Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…… This is a tale about a woman who decided to share a secret. This was not a closely-guarded secret hidden high up in a tall, tall tower that could only be revealed by a handsome prince or a magic wand. No, this was something that all had the power to see if only they recognised the truth of what they were seeing. Or hearing. This secret was called the art of communication.
OK, so communicating effectively might not quite be a trip down memory lane in the gentle company of Listen With Mother – (those of a certain age can nod knowingly at this point! We’ll wait patiently, perhaps put the kettle on, while others go and Google it!) – but neither is it a million miles away.
Communicating, after all, is about sharing a message, giving people a peek at what’s new in our world, simply telling someone about something. So why do so many business leaders and corporate spokesmen and women make such a total hash of it?
We’ve all seen the talking heads on TV whose mouths are moving, who are actually making audible sometimes excitable sounds but merely leave us with an impression of bad hair, poor choice of tie or feeling totally numb. The words wash over us like a gentle shower. It’s jargon, gobbledegook, techno-speak – words without focus, without personality, without colour, words that fail to catch our interest let alone hold it.
Where’s the personality in facts and figures? Well no-one said this was going to be easy. But if you want people to listen to what you have to say, whether it be to a teatime public uncorking the wine or a presentation to your peers or the board, the key is to engage. Capture their hearts and their minds will follow. Emotion first – information second.
To repeat the old adage commonly attributed to writer Christopher Hitchens (though pinning the tail on the right donkey is a near impossible task): ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’ Whether or not there really is a novel in each of us thankfully being restrained, there is no doubt we can all tell a story. And when it comes to communicating, it’s all about story-telling.
But the story here is not your full epic trilogy. It is an example, a case study, a snapshot of someone you, your company or your product has impacted. Everything made, a decision taken, an idea floated makes a difference to a person or people out there and by highlighting the effect on that person’s life – real or generic – illustrates the value of the message you are trying to share. With value comes understanding and empathy, and then (to misquote L’Oreal) the time is right to bring on the science.
Once the speaker has the attention of the audience, often through the medium of a journalist, the rest is a doddle. Being understood in order to avoid misinterpretation is obviously still a vital component of the message being communicated, but at least now you’ve created a body, a mental clothes-horse, which can be draped with the key elements, those facts and figures that might otherwise have gone unnoticed as corkscrews are sought in kitchen drawers or colleagues take advantage of your presentation for a sneaky forty winks!