From a listener's perspective

A good strategy for communicating more effectively is to help your audience listen more effectively. To make your message more "listenable," you have to be able to understand it from your listeners' perspective.

Pity poor Alfred. He spends hours diligently preparing a communication that is critically important to him.

He does all the right things:

To make sure his communication is well organized, he creates an outline. To make sure he doesn't leave out any important points, he makes a list of everything he wants to say.

He works hard to craft the wording of the speech until it expresses precisely what he wants his audience to understand.

He adds dazzling graphics and charts, and he makes sure the communication as a whole is neatly formatted.

When he goes in front of his audience, he delivers the communication in his most polished, confident, and pleasant style.

Unfortunately for Alfred, however, things don't work out as he intended. Despite his thorough preparation and flawless delivery, his message fails to reach his audience.

Several things happened that Alfred hadn't expected. First, several listeners thought they already knew what he would say, and didn't listen to what he actually did say.

Others heard only what they wanted to hear, filtering out anything that didn't appeal to their most pressing interests.

For many in the audience, much of what Alfred was saying sounded like a stream of empty words, just "blah, duh-dah, bah-blah."

Worst of all, Alfred himself was cheerfully unaware of the degree to which his audience missed his message.

Alfred made a common mistake: He focused on his message and on what he wanted his audience to know, because he assumed that his audience would take in anything he chose to tell them if he could only explain it clearly and thoroughly enough.

Worst of all, Alfred himself was cheerfully unaware of the degree to which his audience missed his message.

Alfred's failure illustrates an important principle:

The most critical link in the communication circuit is the part that sits between the listener's ears. How effectively the speaker articulates a message is not as important as how effectively the audience tunes into and listens to it.

That leads us to the first of eight "portable" thoughts, or compact ideas that you can carry with you when you finish reading this essay:

Portable Thought #1 - Facilitate listening

My audience will listen to only part of what I say, no matter how well I say it. To communicate effectively, I must focus more on what my audience will actually understand and absorb than on what I want to tell them.

. . .

How can speakers facilitate listening? Let's take a closer look at the ingredients that make a communication more "listenable" -- and as a result, more likely to be taken to heart and remembered.

In the passage below quoted from Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die (2007), an excellent book on communication, authors Chip and Dan Heath relate a story told by Nora Ephron, a screenwriter who worked as a journalist at Esquire and the New York Post.

The story reveals a lot about what makes a communication compelling for the audience.

In Ephron's high school journalism class, she had to practice writing leads. The lead is a newspaper article's opening sentence. A lead often summarizes the article's main news, and a good lead should draw the reader in.

Ephron still remembers the first day of her journalism class. Although the students had no journalism experience, they walked into their first class with a sense of what a journalist does: A journalist gets the facts and reports them. To get the facts, you track down the five W's: who, what, where, when, and why.

As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron's teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: "Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund 'Pat' Brown."

The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence: "Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School faculty Thursday in Sacramento . . . blah, blah, blah."

The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.

Finally, he said, "The lead to the story is 'There will be no school next Thursday.'"

"It was a breathtaking moment," Ephron recalls. "In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn't enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered." For the rest of the year, she says, every assignment had a secret: a hidden point that the students had to figure out in order to produce a good story.

Ephron's experience nicely illustrates the vital importance of developing a "sense of meaning."

A sense of meaning allows the speaker to see the point, to find the story, and to perceive nuance. In essence, it allows the speaker to look at a subject from more than one perspective.

The students failed at first to see what would be meaningful for readers, to see the news from their perspective, despite the fact that the students were writing for other students.

Sense of meaning is like sense of humor. In fact, good speeches have a lot in common with good jokes. Here are some insights that we can draw from making the comparison:

Tell stories. First, good jokes and good communications are often structured as stories. An apt story is a compact and memorable way to represent meaning. Also, it's better to show than to tell. Good stories usually demonstrate principles more vividly than listing those principles in abstraction.

Exploit the power of context. Second, their power comes as much from what they leave unsaid as from what they say. They work best when they paint a contextual picture using just a few brush strokes, leaving listeners to fill in details and create meaning based on their own experience.

Set it up, then fire. Once a joke sets up the context, the punch line strikes the listener like a bolt of lightning. The thunder clap arrives milliseconds later when the listener's mind catches up and ties the threads together.

