Time and time again, I see organizations sending the same kinds of communications. They talk about themselves and their work, why they believe it’s so important, and why they need your money. But they forget that it’s not about them and what they care about – it’s about their audiences and what they care about.
It’s hard to think about another’s perspective, especially when you spend all your time on the work, when it means so much to you personally, and when you have the Curse of Knowledge (you know so much about the work that you forget what it’s like to not know so much about it). But if you want messaging that reaches people – that excites them and compels them to action – you need to talk in a way that resonates with them.
I worked with a client recently on some messaging and we wanted to make it easy to understand but also resonant. I reminded the team that they want the audience to agree with them, to nod along as they’re listening, to say “yes!” in response. In order to do this, it’s important to consider what your audience cares about, and to state things in a way that taps into those values.
As I often tell my clients, you should think about why they would care about what you’re saying, not why they should care about it. The former is about relating what you’re saying to the values your audience already holds, whereas the latter is about trying to convince them of values they do not currently hold. The sweet spot is what we call shared values – the values that you hold in common, the things you both care about, what you all can agree on. Framing your message in terms of shared values positions what you’re saying in a way that relates to their values and gets them on your side.
Of course, you may get your audience nodding with you, but for the wrong reasons. They may interpret what you’re saying in a way that is different from what you intended. You all think you agree, but everyone is walking away with a different understanding, agreeing on different things. This is an ineffective message that can impede your efforts to build a strong and cohesive base of support. It can even be a barrier to getting your audience to do what you want them to do.
So it’s important to not just tap into their values, but to make sure you are being clear about your meaning. You don’t want your audience to misinterpret or question your message, and you don’t want them to work hard to decipher it. You want a clear message using articulate, concrete language that is easy to understand and leaves no doubt about your meaning. After all, if you make your audience question what you’re saying, then they will probably have trouble agreeing with you.
Communicating effectively means creating messages that are clear and resonate with your audiences. Frame your message in terms of shared values, and don’t make them ask questions or work to decipher your meaning. Make it easy for them to understand, nod along, and say yes!
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