Author Curtis O. Fletcher
The forecast said the year ahead would be a good one. At the annual kickoff-the-year-all-company-meeting the senior sales exec gave a rousing speech about the specific product lines that would be the tip of the spear for growth in the coming year. He had great market research, forecast and pipeline data, and competitive analysis to bolster his strategy. He wanted the troops to get excited. The meeting finished on a high note and there was an excited buzz in the room as the folks disbanded. It seemed the speech had done the trick, until the following day.
Support teams called multiple meetings to discuss when they would be announcing end of the life on the product lines that hadn’t been discussed.
Account managers started asking for details on what they should tell customers who were on some of the product lines that were now “out of focus”.
Developers and technologists on the lines not mentioned were honing resumes and querying other groups to see if they had openings.
HR met several times in a confused quandary.
After two weeks of churn and close to two-dozen “what do we do now” meetings the senior sales exec called another company wide meeting. He explained that there were NO plans to retire ANY product lines but that the coming year would see additional focus on the lines previously mentioned. No one’s job was at risk, no customers needed be given bad news, and no support policies needed changing. This time the meeting ended in relief, if not mild annoyance.
Sadly this is a true story.
Even sadder is the fact that this sort of thing happens far too often. The key to stopping this madness is being diligent to avoid three debilitating traps in corporate communicating:
Trap #1: FYI-tis
Giving information is great. We all like to be informed. At the end of the day people care much more about “why” they should know something than they do about the “what”. Just passing information without a word as to why you’re passing it, FYI, leaves people to interpret the “why” on their own. As seen in the case above that interpretation may be quite different than what was intended. If you find yourself saying, “but they need to know this” without answering “why” in the next sentence you’re at risk of falling into the pit.
Trap #2: Confusing Content and Context
In the case above the senior sales exec thought he’d rouse the troops by providing strategic forward thinking based on the numbers by which he lived everyday. He’d interpreted the data and presented it at the annual get-psyched meeting, a context in which people expected to get direction for the coming year. By giving incomplete information based on an FYI approach the meeting spawned two weeks of unnecessary mania. The context in his head was not the context of the meeting. Ask yourself what the audience is expecting in the context of the presentation.
Trap #3: Passion sans Perspective
In the example above the senior sales exec presented with passion. He had good, exciting information and he wanted to share it but he forgot that the audience almost always starts from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” Unless you know what your audience is looking for you can’t address their need, you can’t answer the question “why” am I giving this information from the audiences perspective. Oh, you can answer it for yourself, you know why you want to GIVE it but that may not be why they want to receive it. What is the need that they have that your information meets?
You have the info, you know you need to pass it along, whether in a meeting or an email, or a white paper. Start by asking why do I think my audience needs this?
Then pause and check their contextual expectation, what do they expect out of the context in which they’ll receive this information?
Then pause again and ask, why would THEY say they’re interested in this information? What is THEIR purpose for listening?
Answer these questions BEFORE you deliver the info and you’ll find you’ve actually connected with your audience in a meaningful way.
What are some of the worst examples you’ve experienced? How could the problem have been solved by better preparation?
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Curtis is a speaker, coach, and grandiose pontificator who regularly consults with large organizations on topics ranging from customer experience to the Internet of Things. He has a passion for helping people create wow moments for their audiences and customers. When he is not coaching someone in communications or marketing he can often be found preparing for his next half marathon, something he finds terribly perplexing.