A good speech or presentation triggers that same satisfying mental "click" by setting up context and then making the ideas snap together to create a unified, meaningful picture.

Stop once it's out there. Skillful joke-tellers know that nothing should come after the punch line. Likewise, once you've given enough context for listeners to create meaning, resist the temptation to add emphasis through redundancy.

Also, don't tell your audience what you don't want them to believe. The mere act of denying a thought will invoke that thought in the minds of the audience, inadvertently reinforcing it (as in the famous line, "don't think of an elephant," which of course causes the listener to do just that).

Use format for meaning, not for impact. A good joke usually follows a predictable format that supports the joke's punch line, allowing listeners to focus on the meaning of the joke.

In the same way, a regular format supports the rhythm and flow of communication. Format reinforces meaning, but meaning shouldn't depend on an extravagant format -- which can easily backfire.

Look for the twist. Just as a predictable joke isn't very funny, a predictable speech or presentation isn't very "listenable." Both need to deliver a surprise, an unexpected twist that forces listeners to see things from a different perspective.

The surprise is the bit of news that interests and hopefully delights the listener. It creates new meaning by arranging familiar facts in a new way.

Sense of meaning is like sense of humor. In fact, good speeches have a lot in common with good jokes.

Ask yourself questions such as these to find the news in your message:

- How will my listeners see the world differently by understanding my message? How exactly does what I'm saying differ from what they already know?

- What exactly will my listeners find surprising? Valuable?

- What new idea am I offering that will matter and make a difference to my listeners?

One of the best ways to sharpen your sense of meaning is to cultivate a taste for interesting questions, just as a connoisseur appreciates fine wine.

The most fertile questions are usually those that provoke deeper questions, out of which develops an avid, open curiosity shaped by accumulated insights.

Today's action-oriented world tends to value answers more than questions, knowledge more than wisdom. That tendency is at the root of many failures to communicate. Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens patiently.

That leads us to a second principle:

Portable Thought #2 - Savor meaning

To communicate effectively, I need a sharp sense of what's news and what's just raw fact, so that I can sift the needle of meaning from the haystack of facts.

. . .

News media are rightly accused of often reducing complex subjects to convenient but vapid sound bites. Sticking to the essence of a story is important, but giving the essence of a story is more than just simplifying it.

Here are some aspects of what it means to find the essence of a subject:

Tells you what it is. The essence is the short answer to the question, "What is this?" (The word essence comes from a Latin word meaning "being" or "nature.") It is an idea, or small set of ideas, that gives a balanced sense of the nature of the subject.

Leads you to the rest. Once you've found the essence, you know how to fill in other details later, like adding water to a packet of dehydrated soup. The essence can stand as a substitute for the whole subject, without undue distortion.

Provides a handle. The essence gives you a mental hook where you can hang new information about the subject. You can use it to understand how the new information resembles or differs from what you already know.

Shows what is unique. Just as a caricature exaggerates characteristics that differ from the norm and make a person distinctly recognizable, the essence of a subject emphasizes characteristics that make it unique within its context.

Captures the bare meaning. Simply put, if a detail can be removed without greatly changing the overall meaning, then the detail isn't essential.

Questions such as these can help you to distill the essence of a subject:

- How would I explain the central point of my communication to an outsider or non-expert?

- How exactly would the meaning of my message change if I removed a particular detail?

- Can I think of just a few sentences that express what I wish my audience to remember from my communication next week? A year from now?

- If I could spend five minutes alone with each person in my audience, what would I say?

Finding the essence requires a style of thinking that tends to focus more on similarities than differences. It ties together separate facts in order to show the "patterns that connect."

That style of thinking is what we could call synthetic, from a Greek word meaning "to put together." Analysis, on the other hand, comes from Greek for "to take apart."

Specialists in science, engineering, or corporate business are highly trained in analytical thinking, which attacks problems by taking them apart into manageable pieces. Analytical thinking tends to put greater emphasis on distinctions than similarities.

While both styles of thinking are necessary for finding the essence, synthetic thinking plays a greater role. The synthetic mind can drill into a subject to find its essential truths, without getting lost in detail.

Thinking synthetically is a special skill, less common than analytical thinking. Like analytical thinking, it has to be developed through practice and experience.

