Transcript: CUWC – Learn why your messages don't land


Hi, I'm Davina Stanley, Managing Director of Clarity College. We help business people and people in government make the complex, clear and a clear compelling in their business communication, particularly when communicating upward in their organization. And you're watching the second video in the Communicate Up With Clarity course.

In this short video, I want to introduce some basic concepts to you. They're going to help your leadership teams listen to you, endorse your recommendations and perhaps even give you a round of applause at the end of your presentation, perhaps in your steer co or something like that. And now, don't be shocked. We've seen that happen. Today I'd like to introduce three important concepts that will help you understand why your communication may or may not land with your audiences. Firstly, our audience's brains are wide survive and to conserve calories, not to listen to us. Secondly, the curse of complexity. It's real. And it's a real problem for many of us in business and in government. And finally, we have just 30 seconds, a minute max, to grab our audience's attention before they switch off if they're not interested, and that's not long.

So first, let's talk about how the brain works and how that affects whether people listen to you or not. So when we communicate, we must recognize that our audience's brains are wired to survive and conserve calories, not to listen to us or to read material. That's why we're more likely to remember where the entrances and exits are in a movie theater than we are to know perhaps how many seats there are. Without even realizing it we're constantly categorising information. People are constantly listening and working out ‘well, do I I need to hear that, do I not? Is it useful? Is it not?' This is because of something very simple, very basic and very human. Our brains are trying to conserve calories. At the most primal level, we're wired first and foremost to survive. And when we think, the brain is using a surprising number of calories which our brain might think is threatening our survival. So according to the Scientific American despite being about 2% of our body weight, our brains use up to 20% of our daily calories. And that's 10 times the calories then many of our other parts of the body use. So when you are in your huddle talk, your leadership presentation, or when your email is wandering all over the place, your audience is working very hard to follow you. Your brain is saying that they have to use too many calories, their brains are saying they have to use too many calories to follow this person. So it just shuts down. And if we watch closely, we're able to see that all over their faces if we're presenting to them in person. So if we don't factor this into our presentations, we'll lose them. We won't engage and we won't get what we need to progress our part of their business or our government department.

So to avoid this, we need to fight our own brains instincts to conserve calories, when what we need to do is work really hard to organize our ideas so that our audiences don't have to do it themselves. We also need to do the work so that they don't have to interpret the ideas in a way that might misinterpret what we intend. The more we know about something, the more we suffer from the curse of complexity. We get so close to our work, that we find it difficult to find the sweet spot between the vast amounts of detailed information that we know about and wherever our audience is at. Remember, if we confuse them, we lose them. I just uses way too many calories for them to keep up with us. Those of you who've watched the movie Margin Call might remember the pivotal scene where the CEO John Todd asks the analyst O'Sullivan to explain what he's learned about the problems with the deals the banks been undertaking. And these deals in real life are the ones that triggered the global financial crisis. He says, ‘tell it to me as though I'm a small child or a golden retriever'. And that's really what's needed. And you may know that it's much harder to make something complex looks simple than it is to make something simple, look complex. But if we want to progress, our agenda, or our careers, we have to master it, we have to overcome that curse of complexity.

So imagine, if you have a complex idea to communicate, regardless of how senior your audience is, we can assume their understanding of your topic is about one or two. But as experts in the area we live way over at number 10 and we have to bridge that gap. But let me show you what happens. We think, ‘let's simplify that to level one, or maybe level three'. And we work really hard doing it. But we end up somewhere at about seven. So there's a massive gap. And that gap is the curse of complexity. That might sound a bit primitive but it really is that simple. If you don't address that curse of complexity, your recommendations will never get up. You certainly won't prepare a piece of communication that goes largely unedited from you through every governance layer in your organization or your department, to the decision makers at the top. And yes, that is possible. Most importantly, you won't get the progress you need in your business or in actually in your career. So what we need to do is organize, synthesize and deliver our ideas for addressing issues in such a way that our audience not only understands them but sees the relevance of them too. We need to make sure that we're crystal clear about our proposition so our audience doesn't ask us lots of questions and suggest we come back next time to present again, rather than making a decision.

So that leads me to my third point. When we communicate, we must realize that we have 30 seconds, a minute max, to grab our audience's attention before they switch off if they're not interested. And that's not long. So far in this module, I've been driving home the point that brains are both part of the problem and part of the solution. If we understand how they work, ours and our audiences, we can avoid being asked that awful ‘So what?' question. If you don't believe me, try these three things. Firstly, experiment. When you're listening to others next time, set your timer on your watch and pay attention to your own attention. See how long you listen, and how quickly you feel yourself being pulled into the presenters world or not. Now, when speaking, add this experiment in as well, help yourself feel what 30 seconds or a minute feels like, get in front of the mirror with your presentation, put the timer on and start delivering it. If you haven't got the core of your message across within the first minute, you're sunk. Now, second, be clear about your purpose early. The trick is to give just enough context and the reason why you need to communicate to this audience right now, at the start of your presentation. This may not be realistic, to have them sitting on the edge of their seats. We are after all, not in the entertainment business, or in the business business. In our courses, we teach you how to do this. And lastly, the third thing I'd like you to try is to believe that engaging your audience quickly is possible despite not being in the entertainment business, it is absolutely realistic to pique your audience's interest early and have them want to know more. You want to have then your proposition delivered early, expressed as a single sentence, after just a short introduction to set the scene. If you do this well, they will naturally want you to explain what your point of view is and why you think that and it doesn't matter if it's just an update, or if it's something more substantial. If you put your proposition forward, they will get curious and want to know more.

In the next video, I'd like to offer some reasons why boosting your critical thinking abilities is so important if you want your messages to land so that your audiences don't shut down and they don't ask you that awful question.