Monday, July 25, 2011

Effective Communication

Everyone seems to have a take on what it takes to make a great speaker, so we try to take the shining lessons of all and see what patterns seem to stand out. In a recent article over at Productivity501, we saw the following.
  1. Be visual.
  2. Tell stories.
  3. What people hear vs. what you say.
While #2 is no different from what we've been stating in our posts, #1 & #3 caught our attention because they were different.

The article used this story to illustrate #1,
wealth of pennies
I once ran an IT department for a non-profit with about 200 employees.  In the work room we had a large color and a large b&w printer.  The cost on the color printer was about $0.15 per page.  The cost of the b&w was $0.015 per page.  I kept trying to ask people to use the b&w unless they had a compelling reason to print color.  When you are printing 50,000 toe 100,000 pages per month the $0.015 vs $0.15 made a big difference on the budget.  A few casual visits to the work room made it clear that no one was listening. A good percentage of the paper being printed on the color printer was b&w or had unnecessary color. 
I had my assistant get me 165 pennies to prepare for a meeting where I was going to try once again.  I took 10 sheets of paper, put them on the table and said, “Here is how much this costs to print on the b&w printer.”  Then I dropped 15 pennies on the table.  ”Here is how much it costs to print these same 10 sheets on the color printer.”  I then dropped 150 pennies on the table, making as much noise as possible and letting them roll all over the place and onto the floor. 
After that, people started being more careful.  Behavior didn’t change overnight, but there was a noticeable drop in the usage on the color printer.  Dropping the pennies on the table made an impression–something I hadn’t been able to do before using just my words. Showing is nearly always more effective than saying.
Made to Stick calls this concrete - taking something abstract and translating it to the tangible. 

As for #3, another story was used to illustrate the point:
After Obama won the election, the news crews were talking to people who were very excited about his success.  One person interviewed was a woman who made the statement that now she wouldn’t have to worry about putting gas in her car. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about her mortgage. I didn’t watch everything Obama said, but I don’t think he made any promises to pay mortgages or give away free gas. I do know he did a pretty good job of conveying a message of hope, but what that lady heard and what Obama said were not at all the same thing.
While this may be a bit of an extreme example, it is vitally important to remember that what you say isn’t the important thing.  What matters is what people hear.  In many cases those to things can be miles apart. All of us hear things through our own set of biases, assumptions and personalities. When you are communicating it is easy to be so focused on what you say, that you overlook what people will hear
It's important to take into account what our audience thinks lest we risk losing our message.

In any case, effective speaking is mainly about utilizing a set of core concepts - no matter however it's described or organized.


  1. Here's another example of visualization:

  2. Great visualization, maybe too good. Should we packing our bags?