One reason that technical or corporate communications often fail is that technical experts, who are masters of detail, feel uncomfortable leaving details out.

However, to make the overall message more understandable and digestible, sometimes details must be sacrificed. Knowing what to leave out requires first synthesizing the details to derive essential meaning.

There is an important difference between informing an audience (giving them facts that you believe they should know) and communicating with an audience (successfully sharing your understanding and perspective).

That leads us to this thought:

Portable Thought #3 - Think synthetically

My audience has only limited time and attention. I need to hone my message to its essentials by presenting my audience with a coherent "forest" instead of a collection of individual "trees."

. . .

So far, we've looked at meaning and how it relates to the listener's perspective. But what is meaning, exactly?

One answer to that question comes from the principle of betweening (a word not in the dictionary). Here's a definition:

Betweening (n.) - A way to efficiently create new structure by filling a small gap between two relatively stable nearby points, thereby exposing other, even smaller gaps, so that the process continues iteratively.

In other words, you're more likely to discover something new and useful by searching between two existing points that are approximately useful than by searching in an area that's completely isolated and unknown.

Over time, those successive approximations accumulate to create structure, sometimes even structure that can be surprisingly complex.

Wikipedia is a great example of growth by betweening. When a reader makes a contribution that fills a gap in the encyclopedia's coverage of a subject, the contribution highlights other gaps that hadn't been obvious before.

If someone starts an article on Germany and someone else starts one on France, the article on Italy will soon follow. If the article on Italy has a section on its wine industry, it will be even more obvious that the article on Germany needs one on its auto industry.

Wikipedia's growth has been astoundingly rapid, although some may take issue with Wikipedia's editorial quality. It has become one of the most relevant collections of knowledge ever compiled, a Library of Alexandria for our times.

Nature long ago figured out the betweening principle. Biological evolution uses it. The human mind also takes advantage of it.

Imagine a vast jigsaw puzzle made up of a person's perceptions, concepts, memories, experiences, and understanding of the world.

At any given time, there are regions of the puzzle that have already been assembled. Those regions are islands that populate the mind like partially written Wikipedia articles.

The gaps that separate those islands are irritating to the mind. They itch. They compel. The closer a gap is to being closed, the more irresistible the urge to close it.

From time to time we find a puzzle piece that ties a few of the islands together, betweening them, snapping them tightly into place. That's what meaning is.

We feel a wonderfully satisfying mental click when contexts join together, like getting the punch line of a joke. The larger the islands that are betweened, the more satisfying the click.

Nature long ago figured out the betweening principle. Biological evolution uses it. The human mind also takes advantage of it.

Hunger for the click can be so strong that human beings actually follow basic foraging instincts when looking for a missing piece of information.

We have a bloodhound's nose for detecting whether a source of information will likely lead to our missing piece. If an information trail seems promising, we follow it enthusiastically.

An audience will listen to a speech or presentation as long as their noses assure them that it's leading to their missing piece.

The moment the information scent goes cold, they'll stop listening, no matter how well-organized or well-articulated the speech or presentation may be.

Listeners aren't interested in creating a new pile of information in their minds. They're interested in closing gaps between their piles that already exist. That's how they increase their knowledge.

In other words, the communicator's basic job is to provide bits of information that help listeners make new, meaningful connections between parts of their own experience. By making those connections, listeners can actually extend their worlds a bit further.

That leads us to another plain truth about the listener's perspective:

Portable Thought #4 - Offer a missing piece

My message will be compelling for my audience if, and only if, it fills a gap between already existing pieces of their own experience.

. . .

Another of the insightful stories told in Made to Stick is about a fascinating study done by a student at Stanford University.

The study was based around a simple game. One person, the "tapper," picked a song from a list of 25 well known tunes, such as "Happy Birthday to You," and then tapped out the rhythm of the song with fingers on a table.

The other person, the "listener," then had to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.

Of the 120 songs tapped out over the course of the experiment, listeners were able to guess only three.

Even more surprising, however, was how deluded the tappers were about how well the listeners could guess the tunes.

Immediately after tapping out each song, Newton asked the tapper to predict whether the listener was about to guess correctly.

About half of the time, the tappers predicted that they had successfully transmitted the song to the listener. In reality, listeners guessed correctly only once every 40 tries!

