Three Most Important Aspects of Communications

Quick Summary: Effective communications require the message to be clear, concise, and compelling.

Abstract:

Communication is the primary element in our interaction with others.  It doesn’t matter what media is used; three fundamental elements must be present.  The initiator must have a message that they want to deliver, a medium must be available, and the recipient must be available and willing to receive it. The most significant obstacle that must be overcome is the willingness of the recipient to receive what is being transmitted.  We are all bombarded with messages, and all of us have tendency to quickly ignore most of them.  Breaking through the barrier is hard.

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Every day, all of us perform “getting to no, before getting to know” exercises.  We do it as a matter of survival.  We are constantly deluged with requests for our time and attention.  It comes from an ever-increasing number of sources. Telemarketers, ear-shattering TV and radio ads, screen pop-ups, phone texts, social media, emails, “junk” mail, on-the-street solicitations, even friends, relatives, and co-workers are constantly vying for our time.  Our reaction is the same.  For example, when we first open up our laptops in the morning and start email, we quickly look at the titles or the source and quickly decide which emails to ignore – we get to “no” fast.  Next, we decide which emails we will open and get to “know” the content.  At night, at home, we do the same thing with our postal mail.

The getting to “no” process, although frustrating, works.  However, what if YOU are the person sending the communication, hoping to get through the target audience’s “no” filter?  How do you do it?  The answer is simple but not easy.  First, you must create a message that resonates with your audience. Second, it must impress them enough so that they are willing to listen/learn more.  The challenge is that you have precious little time to break through the audience’s “no” filter.

The three most important aspects of communications involve crafting your resonating message.  If there was any doubt about the importance of these three concepts, think about what would happen if you do not get through the “no” filter.  Nothing else would be heard or read!  The three aspects became crystal clear when I was working with Melissa Gordon, the founder of Echelon Communicate (www. http://echeloncommunicate.com).  Melissa is an outstanding communications coach who has worked with Fortune 100 companies down to first-time entrepreneurs.  In one of our sessions, reviewing her extensive sets of tools and communications techniques, she said that one must be “Clear, Concise, and Compelling.”  I jumped up and said” “You just nailed it!”  In fact, “The Three Cs,” as we began to call the phrase, is recursive.  Each term implies and builds on the other two.  By being clear and concise, the “no” filter begins to tumble.  The specific words then have an opportunity to resonate, which can make the overall message compelling.

Once the “no” filter has tumbled, the recipient will be open to begin to “get to know” more.  However, the recipient will still not be ready for an avalanche of facts, figures, and other information that the initiator wants to broadcast.

The common trap that the initiator falls into in their excitement of finally breaking through the “no” filter barrier is to focus on what they want to say. Instead, they need to focus on what the audience wants to hear.  As a simple but all too common occurrence is when an initiator springs forward with a list of features of their offering when the recipient only wants to hear the benefits.  In an attempt to take advantage of the newly created broadcast window, the initiator tries to cram as much “information” as possible into their initial on-stage opportunity.  On the other hand, the recipient is trying to absorb the broadcasts but has little time to process the fire hose of information headed their way.  The result is that the “information” turns into noise.  Communication is the process of being heard and understood, not merely transmitting.

The initiator must realize that it takes time to process what they are saying.  The initiator’s goal has to be to shift from what they want to say to what they want the audience to:

Hear à Remember à Understand à Internalize

These four steps address the first two communications aspects:  Clear and Concise.

If the audience is able to perform these tasks and it resonates, they may feel compelled to act.  That is, they will DO something that aligns with the initiator’s fundamental goal.  In many cases, the “Do” involves the desire for the recipient to be able to repeat the original message to others.  The process then takes the form:

Hear à Remember à Understand à Internalize –> Repeat à Do

or

Hear à Remember à Understand à Internalize –> Do à Repeat

Being clear and concise requires an intimate knowledge of the intended recipient’s abilities and interests.  The same message is unlikely to work with diverse audiences.  Consider the message that you want to deliver in two scenarios.

In the first scenario, imagine it is Thanksgiving Day.  You have just arrived at your mother-in-law’s house.  As you walk into the kitchen, the smells of the turkey, dressing, freshly baked bread, and all of the other fixings fill the air.  Your mother-in-law and four other people are all moving around in seemingly chaotic patterns.  Your mother-in-law has just taken a pumpkin pie out of the oven, her four-year-old grandson is pulling on her apron as she navigates across the kitchen, and she says: “So, Jim, I understand you are starting a new company.  What does it do?”  How will you answer her in one short sentence that she will find interesting and remember?

In the second scenario, imagine you are at a cocktail party, and a good friend introduces you to the Managing Partner of Venture Capital Fund (and you are desperately looking for investment capital).  Would you deliver the same message that you gave to grandma?  (By the way, they both probably have similar attention spans!)

Another blog in this series focuses on elevator pitches.  One of the points discussed in that blog is that be sure you are on the right elevator!  You need to craft different messages for different audiences.  And, like arrows in a quiver, be prepared to draw the proper arrow when given the opportunity.  That blog also recommends that elevator pitches should work in two-story buildings and be about twelve words or less.

Being clear can be troublesome.  This is especially true if your message is technical or involves certain “terms of art.”  My recommendation is to not use TLAs or FLAs unless you are talking to an SME.  In English:  Do not use Three Letter Acronyms or Four Letter Acronyms unless you are talking to a Subject Matter Expert. 

Even “small” words may not be clear.  There is an old story about a Freshman English college professor who was being quizzed by her students before the final exam.  Finally, she gave them a two-word tip about the exam.  Everyone heard the same thing, and everyone knew exactly what to do.  The problem was that half the class heard “No Shakespeare,” and the other half heard “Know Shakespeare!”

Earlier, it was mentioned the importance of providing the recipient an opportunity to digest information in bite-size pieces to help ensure that they have ample time to digest your message.  Those intervals are a great time to check for understanding. However, be careful; a simple nod of the head may mean “I got it” or “I have no idea of what you just said – and I don’t care!”

Although simple to understand and repeat, being clear, concise, and compelling takes lots of work!  You must focus on all three terms and understand how each impacts the other.  The effort, however, will be well worth the time spent.  Doing it will help ensure people hear what you really want to say and have them do as a result – isn’t that the fundamental purpose of communications?

 

About The Entrepreneurial Hour

The Entrepreneurial Hour is a “pay it forward” organization focused on helping entrepreneurs and startups succeed.  The Entrepreneurial Hour holds weekly meetings where one founder/startup presents to a group of seasoned business leaders who offer friendly but candid advice.  Meetings are held from 8:00AM to 9:00AM EST every Wednesday.  Visit the website:  www.theentrepreneurialhour.com to learn more.

About Tom Berger

Tom spent 22 years with public companies including 17 years at Motorola. He then founded or ran seven technology startups with exits over $260M.  He now mentors entrepreneurs and startups. He has a free website www.CxO-Altas.com that contains almost 700 articles, presentations, and tools.

About www.CxO-Atlas.com Website

The website is a free repository for over 700 articles, presentations and tools.  The contents is targeted toward entrepreneurs, startups, and senior managers.  The 661 articles average about 850 words and each can be read in about three minutes.

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