Lend me your ears
When Shakespeare penned the words “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” in Julius Caesar he did his share to perpetuate the tradition that confuses great oratory with great communication. That tradition has done more to damage our understanding of good communication than almost anything else.
Check out Google. Enter the search term “communication”, and click on the “Images” search tab. Count the number of ears that are featured as opposed to mouths, megaphones, speakers, etc. We say “I’m all ears…” but you wouldn’t know it from the walk we walk. It’s all talk! It should be “I’m all mouths!”
Let’s turn that on its ear.
Meaning begins with listening
Great communication always starts with listening, not speaking.
Meaning is a value ascribed to incoming data by the listener. You can have the most polished speech, the cleverest PowerPoint slides, the latest technology broadcasting the newest numbers, but if your listeners don’t find value in what you are broadcasting, it’s just noise.
So how do you shape your message so that your audience hears it as information; as a communication they value? As you prepare your ad campaign, keynote speech, or blog content, how can you ensure you will be heard?
You start by listening. Begin by finding out what your audience values; what would make them tune in and turn on.
Here are 4 questions you can ask before you put your message together:
- Who is your listener as a person? The most effective communication always has an emotional thread. By getting to know how your audience feels about your topic, and about their world in general, you will be more likely to strike the right emotional chords and have your message resonate more deeply. Even the largest audience consists of individual human beings. Get to know them.
- What are their needs and desires? This is basic market research. Everyone in your audience wants something. If you can hitch your message to those desires you will have their full attention.
- What keeps them up at night? As well as desires, we all have fears. While this aspect of understanding audiences has a very dark history (just think of the history of how popular fears framed as anti-Semitism and racism have been fanned into holocausts in the last 150 years), it remains critical to know what problems and stresses your audience is dealing with. All successful business messages connect because they promise to solve someone’s problem.
- Can you share the ride? Sometimes it makes sense to share a cab ride with someone if you are both headed in the same direction. In business communication, you can get a lot of mileage by finding out where your audience is headed (or would like to go) and connecting their journey with yours.
All communication is an act of translation. It’s like speaking in a foreign country: it doesn’t matter how articulate you are in your language, if you don’t understand your audience’s language, and translate your message accordingly, your audience will be hearing gibberish.
I help businesses and organizations get the mix right. People and systems working together to produce remarkable results. Check out my website to learn about the different ways I can support your organization.
There’s more! Looking for success in your small business? Read my Small Business blog at Small Business Fundamentals (www.smbfundamentals.com).
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