We had a family picnic this weekend, which included my eleven month old nephew James. He is just learning to walk and spends a lot of time stumbling (with huge amounts of encouragement) from one person to another. Midway through such an effort he veered left, picked up his sealed plastic beaker of water and threw it at my head! Now I thought he was either having a tantrum or just wanted to play a different game. When he sat down and started crying it was clear there had been a miscommunication.
Despite throwing it at me, it seemed clear that James still wanted the beaker – why? It suddenly dawned on me that the top was sealed, he was simply asking me to help him have a drink of water midway through a beautiful summers day.
There are probably mums and dads reading this thinking his request was obvious, not to me. I wasn’t looking for the communication and completely missed it when is occurred. The same danger exists in all areas of the work we do, from press releases to scripts, presentations to features. If we are to succeed we must start by ensuring the audience is receptive.
How? The list is endless but there are a few universal facts. Remember it is not just what you say that counts, it is who you say it to and how you say it. Most importantly, think about the audience and decide if they will even be interested in your communication. Do they want to hear from you, do you have a right to intrude on their day, their schedule, their life with whatever it is you have to say? It is a waste of their time and yours if you are targeting the wrong people. At our picnic I wasn’t necessarily the right audience for James – I clued into his request in the end but I would bet a small fortune that his mum would have understood the communication far sooner than I did!
Next, consider how you are communicating. As a PR I spend a great deal of time focusing on words and what people say. However, a huge amount of our role also involves the way words are said – or indeed if they are even necessary in the first place. During press briefings, presentations, speeches etc you convey a huge amount through your physical presence, cadence, expressions and more.
The trick is to understand which method, nuance or technique is right for the moment. Body language and non verbal communication are incredibly powerful tools but only if the recipient is open to them. James is still a little too young to be speaking so he opted for non-verbal communication – I failed to understand the request, which led to disappointment on his side and a small amount of confusion and panic on mine.
Communication does not have to be just about words. The right balance of the right techniques provides an incredibly powerful medium for any message. James proved this with his simple and direct approach – attract my attention by launching the beaker at my head , then make a fuss until I worked out the rest.
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