MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT
We all need to speak, write and communicate more effectively. Dave Bartlett shares his decades of experience as a communications strategist in an accessible, easy-to-apply guide to help anybodystudents, business people, public speakers, or politiciansimprove their speaking and presenting skills. The tricks are as old as Aristotle and as new as The Daily Show: Know how to appeal to each specific audience through research and thoughtful planning, and then use appropriate content and style to deliver a memorable message. Bartlett's advice is common sense backed by dozens of real-world examples.
-How to devise a simple strategic goal for every interview, meeting, or speech
-How to deliver your message in a way that will appeal to your audience
-How to make your messages positive, concrete, and empathetic
-How to use blogs, podcasts, and Web sites like YouTube to promote your message
-How to reach even the largest audiences one person at a time
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
David Bartlett is senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications and one of the country's most sought-after communications strategists and executive coaches. He has helped top executives at corporations, trade associations, nonprofits, and multinationals communicate effectively with a wide variety of key stakeholder groups. Dave served as president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), as well as vice president of News and Programming for NBC Radio, managing editor for Metromedia Television News, director of News and English Broadcasts for the Voice of America, and director of Global New Services for the WorldSpace direct broadcast satellite system. He has written for the Media Institute, the Aspen Institute, the Media Studies Center, the International Press Institute, the American Journalism Review, Broadcasting & Cable Magazine, and the Federal Communications Law Journal.
Read an Excerpt
Issues, Messages, and Emotions
A Strategic Approach to Communication
We have all wondered from time to time why it is so difficult to get people to pay attention to what we have to say, to believe us, and to remember the most important points we make. When the Greek philosopher Aristotle took a look at this problem he concluded that effective communication is really more about human nature than cold hard facts. Human nature hasn't changed that much in the past two thousand years. Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and appreciate where someone else is coming from, is still essential to effective communication.
How was Johnson & Johnson able to maintain its credibility during the Tylenol crisis and save a product many experts assumed was fatally damaged? It had a lot to do with how well the company understood and appreciated the emotional concerns of its customers, concerns that quite literally involved life and death. More recently, why was Firestone so dramatically unsuccessful dealing with a very similar situation when it faced charges that defective tires had caused a string of fatal SUV accidents. Again, it was all about human emotion. Firestone failed to appreciate that the facts alone, no matter how powerful they seemed to those who understood them, would never persuade a fearful driver. Engineering data will impress an engineer, but they mean nothing to a young mother terrified that she might be putting her children's lives at risk every time she loads them into an SUV riding on Firestone tires.
Effective communication involves much more than speaking eloquently, answering tough questions, coming up with clever quotes, and staying out of trouble when talking with inquisitive reporters. Making your point in today's unforgiving information environment demands a truly strategic approach, beginning with careful consideration of those three fundamental communications challenges: getting others to pay attention to what you have to say; getting others to believe what you tell them; and getting others to remember what you have said long enough for them to act on it. For any of this to work, of course, you must have something worthwhile to say in the first place.
From a strategic perspective, communication can never be viewed as an end in itself. It must always serve a larger purpose. The most effective communication is never reactive or defensive. It is always positive and proactive. In order to take full advantage of every communications opportunity that comes your way you must always consider your big picture strategy before choosing a tactical approach. Effective communication demands that you look at every communications situation first from the outside in. Unless you thoroughly understand and appreciate the larger strategic situation and the risks and opportunities it presents, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make wise tactical decisions.
For example, just knowing the answers to all the questions you think you might be asked in a certain situation and then being able to offer up those answers on demand does not define communications success. Neither does the ability to defend yourself against an angry questioner or an aggressive reporter trying to get you to say something newsworthy that you will soon regret. Effective communication is all about having a solid story to tell and being able to tell it in a way that will appeal to whatever audience you need to reach. The ultimate test, of course, is whether the audience you are trying to reach remembers what you say and responds as you hope they will.
The strategic questions are familiar but all too often overlooked. What are you really trying to accomplish in this particular communications situation? With whom do you need to communicate? Why do you need to reach them? What do they expect from you? Why should they even bother listening to what you have to say? What do you want them to remember? What do you want them to do? What's in it for them? What's the point you are trying to make?
Just because you firmly believe that something you are about to say is important, and just because you can demonstrate factually why it should matter to the audience you are trying to reach, does not guarantee that anyone else will even pay attention, much less believe or remember your message. Be realistic with yourself and your colleagues about who is likely to care about what you say and why. Above all, understand that your job as a communicator is to make what you believe is important somehow interesting to others.
