During one of my college English classes, I was struggling to write one of the assigned papers.
I went to the professor’s office to seek his advice on the parts where I felt stuck. Together we read through what I had written and where I struggled. He asked me an important question, “What are you trying to say here?” I thought for a moment and verbally replied to what I had been attempting to say in my paper. He responded, “Then say that.” Good advice for a freshman college student trying to sound clever and conversational in a college paper.
I thought more was better, and sounding smart was more important than risking sounding simple. My professor’s wise advice, “Then say that.” redirected and propelled me towards unpretentious yet informed writing and communication.
As a leadership keynote speaker, my job is to communicate actionable concepts in the most straightforward possible format. In business, specifically, when change is necessary, and a vision for that change is being dispelled throughout the company, clear communication is vital to the message. If a change vision is too long, too confusing, too detailed, or all of the above, it will quickly lose momentum and lack the stimulus to achieve its mission.
A good message is compelling and straightforward. It is easy to communicate, and it is easy to receive. Harvard Professor Dr. John Kotter, in his book Leading Change, emphasizes, “Focused, jargon-free information can be disseminated to large groups of people at a fraction of the cost of clumsy, complicated communication. Technobabble and MBA-speak get in the way, creating confusion, suspicion, and alienation.” One vital aspect of good leadership is clear communication.
You can say more using fewer words when you use metaphors or analogies. A metaphor compares and relates two things that are not similar. In sixteen words, Kotter gives a great example of using a metaphor to cast a vision of where a company is headed, “We need to become less like an elephant and more like a customer-friendly Tyrannosaurus rex.” This example is attention-getting.
Without bland words to explain the vision, it creates a rich picture in the employees’ minds about what the company currently is (an elephant) and what they want it to be (a tyrannosaurus rex). The picture implies the elephant is big, slow, and plodding. The T-rex is also big, but we imagine it to be a quick, fierce, and striking terror in the hearts of the competition. It doesn’t need to be explicit and spelled out repeatedly because the word picture speaks for itself. When an employee sees the T-rex, they know the vision and its meaning due to a simple and straightforward metaphor.
This concept plays out constantly in my role as a corporate motivational speaker. Motivation comes from the ability to place the listener as the hero in the story you’re telling, achieving big visions, conquering the opposition, or overcoming obstacles. Buy-in comes from easily accessible stories and clear, captivating word pictures.
It is more effective having 100 one-minute conversations in teaching and training a child than having one 100-minute conversation. The same is true in business when making changes, turning the ship, and casting a new vision. The leadership should integrate the fresh, clear, and uncomplicated vision everywhere. Under-communicating the vision is a standard error. Over-communicating the vision is never a mistake.
Leadership should dispense the vision through all the available means—meetings, memos, newsletters, stories, posters, videos, voice messages, to get the information across. If each vision caster had 100 one-minute conversations or ways to communicate the vision, the message would be integrated and broadcasted exponentially. That is why a well-strategized, thought-out, and word-smithed vision is vital. You can’t blast the message if the message is long-winded and complicated or only communicated from the few upper-management employees.
Here’s where vision flies or flops. Chances are, people won’t just accept a recent change or vision without wrestling with it first. Change can feel threatening, but with open and practical communication lines for employees to get their questions answered, change becomes accepted, and the vision becomes integrated.
Becoming an effective communicator takes effort. As a leadership speaker, I’ve worked hard crafting messages to say more by saying less, using metaphors, analogies, and stories to drive the main points forward.
Saying more with less takes restraint, strategic thinking, precise planning, and creativity. Casting a healthy vision and generating good change can be a daunting task, but the benefits and results received from it are worth the effort. I would enjoy offering my experience to help guide and support your team through this process. Through simple and straightforward words that reach the head and the heart, effective communication is my specialty. Let’s connect today.