However, research shows that the best way to make a connection is to be your authentic self. That means staying true to yourself, your personality, and the strategies that fit your presentation style.
Second, some people may recommend letting your client/audience know that your instructions/recommendations are easy and doable to help build their confidence. Although at times we think it builds confidence when we tell our clients “This is very simple and easy to do”, research shows it can actually reduce questions and decrease confidence. Think of yourself as a client/audience–if an expert tells you, “This is easy”, asking them or others a question could leave you embarrassed and feeling ignorant. No one likes that.
Lastly, although a good process, organization, and paperwork are important, research suggests that your presence directly correlates with client/audience satisfaction. With the advent of COVID, this is particularly true for virtual sessions such as webinars, or ZOOM, but also for individual meetings or group presentations. In both, social presence and cognitive presence are valued. This really means, ‘Be present’! Putting away the phone and other distractions that could signal the individual in front of you is not that important. Being fully present means using a variety of communication methods and strategies to build a sense of energy and learning.
Key points, impact or insights
We are trying to build long-term relationships. At the same time, we are trying to create a supportive learning environment, because at the end of the day our goal is to move the needle of learning as it relates to personal finance. The three best practices below will help you not only set the stage, but actually open the door for learning. Although there are many strategies in the articles above, I am sharing what resonated with me, and that is to connect with our client/audience before, during, and after each session and why it is important.
- You had me at hello…and that can and should start the interaction with your participant(s) even before learning actually begins. If you are doing an in-person session, it is good to greet participants as they enter the room. Additionally, you could go around and introduce yourself. In the virtual environment, you can do something similar. The goal is to have the session not only be interactive, so it is not boring, but to also help the audience share with one another. So, an effective, easy icebreaker for participation is key. In the virtual environment, it could be as simple as “Which part of the country are you joining us from?” In an in-person group session—“How many of you would like to learn more about improving your credit utilization ratio? Raise your hands.” These simple activities set the stage for a supportive, and interactive environment.
- Then it is about activating and connecting with the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)”. You can do this by asking purposeful questions, which gets individuals to activate their prior knowledge about particular content. Framing the questions in relation to what they want to get out of it, will help move them into the active participant category instead of passive…you know just sitting and waiting until it’s over. This is particularly true when sessions have required attendance. Connecting to the WIIFM is very powerful both in-person and in a virtual setting. Once individuals are active, and they have started thinking about themselves, their needs, and their goals, the next most important connection to focus on is you as the presenter. Your audience wants to know who you are, why you are doing things, and they love to hear about your passion. As I mentioned earlier, be your authentic self. That is what learners appreciate most.
- Lastly, stick around if you can. Most likely, some learners who became active due to their WIIFM may have follow-up questions. This is a great opportunity because this is when information tends to stick the most—-when they are actively thinking about and trying to connect the new information to their existing knowledge. Sometimes, you’ll have more questions and engagement, and sometimes you’ll have less—that is – normal for everyone. However, it always makes me think of the starfish story. Walking along the beach you may encounter many starfish, and even if you only throw one starfish back at a time, you’ve made a difference for that one starfish—the same is true for our clients.
Lambert, C. (2012, March-April). Twilight of the lecture: A trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2012/03/twilight-of-the-lecture
Thompson, J.G. (2011, March 26). 28 ways to build persistent & confident students. Retrieved from https://juliagthompson.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-build-persistence-and-confidence.html
Wieman, C (2010). Basic instructor habits to keep students engaged. Retrieved from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia website: https://cwsei.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/cwsei/resources/instructor/InstructorHabitsToKeepStudentsEngaged_CWSEI.pdf