Successful communication is hard work. Tempting as it may seem, it’s never a good idea to assume your audience will automatically understand what you’re trying to say. Throwing technical terms, industry jargon, and complex subject matter at them and hoping they’ll “get it,” is about as effective as throwing coins in a fountain and hoping your wishes will come true.
Beware: Words Themselves Can Be Tricky
The hard fact is, genuine communication is a fragile thing.
Words themselves can be tricky. While you might intend one meaning for a word, your audience might understand something completely different.
Consider this: consultant Darcie Davis conducted an informal survey a few years back, asking people she met to define the word “communications.” Here are some of the answers she received:
- phone systems
- counseling between a husband and wife
- getting someone else to agree with you
- electronic warfare!
Successful Communication Is Far From Easy
It’s always risky to assume that the message you intend to send is the message your audience receives. Irv Gross, founding director of Penn State’s Institute for the Study of Business Markets, summed up the challenge in what he dubbed Gross’s First Law:
It’s almost impossible to communicate anything, to anyone.
In fact, all sorts of bizarre and unpredictable forces can create barriers to effective communication. Everything from a thick accent, to arcane or vague terminology, to a lack of storytelling structure.
Case in point: legendary bandleader Count Basie once got so fed up with a nightclub owner whose piano was always out of tune that he declared in a huff, “I’m not returning until you fix it!” A month or so went by, and Basie got a call saying, “Everything’s fine now.” Much to Basie’s dismay, however, when he returned for another gig, the piano was still out of tune. “You said you fixed it!” an irate Basie bellowed. “I did,” replied the club owner. “I painted it!”
The bottom line? Successful communication is hard work.
Take Steps to Ensure Your Audience Understands You
So what can you do? Strive for dialogue (instead of monologue) with your audience. Stay attuned to those who are receiving your message. Do your best to confirm with them that the mental picture you’re painting in their heads is the one that you intend.
Above all, focus on finding ways to be clear. Speak in stories, use analogies, and always ask yourself, “Have I talked about this topic in terms that my audience can understand?”
Don’t just leave it to chance. Your audience will thank you for it.
Share Your Thoughts
Can you think of a time when a serious miscommunication happened between a speaker and his or her audience? How could the problem have been avoided? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
About the photo: Photo of coins in a fountain by Sarah Saunders. All rights reserved.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or clearly spam.