For example, in our work as consultants to corporations across the country and around the world, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time on airplanes. It is very important to all of us and, of course, to our families, that most airplanes take off and land safely most of the time. But nobody else on the planet could possibly be expected to consider it interesting, much less newsworthy. That's just human nature. Nobody watches television or reads a newspaper to be reassured that most airplanes land safely most of the time. But when an airplane crashes somewhere, whether anyone we know is on it or not, it is likely to be headline news. In order to be interesting and newsworthy, an event must by definition be unusual, out of the ordinary, bizarre, or even sensational. Good news isn't really "news" at all. And just because you can prove that something is important doesn't automatically mean that anyone else will pay attention or care.
The way the news media routinely cover politics is a perfect example. Nobody stays up late on election night anxiously waiting to learn which vision of Social Security or Medicare policy will prevail. People stay up in order to find out who won. The news media know perfectly well that issues are important in politics, but because the audience is more interested in winners and losers, they focus most of their attention on the horse race. This isn't the result of some strange flaw in the media's world view. It isn't, as some serious-minded critics would have you believe, a symptom of profound media ignorance. It is just human nature. Most of us see the world in stories, and we want those stories to be new and interesting. If a story isn't interesting or doesn't relate to our emotional concerns, we probably won't pay attention for very long, no matter how hard someone else may try to convince us of its enormous importance to our lives. Successful communicators have mastered the art of making what is important to them also interesting and important to the people they need to reach. But it doesn't happen by accident.
Effective communication is a proactive exercise. It is about playing to win, not just playing not to lose. Effective communication is about telling your story, making your point, and scoring points with your message. It is not about defending yourself against someone else's allegations. This is why merely preparing to answer tough questions is never enough. No matter how well you do it, just answering questions is mostly a defensive exercise. Someone else is setting the agenda. Someone else is in control. Effective communication is all about having a point to make, understanding why it is important, then knowing how to make it interesting and memorable, regardless of the circumstances.
Defining the Debate
Effective communication is also about something called issues management. The primary objective of issues management is to define the terms of a debate before someone else has a chance to do it first. Issues management supports strategic communication by helping establish a framework for the story that is as favorable as possible to your point of view and the strategic outcome you are trying to achieve. It is all about telling your story before someone else tells it for you. This is much more than an exercise in timing or semantics. If you are able to define the terms and establish the theme that shapes the story, you can control the discussion. And if you can control the discussion, you are more likely to win the debate eventually, no matter how powerful your opponent's arguments may seem at first. But if your opponents are able to shape the semantic battlefield and lay down the ground rules ahead of you, you will have a much steeper hill to climb, no matter how eloquent your message may be. Issues management, like strategic communication, is never a defensive exercise. Issues management is about establishing home field advantage and controlling the story, not just fending off difficult questions.
For example, a serious chemical plant explosion might raise a number of potentially troublesome issues, each of which could be debated from a number of different angles. The same set of facts could easily support several very different story lines, some clearly more attractive to the plant owners than others. The blast and fire might very well spark a discussion of plant safety and the potential threat the plant might pose to the surrounding community. The explosion might raise questions about potential environmental impact. It might start a discussion of the economic importance of the products the plant produces and the jobs it brings to the local community.
If your company happens to own that burning plant, it would clearly be in your best interest to see the story of the explosion and fire framed in terms of plant safety, rather than plant danger. You certainly would prefer to focus attention on how well prepared you were to deal with the accident. You would want the news media to highlight all the things your company is doing to put out the fire and protect the community. You certainly would like the neighbors to see your plant as a positive economic force rather than a risk to public health and safety. You would prefer the overall theme of the story to be about solutions not problems. Since negativity is almost always more newsworthy than anything positive, however, others will probably be looking first for the bad news.
Shaping the theme of a story is not a matter of empty spin. The facts are the facts. No amount of clever communication can put out the fire or magically turn the clock back to a time before the plant blew up. This is rather about defining the terms, framing the debate, and setting the ground rules for what inevitably will be an ongoing discussion about the plant and the accident. More than anything else, strategic communication is about influencing the tone of the coverage and shaping the theme of the story.
Think for a moment why the enormous industry that earns billions in annual profits from treating disease is called health care, rather than, say, disease management. After all, keeping people healthy and curing them of disease are really just two sides of the same coin. But most people are more comfortable talking about health than they are talking about disease. Health is positive and hopeful. Disease is negative and depressing. A company in the health business naturally has a more positive and attractive image than one that is in the disease business. Or consider companies that process meat products. When discussing what might happen if spoiled meat accidentally found its way into the supermarket, most people in the meat business would prefer to talk about food safety rather than food-borne illness. The facts are essentially the same, but for the audience the emotional connotation is very different. Talking about illness and danger is negative and defensive. Talking about health safety is proactive and positive. Especially when trying to communicate about matters of life and death, these subtle differences matter more than you might think.
