Words matter. They matter a lot. In fact, the words you choose (or don’t choose) have the power to shape not just your message – but how people receive that message, too.
Which brings us to 7pm on Sunday, May 10, 2020. It was the speech we’d all been waiting for – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s eagerly anticipated COVID-19 lockdown exit plan.
Like most of us who watched his long and rambling train-wreck-of-a-speech, I still can’t tell you what the PM’s plan is. But I can tell you this: he failed.
He failed to communicate, he failed to engage, he failed to connect, and he failed to gain trust.
Because, questionable decisions and data aside, how the British PM spoke to the Nation broke every single rule of effective communication. They are: simplicity, brevity, consistency, context, credibility, novelty, and aspiration.
Though they may not be as absolute as, say, a country’s laws, these rules are just as important if you want your message to reap the desired results – whether it’s building trust, encouraging a specific action, or converting a sale.
Equally relevant in blogs, boardrooms and political speeches, these rules help audiences to understand and interpret messages as they’re intended. They can also help you avoid causing offence, confusion, and, perhaps most importantly, damage to your brand.
Here are the seven rules of communication – and why they work.
Whether you’re writing a speech, blog post or company literature – keep it simple. It may be tempting to use long, complex words to prove how much you know about your subject area; but unless you’re aiming content at a group of like-minded peers – don’t. Remember that not everyone reading (or listening to) your work will have a university degree. So use the simplest words to get your point across. And while you’re at it, avoid jargon, too.
No matter what you’re communicating – keep it brief. Get straight to the point and cut the waffle. Avoid using long paragraphs when a sentence will do. Swap sentences for short, catchy phrases if you can. And if you can sum it up in just one word, then even better.
If you want people to remember you – be consistent. Whether it’s your tone of voice, your brand message or your views on a particular topic, repetition builds the trust you need to engage, connect and convert your audience.
As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it: “content is king, but context is God.” The “why” behind your message, context helps people understand the value, impact and relevance of your written or spoken content. It also allows you to minimise confusion and misinterpretation, too.
People need to believe you to buy into you. Whether you want to sell more products, become an industry leader or gain support for a charitable cause, you need to first build trust. It was Abraham Lincoln who said: “you can’t fool all the people all the time”. And he was right. So be honest, be useful, deliver what you promise, and use solid, reliable stats if you can.
Audiences are served a constant stream of content. So if you want to grab – and keep – their attention, you need to offer something new. This could be a new take on an old idea, an innovative new product or a surprise fact. Though people love familiarity (see rule number 3), they relish the new and unexpected – so long as it leaves them feeling good.
If you want your message to resonate; say what people want to hear. Aspirational messages speak to the fears, hopes and dreams of your audience. They encourage people to want something better – something you can offer. But remember to be realistic, and deliver what you promise, or you risk losing credibility (see point 5).
Could you be communicating better? Drop me a line to see how I can get your message reaching, engaging and connecting with more people.