Technology allows us to communicate more effectively than ever. So why are things getting worse?
How often do you sit on your own, working on your own, developing a great idea on your own… and then not telling anyone about it?
This is one of the very few instances where communication would have zero impact on your life. The rest of the time (i.e. pretty much all of it), communication is pivotal to everything you do.
Which begs the question: given how critical it is, why is so much communication so terrible?
Boring conference calls, interminable Update Meetings (in fact, interminable meetings of any sort), lengthy documents that take ages to get to the point… I mean, we’ve even got to the stage where people think it’s acceptable to fire-off emails called “FYI”. This is the same as throwing a document at someone and saying “there you go”; and you’d never do that.
As technology gives us ever-more choices as to how we communicate, it should make things better, not worse. But we’re seeing it make many people lazier. After all, in the old days of flipcharts, it was such a hassle to create a visual that people would spend longer thinking what would help the audience. Now, because PowerPoint and Keynote have 752 functions, or whatever it is, people can let the technology do the thinking for them. Don’t believe me? Have you ever watched a presenter simply reading out his slides and thought “Give me those. I can read them much quicker than you’re going to. And then I can leave”.
I should add here that this blog isn’t going to be an anti-technology rant – far from it. Technology helps me speak to my friends, family and customers anywhere. I can sit on my three-year old’s bed watching Peppa Pig on a hand-held iPad. Sometimes, I’m not sure whether it’s technology or witchcraft, it’s that powerful.
But, it’s all very well having more choice, it’s as important as ever that communication achieves the right thing. And, of course, the basics of communication are still as relevant as ever…
#1 Know what you want people to DO after it
With communication, it’s not what you say, it’s what you cause. Communication is supposed to trigger something. That’s the point of it. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.
So the first step of communication is never to think “what do I want to say?”, but “what do I want them to DO after I’ve said it?”
This sounds obvious; but if your final slide says “thank you”, the best you’ll ever get is your audience saying “you’re welcome”. When it says “next steps”, there’ll be some.
#2 Ensure your start is relevant
Here is a list of titles you see every day:
About us, our process, background, our expertise, review, miscellaneous, update, FYI, the problem, summary…
And what do they all have in common?
They’re all utterly boring. I mean, do you leap to open an email called “RE”?
So, ensure your introductions, titles and subtitles are interesting and relevant. For instance, I recently worked with a Sales Manager who had no responses to an email he sent called “Figures”. When we changed the title, he had a 100% response almost instantly. The new title? “Making sure you get paid the right amount this month”.
#3 Unclutter it
Once you know what you want your audience to DO (#1 above) and why it’s in their best interests to do it (#2), there’s often not a great deal left to say.
So, strip out everything you can – not so that it’s abrupt, but so you take the least possible time to make your point in a persuasive and engaging way.
A good technique is to review your content thinking “Keep it? Bin it? Appendix it?”. As the name suggests, you simply ask yourself if each bit of content’s important enough to keep where it is, move to an appendix or get rid of it. I recently did this with a senior leader of a large bank. We changed her 30-slide presentation to 12, with 9 in the appendix and 9 in the bin. It only took five minutes, but removed the worst 60% of what she was going to say.
#4 Make it memorable
People receive hundreds of communications every day. So, unless yours have something special about them, they’re going to be forgotten.
If I asked you for ways to make things memorable, you’d no doubt produce a great list. Ironically, the key is to make sure you remember to “make it memorable”.
The techniques I use most are:
Teach people new things (I always want them to think “well, I’ve never thought about it like that”)
Make it interactive, by putting people into pairs, so they all have to contribute
Give simple ways to remember things. For example, you might remember this article’s four tips by thinking of the word DRUM:
- DO not say
- Relevant start
You spend the vast majority of your life communicating. That will never change.
And the secret to being more successful at it? Do what makes sense – like DRUM – not what you see everyone else doing.
Andy Bounds helps organisations communicate better. Author of international best-seller The Jelly Effect: how to make your communications stick and awarded the title “Britain’s Sales Trainer of the Year”, Andy’s insights have helped his customers generate £billions of new business for themselves. To receive his Tuesday Tips containing communication best practices, please visit www.andybounds.com/tips