Problems and Solutions
An interesting example of how this process works involves two well-known companies, once units of the same huge international conglomerate. Food processing giant Kraft and the old-line tobacco company Philip Morris have both faced serious strategic communications and issues-management challenges over the years. But they have tackled them in very different ways, and with very different results. Philip Morris and other big tobacco companies spent many years and countless millions of dollars defending themselves against charges that their primary product, cigarettes, can kill the people who smoke them. The debate went on for decades, but unfortunately for the tobacco companies, the fundamental issue involved was shaped by their opponents at the very beginning of the controversy. Antismoking activists succeeded in framing the debate around public health and product safety. As a result, the eventual outcome was settled almost as soon as the discussion began. The companies fought back, sometimes with tough tactics that have since been found illegal, but whatever they did really didn't matter once the terms of the debate had been defined by the other side. As soon as the tobacco companies were put in the position of defending themselves against charges that their products were responsible for a deadly disease and that they were willfully ignoring the danger, the debate was effectively over. It was no longer a question of whether big tobacco would lose, but only when and, of course, how much it would eventually cost them.
Now let's take a look at how Kraft has dealt with an issue that is only just starting to attract public attention, but which has the potential to be just as devastating to the food business as anti-smoking activism was to big tobacco. Obesity is of increasing concern to food companies everywhere. Activist groups and the plaintiffs' bar are busy raising public awareness of the problem and pointing the finger of blame at big food companies, accusing them of ignoring public-health concerns in an effort to get us all hooked on unhealthy junk food. Kraft could have wasted a lot of time and money arguing that none of the food products it sells, by themselves, could possibly make anyone fat or unhealthy. They could have tried to convince the public that obesity is simply caused by eating too much. But as the debate got underway in earnest, Kraft took a very different approach. Instead of arrogantly dismissing public-health concerns the way the tobacco companies did for so many years, Kraft tried hard to be sensitive to the concerns and values of those whose opinions will determine who ultimately prevails in the obesity debate. There is plenty of evidence available to support the contention that obesity is more about overeating and lack of exercise than it is about unhealthy food. But rather than blame their customers for the problem, or try to fight human nature, Kraft acted voluntarily to restrict advertising to children and take other measures to promote healthy eating habits.
Kraft could have marshaled its considerable scientific expertise to make a powerful case that public opinion and conventional wisdom are all wrong and that the food products Kraft sells are in no way responsible for the nation's rapidly expanding waistline. The company could have used irrefutable factual evidence to argue that growing popular concern about obesity is not based on sound science, or even common sense, but on irrational fear stirred up by greedy trial lawyers looking for new industries to sue. Those arguments might be accurate, and for someone running a multi-billion-dollar food business, very tempting to make. But they would never be persuasive, at least not with the vast majority of ordinary people who would much prefer to blame all those unwanted pounds on a big corporation rather than their own bad eating habits.
In another example, one of Kraft's competitors, Kellogg, despite a long history of promoting health and wellness, found itself on the wrong end of a $2 billion lawsuit charging that its products contribute to poor nutrition in children. Assuming its healthy reputation would be enough to deter uninformed critics, Kellogg ignored obvious warning signs that it might become the target of a well-organized special interest campaign designed to capitalize on growing public concern about nutrition. In retrospect, the company should have told its healthy food story much sooner and much more aggressively. Instead, it largely ignored the public relations risks posed by its marketing initiatives aimed at children and ended up getting sued, in part because it allowed others to capture the high ground in the larger debate over nutrition and health. When the chips are down it is always better to be perceived as part of the solution than part of the problem.
Many years of research have established quite clearly that most people worry too much about all the wrong things, even as they blithely ignore real risks to their health and safety. Just because they have their facts all wrong, however, doesn't mean that their unfounded fears are any less real, at least to them. Just because a strong scientific case can be made that many factors other than processed foods are responsible for the nation's epidemic of obesity doesn't mean that people who are sincerely concerned about public health and nutrition won't go looking for someone other than themselves to blame for the obesity problem. Big companies that make millions selling processed foods are an easy target. When someone asked the gangster Willy Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton famously replied, "Because that's where they keep the money." These days, the plaintiffs' bar lives by very similar rules. Businesses big and small have no choice but to stay alert for emerging issues that might make them easy targets for special interest campaigns that, if not handled carefully, could create potentially devastating legal liability and do serious damage to their corporate reputation and bottom line. That's what issues management is all about.
Excerpted from "Making Your Point"
Copyright © 2008 David Bartlett.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Issues, Messages, and Emotions,
2. Advice from Aristotle,
3. What's Your Point?,
4. Preparing Powerful Presentations,
5. Taking the Stage,
6. The Media Landscape,
7. Meeting the Media,
8. When the Going Gets Rough,
9. Talking About Danger,
A Final Word,