Why were the tappers so thoroughly deluded about their ability to transmit the song to their listeners?

Quoting from Made to Stick:

When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself -- tap out "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can't hear that tune -- all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.

In the experiment, tappers are flabbergasted at how hard the listeners seem to be working to pick up the tune. Isn't the song obvious? The tappers' expressions, when a listener guesses "Happy Birthday to You" for "The Star-Spangled Banner," are priceless: How could you be so stupid?

It's hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge.

Every speaker and writer should internalize the implications of that experiment, because we're all experts, at least in a relative sense, when communicating.

Experts easily forget how much of their knowledge is implicit rather than explicit.

Explicit knowledge is what can be expressed using precise terminology or carefully articulated statements. When people think of education and expertise, they're usually thinking of explicit knowledge.

But explicit knowledge is just the tip of an iceberg floating in an ocean of implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is silent understanding that comes through direct experience.

We don't remember exactly how we acquired our implicit knowledge. In most cases, we don't even know we have it. Experts, especially, are largely unaware of the great depth and extent of their implicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is actually implicit knowledge that has been desiccated and frozen into symbolic, conceptual form. To be understood, explicit knowledge must be re-hydrated, thawed, and tied back to raw experience.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to raise your awareness of your implicit knowledge:

- How exactly did I learn what I know, and what was happening in me at the moment I learned it?

- Did the way I learned what I know influence how I see it, and will my audience share my perspective? How do my personal experiences frame my view?

- Which particular experiences have been pivotal in shaping my views?

The main challenge for communication is that explicit knowledge relies on a reservoir of implicit knowledge which the listener may, or may not, have in common with the speaker.

We don't remember exactly how we acquired our implicit knowledge. In most cases, we don't even know we have it.

Metaphor, by pointing directly to physical experience, builds a bridge between the speaker's implicit, in-the-body experience and the audience's.

Abstractions have no meaning unless they can be tied through metaphor to what we can lift, or grasp, or walk upon, or put in our mouths as an infant does.

We can't truly comprehend anything that we can't measure with our bodies. Human cognition is ultimately rooted in the private experience of being in a body.

What does 150 light-years mean? We know it's less than 200 light-years and more than 100, but viscerally we can grasp only that it's much, much further than from here to the sofa.

For complex topics, abstractions are usually composed of other abstractions chained together. The direct connection to in-the-body experience is likely to be several hops away.

A person who frequently uses abstractions may talk about them passionately, as if they were as vivid and real as bodily experience. For listeners, that may sound like a teenager singing loudly and off key to a tune that he alone hears on his iPod.

A kind and courteous favor that a speaker can do for listeners is to understand in advance how to trace an abstraction through all the steps to its basis in physical experience.

That brings us to the following thought:

Portable Thought #5 - Tie it back to bodies

My audience depends on knowledge "between the lines" to understand what I'm explaining. I must describe my subject in terms that ultimately relate in scale and context to experience in the human body.

. . .

A mistake that presenters frequently make is to behave as if they could use language to download information directly into the brains of their audience.

By looking at how language works, we see that language is actually a guessing game, a sophisticated form of empathy.

The listener thinks:

If I were making the same utterances that the speaker is making right now, what would I be thinking and feeling? What would I be trying to express?

The speaker, on the other hand, is thinking:

What utterances must I make so that my listener guesses what I'm thinking and feeling? Putting myself in my listener's shoes, could I guess?

This game of Charades normally works so deftly that most people probably aren't aware that it's happening.

It creates the illusion that language transmits information. We easily forget that language can't communicate anything that listeners haven't already experienced.

Language works by giving listeners hints that help them rearrange bits of their own experience in order to paint a picture of what they guess the speaker might reasonably be experiencing.

We easily forget that language can't communicate anything that listeners haven't already experienced.

Because communication depends on the guesses made by listeners, speakers should be generous in offering navigational clues.

Whenever the context shifts or telescopes between close-up and big-picture, the speaker should signal those changes to the audience, like a courteous driver who uses turn indicators.

Here are some examples:

- "Let me take a step back for a moment and describe the overall situation..."

- "This is similar to what we saw before, differing in only a few details, such as..."

- "Now I'll give you an example of each type... First, there is..."

