Why Presentation Training is Critical to Your Content Strategy

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
PAICR Board of Directors member

The appetite for content in the investment management industry has exploded in recent years, and so many firms have invested significantly to build out their content capabilities and to diversify the mix of communications channels they use to reach their target audiences.

But how many firms have invested in their most important communications asset: the ability of their investment professionals (and other market-facing ambassadors) to tell their story clearly, engagingly and succinctly?

My guess would be not so many!

But if your firm is savvy enough to be doing such training, or contemplating it, here are 5 steps I recommend you follow to increase your chances of a solid ROI.

Check the patient’s medical history in advance

I’m only kidding about the medical history—but I hope you get what I mean.

  • You need to know, from the outset, the level of experience the participant has—be that in the industry, their current role, previous roles, previous presenting experience, and the nature of that experience (audience, frequency, solo or partnered.)
  • More specifically, you need to know why the person is being asked to participate in the training—especially if they’ve had previous presentation training and/or would be viewed as a seasoned presenter or member of the team. The latter could be an indication that you are dealing with a protracted problem that previous training failed to resolve—and if that is the case, you need to know why.
  • Also find out from the participant any specific concerns they may have about their presenting ability, which they would like to address during their session. (Remember, the training has the potential to broaden the person’s skillset, not just for the role they currently occupy, but for the benefit of the business more broadly.)

Set clear objectives and realistic expectations

You need to know who is behind the decision to do the training and what they want the business (and each of the participant’s) to get out of it. And how will they measure its success?

  • If you believe the expectations voiced by the person are unrealistic, you need to say so, or somebody is going to be very disappointed when the job is done! For example—if one of the people to be trained has had training numerous times before to address the same issue, it would be unreasonable (and unrealistic) to expect that they will suddenly see the light after one more session with another trainer! There’s a strong chance that a more fundamental issue is at the heart of the problem than the person’s skills as a presenter—and it’s likely to be something a trainer has no power to change!
  • Regardless of the issue that needs to be addressed with each presenter, the person requesting that the training be done needs to understand that one training session can only help the participant achieve so much. Sustainable improvement in their presentation skills will only come from presenting regularly.

Timing isn’t everything … but boy can it make a big difference

If you have the flexibility, schedule the training so that each of the participants has an opportunity to put into practice what they learn from their session very soon after—ideally at an external meeting within a week to 10 days (for which they should prep for in-house beforehand.) The sooner they get to use the pointers they’ve been given, the better.  And the more frequently you can get them to meetings subsequently the better also. Practice may not make it perfect, but it will make a difference.

  • Use familiar content for the training sessions: Unless the purpose of the training is to test-drive a completely new presentation, I recommend that you get each participant to use presentation material for their coaching session with which they are reasonably familiar/possibly have presented before. If they don’t, then any presentation weakness you identify is as likely to come from their lack of familiarity with the material, as their core ability to present.
  • Capture it on video: The best way for a presenter to understand the errors they are making, is to watch themselves on video doing just that. And you don’t need any expensive equipment to capture that. Many investment professionals use iPads or similar tablets for work, which can be easily mounted on an inexpensive tripod stand to record the session. And they get to take the prize home with them J But seriously … it really does make a difference when they can see the things you are pointing out to them.

So when it comes to developing your content strategy, don’t forget about investing a bit of your time and budget in the people you depend on to deliver your message and secure the client. Ultimately, the face time a client gets with them may be the deciding factor in choosing you as their manager—and not the brochure they found on your website.

Ready, set, go! Eh … maybe! Overcoming Writer’s Block

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
PAICR Board of Directors member

As anybody who does a lot of writing in their job will tell you, writer’s block isn’t the exclusive domain of blockbuster novelists. We’ve all had those days … those projects … when we know we’ve got to get our head down and write, but we just can’t seem to make it happen. It’s painful. Like pulling teeth without anesthetic!

We obviously find a way around it, or we wouldn’t still be in the job. But what works for you? What helps you get “in the zone?” There is no silver bullet—but here are a few things that I have found have worked for me over the years.

