Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Messaging for Remarkable Results, Part 1: Know Your Objectives
...you'll end up somewhere else." Yogi Berra's immortal words may contain imperfect logic, but they paint a perfect picture of how a badly-delivered message can leave your audience wandering in a corridor of confusion, unsure of where the exit is or how to proceed. Still worse, it can set them up for failure. All because you didn't direct them appropriately.
Every time you communicate, what you're really seeking to do is to create a bridge of understanding between you, the communicator, and your audience. But what if yours is a Bridge to Nowhere?
Bad messaging can wreck a plan, a project, or even a personal relationship.
Misunderstood messaging happens to the best of us. In our social lives, it creates tension, alienation, hurt feelings, and the need to do relationship repair. In our organizational lives, it fosters detachment, sets bad expectations, throws off schedules, and leads to wasted resources.
Unless we clearly know what we want to achieve when we communicate -- and are then intentional about achieving it -- our audience may very well "wind up somewhere else." And our own payback for our poor communication can become pretty unbearable. When we don't tell it well, we can wind up in hell!
When your messaging goes awry, you can usually trace it back to one of three main communicator's mistakes. In this Part 1 of a three-part series, I'll deal with the first mistake, which is this:
>>> Your messaging fails to get good results when you don't start with a clear enough picture of what you want those results to be.
Before you tend to the business of telling others something, you first must take the time to explain your objectives to yourself. It's not good enough to merely know what you want to say, or even to find a great way to say it. You need to know what you want to have happen as a consequence of your saying it.
Most messaging starts with a basic intention. But if you don't map that intention well -- if you don't construct a mental 3-D holographic image of exactly what you want to have happen -- you can't analyze that intention to determine how realistic it is. Maybe your message doesn't fit the situation. Maybe, actually, it's the wrong message for the audience you are targeting. Or maybe it's the right message, at the wrong time.
Know your main objective. Only then can you adequately build your message to get the effect you want.
This is something any parent understands. You may announce on Friday night that this weekend the family is going to clean out the garage. That information alone won't deliver your teenagers to the back door at 8:00 am the following morning with Hefty bags in hand. You need to put some other messaging in the mix: details, task assignments, incentives, and possibly a contingency plan (if the mess is still there on Sunday, no screen time for anyone for a week).
When you're sure of your objective, define its observable outcome. Ask yourself: what will it look like when this objective is met? What will I observe that will show me that my message has succeeded?
Now that you have both an objective and an observable outcome in mind, you are much closer to telling your tale effectively.
What if you carry a picture of success inside your head, but can't reveal it to your audience? This happens fairly often in the business world, where new initiatives must remain undercover so the competition can't find out. In such cases, to riff on Yogi's expression, you know where your going, but your audience doesn't. At other times, no one may fully know what success will ultimately look like. Yogi might say, "If you sorta know where you're going. you sorta can maybe get somewhere near there." In these cases, can you still get your audience to the "somewhere" you want them to be? Yes, but you run a greater risk of failure. So you need to design alternate credible forms of motivation to compensate for incomplete information.
For instance, in our garage example, maybe you know that your oldest son is getting a car for a surprise graduation present next week. Or maybe it's not a surprise, but the exact kind of vehicle is still a mystery -- it depends on what kind of deal Uncle Joe can make this weekend. Either way, you still need everyone to empty out a reasonable amount of their junk. And unless you put some other kinds of motivation into your message, there will be no action.
So, Rule Number One for ensuring that your messaging achieves the right results:
>>> Before you craft your message, visualize your desired outcome as clearly as possible. Then, use that picture to frame your communication appropriately.
Don't wind up in hell because you didn't tell it well. Damage control won't be necessary if you prevent the damage in the first place -- by aiming your words carefully and candidly to bring your hearers exactly where they need to be to respond the way you want them to respond.
Next week: Rule Number Two. Stay tuned!