- "I agree with much of what that book says, but I'd like to take issue with a particular point..."

- "The thinking that motivated this choice was that..."

In a sense, the audience must go through the same process while listening to a communication as the speaker went through when preparing it. They must construct the communication in their own minds.

Like the proverbial blind men who lacked a complete view of the elephant, listeners need to know which part of the elephant the speaker is describing at each moment, and how that part fits into a whole.

That leads us to this:

Portable Thought #6 - Show the whole elephant

My audience faces the dilemma of having to read my mind, based on what I'm gesturing toward with my words. It's my job to make apparent to my audience the structures and contexts in my narrative.

. . .

Up to this point, we've looked at how communication depends on listeners to construct new meaning actively, based on their own experience.

We've seen that effective communication isn't at all like firing "message missiles" at an audience who sit like a target, and who then instantly know what the speaker wants them to know.

Unless a message meets the listeners from their perspective, it simply won't reach them. They may hear the words, but they won't hear the message. Listeners first have to invite the message in.

That is true not only of communication using language. It applies whenever meaning is represented through symbols or convention, including in visual or graphical media.

We turn now to a few principles having to do with communication as a transaction to which participants bring certain expectations.

We post-moderns are quick to sense when a person or organization is making a pitch for us to do, buy, or believe something.

A communication that tries to hide its motivations will send a subliminal signal to the audience that the speaker can't be fully trusted.

Even though "spin" is a common practice, it is still irremediably deceitful. The audience may not be fully alert to the cover-up, but they quietly sense that their perceptions are being manipulated.

They eventually filter out the manipulation. Researchers have discovered, for example, that web surfers ignore anything that looks like advertising, as if they were blind to it.

Speakers commonly make the mistake of trying to prove how intelligent they are, and to treat the communication as an opportunity to show off their amazing brilliance.

If you're a speaker, it's not wise to provoke listeners into wanting to take you down a notch! Better to treat them as being just as clever as you are.

The listener's need to know must come ahead of the speaker's need to communicate.

That also applies to communication between groups. Groups naturally get caught up in their own views and interests, and easily make the mistake of using insider speak when communicating to others.

When groups talk to outsiders, they often use the same language and assumptions that they use when speaking or writing to each other, despite the fact that outsiders may not share the group's interests, perspectives, or vocabulary.

Speaker and audience bring certain expectations, spoken and unspoken, to the transaction. Communication will be more effective if both are aware or each other's interests.

Even though "spin" is a common practice, it is still irremediably deceitful.

Hidden motivations make language harder to understand, just as products are harder to use if engineers expect consumers to think like engineers. Effective communication depends on bringing motivations to light.

Questions such as these can help:

- Why do I want to communicate this? What do I want to achieve through it?

- What specific actions, if any, would I like my audience to take as a consequence of hearing my communication?

- What am I imagining that my audience will think and do after they hear my communication?

- Why will my audience listen to my communication? What will they be hoping to achieve by paying attention to it?

To the extent that it is appropriate in your culture, be frank about what you're asking from your audience and what you're offering to them. Then take care to fulfill your promises.

That brings us to this thought:

Portable Thought #7 - Keep the bargain

My audience and I strike a deal with each other: They will listen to what I wish them to hear only if I offer them something they wish to know.

. . .

Earworm is a name for those annoying tunes that get stuck in your head. They're easy to sing and easy to recognize, even after the first hearing, and they're usually catchy, or mildly unusual.

The stickiness of earworms sheds light on what makes some ideas more memorable and likelier to spread than others.

Besides being easy to recognize and remember, sticky tunes usually evoke a simple combination of emotions, such as "bitter-sweet-sorrow" or "proud-triumphant-regretful."

Those emotions are an important part of why the tunes appeal to a wide audience, and of why they catch on and spread so contagiously.

Emotional appeal comes from a feeling of being able to overcome obstacles that thwart one's desires. If something makes us feel more capable, more powerful in the face of uncertainty or frustration, it will likely exert emotional appeal.

Technology appeals if consumers feel more competent when they use it. Politicians appeal if they inspire feelings of confidence in each voter's identity and community.

Emotional appeal is arguably the factor that can single-handedly make or break a communication. Made to Stick recounts a story that beautifully illustrates the sway of emotional appeal.