Procrastinate some more

You may think that’s terrible advice, but quite frankly if you’re really struggling to get into “the zone” you just might be better off to defer starting the job/project until your head is in the right space … assuming you’ve got some breathing room on the delivery date. There’s nothing more disheartening than making numerous efforts to start a writing project and finding yourself constantly canning the copy you’ve written. Also, some people write best when they are “under the gun”. If you’re someone who regularly crammed for exams at school and university, this might prove your go-to option. It’s not my preferred option … but if it works for you, go with it! But if you do that, and you are partnering with a colleague on the project, please give them a heads up that that’s how you roll. One less meltdown might be spared.

Send or leave yourself a message

Have you ever been working on another project, or been in a meeting, or been in bed … and found yourself getting inspiration as to how to approach another project? It happens regularly to me, and I find if I don’t capture the idea in some way or form I’ll probably forget it. So I keep a notepad by my bed … regularly jot down ideas on my phone … or email the ideas to myself. Maybe talk to Siri and ask her to take a note. Those little nuggets could prove to be the key to unlocking your writer’s block.

Create an outline … any outline

Some of you may be wagging your finger at me at this point, but when you’re at zero, the most important thing is breaking the ice in some way. Now obviously, if you’re right up against the wire on delivery you’re going to have to be more thoughtful about the outline you create. But if you’re really just looking for a way to get your creative juices flowing, take a blank sheet of paper and start jotting down some ideas.

  • For me the title for the piece often comes first. Probably because it’s one place where I can often have a little fun with the content … but also set up the broad premise for the story I’m about to write.
  • Then I often note graphics and charts I really want to bring into the story. I still may not be sure how or where I want to incorporate them … but at least they’re on my shopping list.
  • If I’m drawing on industry or client content to create some new content, I always keep my eyes open for what I call the “zinger” statement, which I will more than likely want to use somehow, in some format. Those zinger statements often lend themselves to being great “callouts” in the copy, and can be an essential part of the story’s takeaway.

Just start writing … anything related to the topic

If you are down to the wire, and still struggling—despite an outline—you’ve got to take the bull by the horns. And that means getting something down on paper! And you don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning. So, for example, if you know exactly what you want to say on a specific point, but it’s likely to come on the second or third page … write it. And you can apply that same principle to other sections of the copy as well.  Just get your first cut down on paper (you can refine it later).

As you create more pieces of the content jigsaw, it will become clearer what needs to go where, what link copy needs to be created to connect all the pieces, and how you might close out the story. Mind you, if you have some idea of what the ending should be before you have another piece of copy thought out, write it down too!

Slán go fóill

(That’s Irish for “Goodbye for now.”)

RFPs – All the Things You Didn’t Know You Need to Know

By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones
PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.

Welcome to the second installment of our round-up from May’s RFP Symposium, in which we share random observations that we wish someone had shared with us when we were coming along in our careers.

For those of you who missed out on the Symposium, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, you can now do a full catch-up by binge-reading Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back.  Happy reading!

RFP 101 | Random Observations (Part 2)

Quality Control (QC)

This should be a separate and disciplined step apart from finishing the answers to the questions.

  • Use a checklist of items for verification– first by the writer and then a peer or manager. Check everything from footnote references, to trademark symbols, formatting, and disclosures, and search for words that give compliance heartache (“unique”, always, you will make a million dollars).
  • And let the QC results live as a part of your documentation. Again, you will find this is a boon in an internal audit.

The RFP Process: Get it right the first time

Many firms try and get a draft out fast.  We say “get the draft out right!”  When you begin to excuse poor document quality on workload or turnaround time, you have a problem with your process or staffing model.

  • RFP writers should be accountable for the quality of their drafts (consider implementing a QC before the draft goes out and keep metrics). No one has time to correct a lot of errors caused by rushing or just filling a hole in a document.
  • Poor quality drafts are a drag on the RFP team’s reputation and generally cause increased workload for everyone involved in the process, which makes the process unenjoyable. Be the smart team!

 Internal Customer Experience

Try and create consistency amongst everyone on the team.

