Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Once Upon a Time: Getting Your Message Across

I was in Borders scanning across a magazine rack when I saw a headline that grabbed me, and I started to reach for a copy – but suddenly a fire alarm went off.

What do I do? Exit, or pick up a copy of the fall issue of Harvard Business Review’s OnPoint publication with the bold headline: “How to Get Your Message Across”?

Actually, the alarm turned out to be just a security buzzer at the door. But I refuse to let that technicality get in the way. With a little fudging, I’m applying one of the core principles that emerge from the 20 or so meaty articles about effective communications in the business world.

Rather than try to summarize all of OnPoint’s insights, let me single out three “Communications 101” rules that came through the strongest, and that are always worth a reminder.

1. “Tell them one thing, and one thing only.” Audiences remember only one thing, so make sure it’s the one thing you want them to remember. Then essentially eliminate everything else.

2. Beware of PowerPoint. Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines, points out that PowerPoint can be an obstacle to clear thinking rather than a help. “Bullet points without ‘a subject, a verb, and an object’ do not convey ‘complete thoughts'," an article quotes him as saying. “PowerPoint itself is not the problem; executives who use it as a shorthand for thinking are. Too many managers use it to sketch out thoughts rather than flesh them out.”

3. Most of all, tell a story. Facts and figures alone aren’t persuasive, they aren’t memorable and they don’t hold an audience’s attention. We have all seen a bored audience, fidgeting with their BlackBerrys, snap to attention when the droning speaker finally says, “That reminds me of a story . . .” And that’s why I began this piece the way I did.

As for the first rule: The one thing I’m telling you here is, Pick up a copy of the fall issue of OnPoint. And refresh yourself on some of the basics of effective communication, which we’re all capable of forgetting.

- Potomac Communications Group

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