Most messages – from personal emails, to annual presentations, to monthly internal marketing communications, to weekly promotional efforts, to daily blog posts, to hourly tweets – are depthless trivialities at best.
THEREFORE: The (real) reason your message fails to break through, get heard by the people who matter, and move those people to take action upon hearing it is:
It fails to speak straight to the heart of human experience.
Here’s how to assure your message does that:
1. Be cognizant of the collective dilemma of man. Pain, for example, is a common denominator that unites us all. As such, the moment you’re willing to occupy your vulnerability and reveal some of your own pain first, you’re one step closer to having your voice heard.
Not because you share people’s same pain – but because your humanity gives them permission to hurt too. And that opens the doors of receptivity.
Remember: Although everyone brings unique wounds to the table, we’ve all suffered in some way. Don’t be afraid to go there with your message. Have you mastered (and articulated) the surrounding universality of your struggle?
2. Confront the human condition. In your message, find a way to address universal abstract concepts like:
Debt. Power. War. Sex. Madness. Change. Fear. Mistakes. Violence. Suffering. Isolation. Fragility. Movement. Squirrels. Death. Conflict. Faith. Risk. Anxiety.
Next, find a way to highlight native human needs like:
The need to be acknowledged. The need to feel heard. The need to share. The need for answers. The need to be included. The need to contribute.
Finally, make sure your message illustrates people’s ordinary and persistent struggles:
To make meaning. To feel secure. To play a valuable role in the world. To feel useful. To make sense of the world. To better their life against those who oppress them. To overcoming adversity.
That’s the condition of our condition. Are you being a human or a humanoid?
3. Self-questioning keeps you accountable to your audience. I deliver between forty and fifty speeches a year. When preparing my slides for a presentation – which I commit to making 60% different for each talk – I continually ask myself a few key questions.
First: What image could I use to reinforce my message – that would make people laugh out loud?
I do this for a number of reasons: Pacing, pattern breaking, humor, memorability, breathability, digestibility; but mainly because of what George Carlin wrote in Last Words, “People are never more themselves when they laugh.”
Lesson learned: The images that accompany your messages need to tug at people’s funny bones.
Second: What stories will have universal appeal?
Telling an eye-watering story about how you climbed Mt. Everest with no oxygen, a broken rib and nothing but your faith in Jesus Christ to keep you going isn’t exactly universal.
First of all, nobody else in the world – except other loonies who climb mountains – can relate to you.
And secondly, unless every member of your audience is guaranteed to share your religious beliefs, keep God out of the equation. Otherwise you risk alienation.
Instead of your frostbitten mountaineering adventures, a more human story would be revealing that you walked into the office every morning for a year, wanting to quit.
A more human story would be admitting that you cheated on your low-carb diet by polishing off a three-pound bag of pretzels when nobody was looking.
Lesson learned: Your stories need to make audiences think, “Me too!” and not, “No way!” What questions could you ask yourself as reminders to keep it human?
4. Peel away superficiality. George Carlin once explained during a television interview, “It took a while for my material to evolve and crystallize. When I was young, I was writing superficially from the front of my head, not from the matrix in the back of my head.”
As a writer, I’ve recently found the same trend occurring in my own work. For example, I used to publish articles on how to be a good listener. Which is important, but not as essential as being heard.
I used give presentations about making unforgettable first impressions. Which is important, but not as essential as understanding how people experience you.
And finally, I used to do interviews on how to get noticed, get remembered and get business. Which is important, but not as essential as how to matter.
See the evolution? Your challenge is to continually peel away the superficiality of your messages and start cutting down to the bone. Are ready to take your messages to a deeper level?
5. Embrace the equalizers of life. During a recent spoken word concert, Henry Rollins made a comment that managed to transcend age, gender, ethnicity and background:
“Look guys, all of us share one thing in common: None of us is going to make it out of this century alive. Let’s work together to make it as good as possible.”
Lesson learned: When you highlight universal truths you hit individual nerves. My suggestion is: Pay careful attention to the things people care about. Penetrate the core.
Get beneath the surface of people’s lives. Listen hard to people’s aims – then hit them where they live. Are you talking locally but speaking globally?
6. Go above solving the immediate problem. Whatever people think their core issue is – it isn’t. There’s always something deeper. Your problem is never your problem.
Your challenge is to address what people are unable or afraid to articulate. To take their hiding places away from them by diving in their sea of unspoken emotional needs.
That’s the stuff that matters. That’s the stuff that gets heard. My mentor, Bill Jenkins, is a master of this. When we have one of our many deep conversations, he never fails to uncover the unspoken need, while simultaneously clarifying the core issue.
Two examples. First, with my questions, to which he usually replies: “Well, I think the real question you’re asking is…”
Secondly, with my answers, to which he usually replies: “That’s not the question I asked you.”
The point is: Bill doesn’t let you get away with anything. He listens to the core of what’s happening and responds by tapping into your humanity. Are you slowing down to find out what’s behind people’s words?
ULTIMATELY: Being human is good for business.
Whether you’re sending an ezine, posting a blog or delivering a presentation to your employees, speaking straight to the heart of the human experience is the single easiest way to have your messages more Meaningful, more Human and more heard.
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How are you using your humanity to be heard?
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For the list called, “25 Questions to Uncover Your Best,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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