  • Do not allow a writer to pull the “RFP martyr” fast one. The minute one writer is willing to put out another draft at 3 am (because the sales officer didn’t get changes back by the deadline), or is willing to work all weekend and call SMEs on their cell phones, your team’s process is shot.  Now, this feels the opposite of good customer service, right?  Chalk this one up to the team’s customer experience consistency.  It makes everyone’s life predictable.
  • Create email templates for research, draft communications and RFP submission. This is a difficult thing, but it unites a team.

Metrics and Measures: What to capture

  • Through-put is not an effective measure of how well an RFP process works. But, win-rates aren’t exactly fair either.
  • Measure what the RFP team can control – volume, quality, timeliness (don’t you set dates and timelines for all stages of the process?), SME and Sales input, and content management.

Speaking of Content Management

Do you have a dedicated RFP database manager?  Not many firms do this well “on the fly” or when writers have time to go and mine/update content from recent RFPs.

  • Mostly, you find these teams writing out of their RFP library – DO NOT WRITE OUT OF YOUR RFP LIBRARY.
  • Every piece of content should have an SME attached to it. The RFP team cannot be one of its own SMEs.
  • You need established and documented verification cycles.
  • Make sure you keep any and all approvals and changes.

OK – It’s a wrap! But don’t forget what you’ve learned. And better still try out some of the recommendations.

3 Easy Steps to Making your Conference Attendance a Success

By: Steven King
PAICR Board of Directors member

Let’s be honest, conferences can be hard to justify. There are probably only two or three sessions that you’re really interested in, yet you must convince your manager that staying two to three days in some place like Orlando will be worth your time. Yet, you can turn almost any conference into a success and make it more likely that your boss will send you to the next conference — if you follow these three simple steps.

Step 1: Bring back something you or your team can implement right away.

Conferences are filled with opportunities to pick up innovative ideas you can implement right away. They may come from a session on a topic that you may know intimately, or they may come from talking to the individual next to you at lunch. Be open to the fact that even on topics you may know intimately, you might pick up one new piece of information that could immediately impact the way you or your team does business today. When you find your little nugget of gold, write it down and be prepared to share it as soon as you get back into the office.

Step 2: Bring back something you or your team should work toward implementing within the next three to six months.

This step takes a little bit more work. Think about the challenges you and your team are facing before you get to the conference. What are the pain points or areas where you just can’t seem to get to a workable solution? Knowing the problem(s) you’re facing and having them top of mind makes it easier to spot the solution when a presenter covers your same problem in a session. You may have to attend every session of the conference to find the one that gives you a great idea to work through with your manager when you return, but it will be worth it. Of course, you should attend all the sessions anyway. Don’t skip out. This is your chance to improve your knowledge and make yourself a more valuable asset to the firm when you return!

Step 3: Expand your network for yourself and the firm.

Of course, conferences are your chance to “expand your network,” but what does that mean? Are you looking to make friends, find the cool kids, connect with the manager of your next job? No! Well, maybe, but let me give you a tip that will pay you back for years to come. You want to connect with people that you would be comfortable picking up the phone and calling when you encounter a problem that you’re just not sure how to handle. Chances are that someone at that conference has been there before and can help you with your problem. Introduce yourself to the speakers of the sessions that seemed the most helpful to you and your team’s problems. Talk with strangers at lunch and networking sessions to find out what they do. And don’t forget to exchange business cards with them. Talk with each vendor and get to know them and their firm. Sometimes they can put you in touch with others in the industry that they know. Your goal here is to find two to three people that you can call or email in the future. You’ll be amazed at how willing your new network is to help you.

Bonus Tip: Don’t get caught up in the late-night activities.

If you’re new to attending a conference, the late night after-parties can sound like fun, but my advice? Don’t do it unless you know you can still get up and make that 8AM conference kick-off the next morning. Especially if it took some cajoling to get the budget to attend! Show your boss and firm the professional you are.

If you implement these three steps, chances are that your boss will gladly send you to that next conference event. Just remember to bring back souvenirs for your team (ideas to implement now and later) and memories (names of industry peers) for you to access at a future date.

