How many friendships ended as a result of poor communication skills? How many times have you heard about married couples breaking up after 10 years because they can’t communicate (despite the fact that there are just two of them)?
The larger an organisation or company gets, the more important and difficult communication becomes. If a CEO, a Managing Partner, or a politician can’t get their points across, they’d better find another line of work. It’s amazing how much time and efforts business people put into their production, funding, marketing, research, development, advertising, and all the rest without realizing that the ability to convey information from one person to another, one department to another, one division to another, or one law firm to another is central to access of all these functions.
Fact is: Communication is like anything else. It requires work.
After more than a decade of working in and advising on communication issues I would share three simple rules which are generally applicable.
- Tell a story
One saying goes: Facts tell, but stories sell. There is a reason why human beings process information in the narrative form. From the Greek myths to the griots of Africa, the history of humanity has been told in stories. If you’re not communicating in stories, you’re not communicating. Try to remember your school’s class room or university’s lecture hall: There was a reason why some teachers were able to convey information and others don’t. Telling a story is for sure not all you can do to ensure that your fellows lend you an ear or two, but to start without a story, bringing one fact after another is the right way to screw it up. You may be presenting a series of relevant information, many important, but the chances of your audience remembering or being moved by your facts are nil. So, what does a good story contain? A good story has a hero and a villain, a sympathetic protagonist and an unsympathetic antagonist. It has conflict, creates drama, then resolution.
Don Dogood is the hero. Villigan Villain is the antagonist. Little Laureen is the victim. Evil Villigan Villain puts Little Laureen on the railroad tracks and after a conflict, or a court room battle, Don Dogood saves her. Little Laureen falls into Don’s arms.
Okay this does sound like a film script for a Western movie or a (with the court room battle) like a John-Grisham-book – but if we change it a bit, would it not work out in your business life? What if you have to change an organisation and put chances and your colleagues instead of Don Dogood? If you put obvious threats instead of Villigan Villiain and your firm’s core business strategy instead of Little Laureen and the railroad tracks are the cliffs where your Villigan Villain is putting you?
And when you explain at the very end what exactly your Associate, your Senior Lawyer, or your Partner has to do so that your firm does not end up on the rail track but can go on because you were rescued by many Don Dogoods, it means you followed certain chances WITH your colleagues? Exactly, then you have good communications.
- Be brief
In the modern media age, brevity is more important than ever. Especially when you want to present something and you’re speaking in front of a broad audience. As trained to do so in writing contracts or giving legal opinions, lawyers tend to be as exactly as they can be – even in such situations.
For a normal listener or reader like a company CEO this sounds like this:
“To think Being itself explicitly requires disregarding Being to the extent that it is only grounded and interpreted in terms of beings and for beings as their ground, as in all metaphysics.” Yes, that was Martin Heidegger – German hardcore philosopher. And grounded in his communication skills are perhaps still today the reasons why classes of philosophers try to interpret him, not sure whether he was one of the 20th century most important figures or just an odd guy sitting in his Knickerbocker in a sad Schwarzwald cabin writing in such dark and heavy language.
So always keep in mind: Good communication is usually brief. “Just do it” was one of the best advertising slogans in the last decade and still works when a no-brainer asks for the 5th time about your strategy. “He saw and it was light” – Bible’s own soundbite.
“I came, I saw, I conquered” was Caesar’s terse report to the Roman Senate. And known ‘till today for one of history’s best soundbites – or even history’s first propaganda.
- Repeat your message
Do you want to know why politicians repeat the same main message all day long, thousands of times? Because it works. Because we’re not hanging on their every word – and for that brief moment when we do pay attention to them, they want to say exactly what will get them elected. It’s their main message. As they are not sure when that moment will come, they repeat their main message over and over. If the mantra of real estate is “location, location, location,” the mantra of communication is “repetition, repetition, repetition.” So repeat your main message.
Perhaps you’re not local politics’ biggest fan. But keep in mind: If THEY could succeed by endless, disciplined repetition, imagine what you can do!
Think about this especially when you’re giving speeches or interviews, more so if it’s in front of a TV camera. You don’t know which of the quotes they will cut out. So make sure you’re going to repeat yourself in your main message over and over. Whatever you say or end up to, keep your voice calm, repeat your main message, give an example, and go back to your main message again and again.
Now, have a look at how often I stated “main message” in the last three paragraphs and smile – that would be the next general rule, especially when taking on TV-interviews.
Georg Baldauf, Founder of Greenberg Advisory, spent 15 years in communications, campaigning, and the media. In the past he worked as the PR Manager of international law firm Wolf Theiss. Previously he had led WPP's Ogilvy PR Team in Vienna and worked also on an EAME level, advising clients from different sectors, like finance, industry, and politics – campaigning in national elections. He is now focusing on litigation and finance PR. As a qualified communication specialist, he is also working towards finishing his legal degree.