Trying to communicate a little better

October 22nd, 2012

I don’t communicate well enough. This isn’t self deprecation or fishing for compliments, it is just something I’ve become increasingly aware of. I work hard to shape what I want to say when I’m writing or talking, and I always aim, to some extent, to entertain.

When I start out a talk, for example, it is usually with an idea that gets refined through the process of laying it out in written form (laborious as it is, all my talks start out with a long, typed out essay which goes through a painfully inefficient process before ending up as a presentation.)

In trying to get better at what I do, I often ask people for recommendations for reading material on speaking and presenting.  One of them had a very simple piece of advice: Instead of asking people what they thought of the talk, because etiquette forces them into a politely positive response regardless, one might benefit from asking what the one main idea they took from it was.

My experiences has been that often that one thing is not the idea you most wished to communicate, instead it is an ancillary idea that was used to bolster the main point. This happens all the time with blog posts.  One of the very few aspects of comments was that I could quickly see whether people had understood the most important point of the post.  If you ever speak to a mainstream journalist you’ll know a similar frustration when they get a little offhand comment between their teeth and tear off in a random and undesired direction.

We try and communicate a lot about coffee when we sell it. What one idea do we most want to communicate to our customers, and if we asked them to tell us the one thing they know to be important about the coffee they just bought – would we like the answer we’d receive? What if we asked why the coffee you serve was supposed to be good?  Would they talk about Fair Trade, when your coffee is Direct Trade?  Would they talk about its bold, rich strength when you’re serving some on the lighter side of roasting?

There’s only one way for this not to be another rhetorical question on a blog (because the Internet is hardly starving for those…). Please try this. Please ask your customers this kind of question, phrase it any way you like that gets you to an answer and see if this fits into what you’re trying to achieve. 1  Of course, the more open you phrase the question, the less you may like the answer but the more useful it will ultimately be.

  1. Though please only ask customers who would be receptive to the question and try not to bother nice people who just wish to pay you for nice cups of coffee.  ↩︎

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