Before 1986, Texas had a huge problem with roadside litter. It was spending a fortune on cleanup, and costs were rising 15 percent per year.

Emotional appeal is arguably the factor that can single-handedly make or break a communication.

The profile of the typical litterer was a young pickup-driving male who liked sports and country music, and who didn't like authority.

They weren't responding to the state's conventional attempts to encourage better behavior, such as signs saying "Please Don't Litter" or roadside rubbish containers marked "Pitch In."

As one member of the Texas Department of Transportation put it, "Saying 'please' to these guys falls on deaf ears."

Texas hired Dan Syrek, a leading researcher on litter, to take up the challenge.

Syrek realized that the best way to change the behavior of a typical young pickup-driving Texan male was to convince him that people like him did not litter.

Based on Syrek's research, the Texas Department of Transportation approved an ad campaign that played on an American slang expression, "don't mess with me," which can be used menacingly to mean, "don't quarrel with me, because you'll be sorry if you do."

Quoting from Made to Stick:

One of the earliest TV commercials featured two Dallas Cowboy players, Ed "Too-Tall" Jones and Randy White, who were famous in Texas. In the commercial, they're picking up trash on the side of a highway.

Too-Tall Jones steps toward the camera and says, "You see the guy who threw this out the window... you tell him I got a message for him."

Randy White steps forward with a beer can and says, "I got a message for him too..."

An off-camera voice asks, "What's that?"

White crushes the can with his fist and says threateningly, "Well, I kinda need to see him to deliver it."

Too-Tall Jones adds, "Don't mess with Texas."

The campaign featured celebrities, such as the football players in the passage quoted above, who were widely recognized by Texans as being Texans.

The message of the campaign was simple and direct: True Texans don't litter.

The campaign was an immediate and stunning success. Within months, a poll showed that 70 percent of Texans knew the slogan and its message.

Within a year, litter had been reduced by almost 30 percent, and within five years by over 70 percent.

Throughout the 1990s any visitor to Texas couldn't miss noticing how many drivers proudly chose to display a "Don't mess with Texas" bumper sticker on their trucks.

The slogan shares several characteristics with earworms and other communications that propagate spontaneously or even virally. It is quickly recognizable and understandable, and its impact is immediate.

Like earworms, which are easy-to-sing but catchy, viral phrases use natural-sounding, idiomatic language with a slight twist, such as the double entendre in "Don't mess with Texas."

The message celebrates the identity of Texans. Strengthening identity is a clear way to arouse deep feelings of empowerment.

The slogan also carries a whiff of humor. Humor is highly empowering when done in good taste, and can obviously add an almost seductive appeal to a message.

Questions such as these help in choosing phrases or images that come alive for a reader or listener:

- How does my message enhance my audience's ability to be more competent or to achieve their desires?

- Does my message leave my audience with hope and a promising way forward?

- Can I quickly and effortlessly recite the main points of my message by heart, without needing to refer to notes? Could my audience?

Emotional appeal strongly affects attention. It makes messages seem to jump off the page. They pop. They stick.

The stickiest of all messages are probably aphorisms or proverbs, some of which have been around for thousands of years.

Aphorisms have all the right stuff. They're terse, easy to recite, metaphorical, and appealing. Often they're slightly wry or humorous. They convey a deeper, essential meaning that gives them resonance.

They have what it takes to rise above the murky din of symbols that otherwise saturate the audience's attention. They embody all the elements of "listenability."

Of course, if a speech or communication has too many vivid, aphoristic phrases, it'll be too dense, and the audience will run out of breath. If too few, it'll be as "unlistenable" as hapless Alfred's was.

If just enough of them are sprinkled throughout, the speech or communication will come to life and make music for the audience.

That leads us to this last portable thought:

Portable Thought #8 - Make it sing

My communication will capture my audience's attention if it offers them easy-to-recite gems of wisdom that make them feel more capable, hopeful, and knowledgeable.

. . .

Everyone has the seed of a great communicator within. As we've seen, the key to effective communication is the ability to shift one's awareness to the listener's perspective.

A marvelous consequence of gaining a listener's-eye view of the world is that you also come to understand your own point of view more deeply.

And, of course, the best way to practice seeing from another person's perspective is to practice effective listening.

Michael Webb, January, 2008

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