As soon as employees read the words, “synergistic opportunities” their eyes glaze over. Similarly, when customers read self-congratulatory prose about process management improvements, you’ve lost them. While the news being shared may be relevant or even critical to the intended audience, if it is masked in corporate jargon, it will never be heard. One of the most important things a CEO can do to improve his or her communication skills is to stop thinking about the audience and instead focus on the people in it.
At Parthenon Publishing, we help a variety of executives with their communications. These can take the form of a column for an employee newsletter, an email to customers or a more formal communication. No matter the form or the audience, we always begin our work by helping the messenger see the audience as a person. If it is a message for employees at a healthcare organization, we ask the CEO to imagine that he is talking with a nurse working the third shift at a hospital. Similarly, if the executive is working on a message to customers, we ask how he would share that news in a meeting with one, specific customer. We then ask the CEO to explain what it means to that person, why he or she should care and how his message will impact that person.
The exercise of identifying one person in a targeted audience is simple, but the impact on the message is dramatic. The language changes in a fundamental way. Corporate jargon disappears. The message becomes less about the CEO or the company and more focused on the people receiving it. By making the message personal, it becomes more relevant, more valuable and more effective. The CEO is now speaking in his own, personal voice, rather than as a corporate spokesperson.
The power of speaking to people instead of an audience has an impact beyond executive office. It can benefit all company communications. Organizations have important things to share with their constituents. And, those people have information needs that the company can meet. However, a message does not become effective because of its source. Its power is measured by the value it delivers. By focusing on relating to the people they are trying to reach, companies can dramatically improve their communications. The bonds of those stronger relationships will make any CEO proud.