Most people don’t agonize about how communication works. We simply do it. But when I took a class examining the theoretical foundations of communication, the professor identified 23 different theories of communication. (I’m sure that many more have surfaced in the intervening decades – after all, the Periodic Table is much longer than it was back then.)
If we leave agonizing to the academics and instead focus on more practical thought, we can break communication into three parts. There’s the composition of what’s going to be communicated, the delivery of that message, and its reception by another party (or parties).
Before your eyes glaze over like mine did in that long-ago class, please allow me a moment to explain my reasons for sharing communication theory. As a writer who helps companies and other organizations communicate more effectively with their audiences, my professional expertise focuses on the first part, creating messages.
But I’ve noticed that so many messages that folks like me craft so carefully and lovingly become completely ineffective when they reach the delivery stage. Why should that matter to you? Two reasons. First, poor delivery hurts your organization’s ability to connect with prospects, customers and other key audiences. Second, it may be your fault.
“A local discount store employee recently used the PA system to alert me to a special on some product I was never able to identify, closing his message with, “Thabyu perchopping wibbis income ginsu.””
That realization arrived the other day while I was waiting for my flight to do the same. Between warnings that any unattended bags would be destroyed (to ensure that the contents weren’t harmful), I tried to understand announcement after announcement. “Zowst errwines snauw born sly she tennyun taffyness.” (I was bound for “Olin,” not “Taffyness.”)
A local discount store employee recently used the PA system to alert me to a special on some product I was never able to identify, closing his message with, “Thabyu perchopping wibbis income ginsu.”
Even when the messages are understandable, they’re so often delivered with the same enthusiasm most people reserve for earwax removal. It’s not just PA announcements. Think of the number of times you’ve called a company that obviously invested the equivalent of your salary in an automated phone system, but then had its most despondent employee record all of the messages. As you hear her plod through the options for urgent delivery, you press “0” repeatedly in the hope of intervening before she jumps.
I’m not making fun of people with poor diction or depression. Not at all. I’m trying to call attention to the all-too-common practice of having a well-crafted message delivered by someone who either couldn’t care less or simply can’t be understood.
For example, I’ve worked with enough companies to know just how much effort an airline puts into crafting the perfect wheels-down message. You’ve heard them – the “We know you have a choice when you fly” spiels. But all the effort the writer puts into choosing the right words and all the agonizing decision-making involved in its approval simply vaporizes when an employee delivers it flatly or while chomping on three pieces of Bazooka. Same goes for the line uttered by the supermarket cashier as he hands you your change.
What would lead me to suggest that all of this is your fault? If you’re telling employees to deliver those messages, you’re ultimately responsible for how well or how poorly they communicate. If you ask a bored employee to make an important announcement, who’s at fault when the result doesn’t produce the desired reaction? When all you do is say, “Here, read this,” why should you expect anything but minimal efforts?
If you expect employees to deliver these key messages – each of which provides a glimpse of your organization’s image – please, please train them. Would you send them out to sell without the right preparation? Would you let them operate heavy machinery without proper instruction? Then don’t let them perform that incredibly critical act of communicating with your audiences without helping them become more effective.
At the very least, make sure they understand that these messages should be handled as something more than perfunctory recitations. Help them see that each contact your organization makes with the outside world is more important than it may appear to be. Encourage them to stop, take a breath, and think about what they’re going to say before they press the microphone button. While you’re at it, call your own company’s phone system and listen to the first impression your messages make.
So why should a writer care about all this? It’s simple. I put a great deal of effort into crafting those messages for my clients. I want to make sure that the messages are as effective as possible, so that my clients are getting their money’s worth.