Using Data for Good

By: Peter Hans
Co-Founder & CEO – Harvest Exchange Corp.
PAICR Gold Sponsor – Harvest

In the investment management world, “data” has historically meant “capital markets data”—used to create an investment thesis or structure an allocation model.  But in recent years the topic of “big data” has been top-of firms’ minds.  Why? Because in a digital world, there are significant opportunities for investment managers to leverage behavioral data so they can better engage with their clients. And under the right circumstances, that data can also be used to better align the interests of an asset manager and their clients.

Here are a few examples of how data can be used to achieve such goals:

 1. Personalize the client experience

The future of finance is digital, as stated by the Financial Times. Frankly, this statement is consistent with trends we are seeing at Harvest, which demonstrate over and over again that hedge fund managers, analysts at a public pension plan, financial advisors, and individuals are conducting investment research online. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning makes it possible for the likes of Netflix and Amazon (and Harvest) to better organize content in order to improve the user experience. But without user data, this wouldn’t be possible and would lead to the user having to sort through things that are irrelevant to them. It should come as no surprise then that 70% of the content consumed on Netflix is the result of a recommendation by their algorithms.

2. Quality over quantity

 While digital marketing has allowed investment managers to seamlessly distribute their message at scale, it has also led to an environment of unsolicited spam and ever-shrinking attention spans. However, there’s no need for such a shotgun approach. Instead, behavioral data can be used to transform a manager’s previously volume-driven approach to a highly targeted relevance-driven strategy. Harvest was built with this in mind and seeks to help financial organizations better engage with their clients. We do this by prioritizing what an individual, or group of individuals, cares about and interacting with them accordingly. In essence, we seek to filter out the noise for the reader and create an environment where less is more, both for the asset manager seeking new clients and for a client seeking a new solution.

3. Intelligence for humans, not robots

While Harvest uses behavioral data as inputs into its algorithms, for asset managers the same data offers an insight into the next human interaction. For example, knowing in real time whether certain targets are engaged with thought leadership on energy infrastructure, or reading your firm’s view on the yield curve, can provide extremely valuable qualitative information for a manager’s sales team. Additionally, understanding what your target audience demographics are interested in, what they aren’t, and how those trends are changing can also be used as inputs into deciding your upcoming marketing priorities. In short, asset management has always been a relationship-driven and deeply personal business. The availability of technology-empowered behavioral data does not have to mean full automation and the elimination of the human element. In fact, this data can be used to materially strengthen the human element so that a manager can achieve their desired outcome and their client enjoys a better user experience.

In the end, most people are growing weary from the deluge of information they are bombarded with on a daily basis. But with data being used for good, that deluge can be replaced with a stream of information that users will find relevant, interesting, and actionable. For investment managers, data can be applied to better align their interests with their clients. This includes the use of data to personalize the client experience, the ability to emphasize quality over quantity in their communications strategy, and by creating more meaningful conversations with their clients.



Ever wish someone had told you sooner?

By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones
PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.

We’re crazy about RFPs.  Well, maybe just crazy?  We guess that’s up for debate! However, between the two of us, we’ve got around 50 years’ experience with writing and proposals.

We’ve seen it all – from desktop printing to PDFing.  So we thought it would be valuable to at least document and pass down random observations that we wish someone had shared with us as we were coming along in our careers.  We presented these at our recent RFP Symposium where audience participation was amazing and feedback was lively and positive.  We laughed, commiserated and debated.  Most of all, we enjoyed professional companionship, shared experiences and valuable insights.

For those of you who missed out on the “party”, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, we’ve set out below the first half of what we rolled out during our Symposium presentation.  Stay tuned for installment #2, which will be coming soon.

RFP 101: Random Observations

 Professional Technical Writers

As an RFP writer, you’re on the hook for communication, punctuation and grammar.

  • Aim for a Flesch-Kincaid grade-level score of about 11th
  • Use active voice, ensure verb tense consistency and be precise with your word usage.
  • Writers read what they are producing. Do not just cut and paste.  Read what you are working on and improve for the purpose (edit, emphasize and rearrange).

