Here’s the thing.
Business communication is like a pop song. Trust me about this.
In any given lifetime, your audience will grant you two minutes and thirty seven seconds in which to acheive two (2) things:
First – sing your song
Second – get everyone else singing your song, too.
For this to happen, your song has to be individual enough to be worth remebering. But it also has to fit within a style that is easy to recognise and accept.
Unfortunately, singing takes a lot of talent and a lot more guts. Not everyone can do it. Which is why most business communication comes over as a terrible dirge of confused ideas and lame cliches.
Applying the principles of pop to your business communications is not easy, but it works.
To start off with, you need a hook – a neat little riff or idea that is easy to grasp and even easier to repeat. Then you need to back this up with three other elements – a verse, a chorus and a middle-eight. Verses should be short and sweet but provide background, depth and colour to your hook. Maybe a handful of web-pages, maybe some of your staff tweeting around a theme, perhaps a revamped set of business cards with individual designs. The verse should lead into the chorus – this is where you can let rip. Your chorus should get you, your staff, customers, partners, the press and everyone else in the world screaming your virtues at the top of their voices. A simple statement that sums up the true value of you and your company. I’m going to repeat three words from that last sentence: simple, true, value. Simple. True. Value. That’s your chorus.
The middle-eight links your verses with your chorus. This may be the look-and-feel, or the tone of voice. The style of delivery, or the medium for delivery. A key point here is that nobody every listens to a song because it has a great middle-eight, but plenty of songs are left mediocre and forgotten because they had a weak middle-eight.
Of course, pop music has been constantly evolving, from Muddy Waters picking up an electric guitar to the Beatles harmonising with a string quartet, from Brian Eno’s synthesised noodlings to acid fuelled raves and warehouse parties, from Iggy Pop’s flailing nudity to Jay-Z’s tailored suits. So once you have your song down pat, you have to drop it and come up with something new. That’s why we’re here and why we keep coming back.
All together now, after 4…
Here’s a graphic I’ve just put together to explain to businesses that still don’t get it just why the social web matters. The bigger the circle the bigger the potential audience.
Corporate websites are usually full of stale and out-of-date content that may be highly relevant to the company’s business areas but that is hard to find (unless you are looking for it directly). Corporate blogs have very few regular visitors and are only updated when in-house bloggers have the time.
Compare this to the huge audience waiting on the Social Web, which is powered largely by Facebook and Twitter. Here, content is fresh – in the case of Twitter, almost too fresh! – is easy to share and, importantly, can be found almost by chance. Serendipity to us means ‘finding interesting things when you weren’t really looking for them’.
This is the challenge that businesses have to adapt to. The game has changed. Embracing the social web is not a ‘nice to do’, it’s an imperative.
Florence Nightingale did a great many things for the world. Cleaining up hospitals was principle among them. Inventing the pie chart was another.
When she first presented the pie chart to the Royal Statistical Society it caused a sensation. Even today, pie charts cause a sensation – usually one of torpour.
Information is extremely powerful. Look at any one of a thousand powerpoint slide decks and you will see charts and graphs aplenty outlining everything you could possibly want to know. Unfortunately for the presenter, their audience will instantly forget every single piece of data.
The trick is usually to tell a story about your data to bring it to life and make it memorable. Or, even better, make your data itself tell a story. Here is a remarkable example of what we mean:
Next time you contemplate putting a pie chart into your presentation, please think long and hard. It has hard a long and useful life, but would be far more usefully left to die quietly.
Start by hearing (in your mind) a warm round of applause and the congratulations of the attendees at the conference, then figure out how to get there. Your talk is about them, not you. Boil down what you want to say to three key ideas. There will be a hundred and three things you could talk about. Only cover the three that will be important to your audience.
When you are giving your talk, assume that your mother is in the room. Talk at her level. If your content is even slightly technical, make sure you have explained the basics in a way your mother would understand before you dive into the detail. Your mother is, I’m sure, an intelligent woman who can pick things up quickly. You wouldn’t patronise your mother, so don’t patronise your audience. Of course, if you are talking to the Society of Advanced Cosmetic Dentistry, you won’t need to explain what a tooth is. But as most conferences have a fairly general appeal, so tweak your content accordingly.
A picture paints a thousand words, so use pictures rather than text. If you have Firefox, use the Creative Commons search for images to use. Don’t rely on clip art. Ever. And avoid long and laborious slide-builds and animation. A good rule of thumb is 5 words per slide.
Tell stories and anecdotes to show your experience and command of your subject.
Your default body position is shoulders back, arms slightly bent, palms facing the audience, fingers pointing downwards. Practice this. You won’t need to worry about what to do with your hands.
Allow time for questions, but make sure you are able to answer the questions. The only way to do this is to learn as much as possible about your subject. This takes time. Be prepared to deal politely with people who clearly haven’t got what you are saying. Again, pretend it’s your mother asking the inevitable left-field question.
Nothing spoils the pleasure of making a purchase more than cellophane. Not even receiving the credit card bill.
Producers will tell you that cellophane ensures consistency, provides freshness, reduces damage, and improves security. But cellophane tells a whole panoply of unpleasant stories about the product inside. Where you see consitency, cellophane tells of mediocrity, of being literally run-of-the-mill. Freshness? Hmmm. Cellophane says ‘this has hung around in storage almost all its life’. Improved security? Like the unstealable coat hangers in hotel bedrooms, cellophane treats customers like theives.
Which brings us on to trying to de-cellophane a product, a feat requiring the combined patience of every saint and the digital strength and dexterity of a concert pianist. And once removed, of course, the cellophane itself is simply discarded, with all the incumbent ecological issues.
In truth, the only industry to use cellophane in a way that didn’t detract from the product is Big Tobacco. Consider that in your next product design meeting.