On a recent trip to Key West, I visited Ernest Hemingway’s home, cats and all, where he lived and wrote in the 1930s. In the second-story writing studio that adjoins the house, Hemingway wrote many of his best and most famous stories and books, including:

  • Death in the Afternoon
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Green Hills of Africa
  • The Fifth Column
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro
  • The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

All of which I remembered reading and enjoying as a right-brain college student. It was Hemingway’s sparse and compelling style that appealed to me as I was thinking about writing the great American novel.
All of that passed as I entered the business world and learned to write the left-brain way. Like many of you, I’ve had the experience of trying to explain a difficult or technical concept to otherwise bright people, and getting that glazed-over look.

Kevin Morris on the Principal blog reminds us of that danger when he writes, Is Jargon Getting in Your Way? Financial terms can be confusing and have negative connotations, he says, while providing some suggestions to improve our communication.

Invesco also deals with the communication challenge for financial professionals in its white paper, New Word Order. In addition to the “words to use” and “words to lose” when communicating with employees, they describe four core communication principles from their research.

  1. Positive: Don’t sell fear or risk
  2. Plausible: Sell credible benefits
  3. Plain English: Avoid jargon
  4. Personalize: Personalize the benefits

But this is, after all, the digital age, and if you want to write like Hemingway — well, there’s an app for that.
Brothers Adam and Ben Long have developed the Hemingway app. When you click on the desktop version they ask, “Would you pay $5 for a desktop version of Hemingway?”

I said, yes. No doubt it would help us communicate more effectively with clients. A view, I hope, that would be shared by compliance departments.

Kalish is and EBA advisory board member and president of National Benefit Services, Inc., a Chicago-based third-party administrator. He is a guest lecturer at John Marshall School of Law LLM Program in Employee Benefits and serves on the Great Lakes IRS Advisory Council for Tax Exempt and Government Entity Plans. He has been publishing The Retirement Plan Blog since 2006. Reach him at jerry@nationalbenefit.com and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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