Document Process and Procedures

You should have written step-by-step instructions for every team process:

  • Completing questionnaires
  • Quality checks
  • Final reviews and approvals, and
  • Content management.

And, make sure everyone follows them to the letter.  This helps protect you and the team in all audits (internal and regulatory).

Also, do you publish timelines at the beginning of each document/project?  For example, include when a draft is due to sales/compliance and when comments are due back to the team.  And hardcopy RFP responses should be mailed two days ahead of the due date.

Brand Ambassador

RFPs are one of the first client-facing interactions with your firm.  Make sure you follow brand guidelines.  Use the voice of your brand, color palette and approved imagery.  This is especially important when you have many SMEs contributing to the document.  Sales may own the pitch, but the RFP team should own the wordsmithing.

Customer Service

RFPs are the first customer service test.  So:

  • Answer the questions asked. If you are hoping some long answer has the answer to the question in it somewhere, you have missed the mark!
  • Use the questionnaire’s words and terminology wherever you can. This means  use words and terms from the question asked.  Swap out terms even if you think the client will understand what you are saying anyway.
  • And answer multiple question sets in the order that they are asked. Do not make your readers hunt around.

Be Evaluator Friendly

Newsflash! No one reads an RFP word for word.  They scan for anticipated information.  So how can you help direct the reader’s attention?

  • Be aware of RFP goals and evaluation criteria.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to direct your reader’s eye.
  • Also you may want to consider pulling out key information into a call out box, or bold the information to make it stand out (do not use italics for this purpose).

Stay tuned for the next installment …

Get Your RFP Insights Here

2018 RFP Symposium Committee

A few years ago, I sat in an airport with colleagues talking about our jobs. What do you say when someone asks you what you do? Fueled by beer and exhaustion, we threw out phrases highlighting the best business buzzwords—leverage, facilitate, organize, write. But nothing felt like it totally encompassed the incredible responsibility (and sometimes frustrating limits) of the position. As RFP professionals, we’re expected to demonstrate knowledge that runs both deep and broad, juggle competing priorities, and organize all parts of the firm to respond to a prospect’s request. The role touches everyone, but is ultimately unique in scope.

I’m not saying we’re a rare breed—or maybe we are? But it’s so great when the person/s on the other side of the conversation speaks the same language as you—at least “professionally”; when you’re all part of essentially the same “tribe.” Because chances are you all face exactly the same challenges, and you can all benefit from brainstorming solutions for your shared problems together.  So where can you find a tribal gathering of RFP professionals?  Well, the most immediate opportunity is at the PAICR RFP Symposium in NYC on Monday, May 7.

PAICR’s annual meeting—dedicated to those in the investment management RFP world—is a distinct forum where  proposal professionals get to discuss a range of relevant and topical issues. Through interactive sessions, you have the opportunity to engage with your peers from other firms across the industry. So, come with stories of your challenges and successes … and be prepared to walk away armed with new, actionable ideas to improve your processes and re-engage afresh with your job.

Here are a few of the important topics we will be covering this year:

  • Who’s the Boss? Explore how a RFP Team’s reporting structure can influence its effectiveness within the organization. This panel discussion will lead you through an interesting review of how RFP teams have been positioned throughout the industry.
  • Rise of the Machines In today’s competitive environment, proposals that show an understanding of the prospect’s goals and objectives will have a clear edge. All too often, important information from the sales team doesn’t get funneled to the proposal team. This break-out session will offer case studies of firms that leverage their CRM tool within the proposal process to effectively disseminate information and improve outcomes.
  • I Want it Now! Teams can no longer choose between quality and quantity; both are demanded simultaneously. This session will focus on how to manage this recurring debate in order to meet deadlines and maintain your sanity.

In addition to these sessions, the symposium continues to offer great training for both new and seasoned professionals. A classic forum, RFP 101, will guide writers and managers through the nuts and bolts of a successful RFP process.

So, if your team is in need of an “information-shot in the arm” on new and leading industry trends, join us at the PAICR 2018 RFP Symposium on May 7. The Early Bird registration special is available only until April 20, so get a move on … and we’ll see you in New York!