Imagine this – you’re at a meeting with your top sales and marketing team. You’ve been tasked with bringing innovative ideas to the executive board next week. Charlie, who has been with the company the longest, stands up and communicates a list of ideas via PowerPoint. When Charlie sits down, the rest of the team stares at the presentation in silence. Charlie is a senior member of the team, and as such, requires a certain respect. No one wants to openly admit it, but they have no idea what he just shared with them.
“Innovative?” they’re all thinking. “Where is this innovative?” Sly glances creep around the room.
This happens across the U.S. in business, in academia, in research, anywhere people talk to each other. Talk is what occurs when two people speak out loud, at each other. And, it’s the main reason for the phrase, “talk is cheap.” Because talking is not communication: talking is the anti-thesis to communication.
Added to the inability to convey an idea is the fact that talking is too often a one-way street. You don’t hear what I’m saying because your mind is wandering, or because you’re too focused on what you’re going to say next. The “noise” in your head drowns out my message. My great idea becomes a clutter of commonplace adjectives. Your great idea, which you can’t wait to share, takes precedence. In the end, neither of us can remember what the other said.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.”
It seems to me that communication levels have dropped in recent years to poorly written emails, bad twitter posts and content delivered via Facebook or other social media tools that don’t reflect the company perspective, but do reflect the writer’s perspective. Too often the receiver of your content is left to decipher the meaning without any context – or context without meaning, which is what happened with Charlie. I receive so many poorly crafted emails from respected firms, written by someone in PR or account management, it leaves me cold. I’m left wondering, “How did this person graduate?” Then I wonder, “How did this person get a job at this company? Did they fill out a job application? Was it as mangled as this email?” If you’re that company, my regard for you has just dropped 1,000 points.
Yes, you can get away without vowels on Twitter, but in an email, presentation, or in your marketing collateral, you must spell properly. Use simple words over more grandiose words. Leave adverbs on the cutting room floor. Be specific. Keep it short. Mark Twain said it best, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” Meaning, if he’d had time to go back and edit his writing, he would have been more precise, thus creating a shorter document. Always go back and edit, you will be judged by how well you communicate.
We celebrated National Punctuation Day on Sep. 24 this year, but few people actually seem to care about punctuation anymore. Commas have ceased to exist, or are peppered throughout the writing in articles/blog posts I read. It’s as if run-on sentences are acceptable ways to help readers get the true meaning of the sentence, where the writer purposely draws out the explanation in order to keep the reader on pins and needles, less the reader go away without understanding exactly what the writer meant – or worst yet, misunderstand that the writer was just trying to communicate his/her opinion. Whew! I’m out of breath, how about you? A comma has a purpose – learn what it is and use accordingly.
Without good communication skills, your innovation team will fail each and every time. Without good communication skills, both spoken and written, innovation will languish on the boardroom table, with the coffee stains and broken pens.
It’s never about you. It’s never about the company. It’s never about the bottom line. It’s about the customer. It’s about engaging the customer. It isn’t about being creative or having the best PowerPoint presentation. It isn’t about being the senior member of the team. It’s about listening – with full attention – to everything your customer tells you. All the great ideas in the world cannot be executed if the team cannot define them, convey them, and support them – not only internally, but externally. Innovation happens when communication works.
Or, when you have Legos and colored blocks of wood on the boardroom table so the team can innovate and create, but no one has to speak.
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Yvonne DiVita, President of Windsor Media Enterprises, LLC: Books, Blogs and Beyond, is focused on consulting with businesses on how to effectively use new media tools. She blogs at LipSticking, with a focus on the women’s market.