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Why Most Leaders Fail to Communicate and What to Do About it

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.



As a communications advisor and coach, I’ve seen hundreds of presentations that wander. They have no central point and ask nothing of their audiences.  In other words, they are a waste of time.  They waste the time of the speaker as well as the audience. The "communicator" develops a reputation as a time waster and weak leader.

Most communications fail because people are unclear about what they want to achieve and fail to plan their communications.

If you’re going to lead people, you have to be ultra clear about where you are going and what you stand for.  I’m going to take you through an easy process for planning simple, clear communications that will engage people and persuade them to follow you.

You are going to be encouraged to clearly define your objective and the messages that support it. This has to be based on substance—because it’s not just a question of visibility, it’s about driving to accomplish your objective.

What’s your objective?

It all starts with what you are trying to achieve. What I am going to teach you is a method of strategically using communications to help you achieve your objective—but first you must know what you are trying to are trying to accomplish.

As vice president of communications at a couple of Fortune 100 companies, I had a standard answer for senior leaders who requested a communications strategy for their programs: I would ask, “what’s your business strategy?” This was not to be flip, but to be clear that communications without purpose is worthless.  It is what clutters so many organizations.

Communications instead supports your objective. If you don’t know what your organizational objectives, let me suggest one route for getting there.

Focus on your highest objective—what are you trying to accomplish in your organization?  Most often, your objective will be focused on change.  This is because the leader’s job mostly has to do with change – things like changing culture, increasing sales, or growing membership.

This is the process we use for planned communications to support your objective.

Four keys to planned communications

Focus on key stakeholders: After you’ve focused your objective, you’ll want to review your stakeholders—your most important audiences.  It might sound too simplistic, but you’d be amazed how many people start developing communications without their audiences in mind.

You will be looking in a 360° direction for these stakeholders -- both inside and outside the organization.  Stakeholders may include your clients, employees, investors and others.

Develop your messages: Next, think about what you want those audience members to do. Buy your service or product? Serve your customers more effectively? From this thinking you will develop clear, simple, effective messages to drive your audiences toward action on your objective. It is worthwhile to test your messages with members of the various audiences to see whether you are hitting the mark. (I will be outlining our process for creating these messages in more detail in a future post.)

Communicate with repetition from every direction: The world has become extremely distracted place.  Unlimited social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin have people overwhelmed with information.

To reach your audiences and effect change your focused messages will need to be repeated endlessly, and from every direction possible. You’ll want to reach them through every communications channel—from your own meetings and presentations, to social media, to traditional media.

A good rule of thumb today is that people need to hear your message 16 times before they start to understand and adopt it. I say, just about the that you get sick of repeat something is the time people start to hear your message.

Get feedback to refine messages and repeat process: Communication is a two-way process, which means you must do as much as much time listening to your audience as you do speaking to them.

I recommend that you set up feedback loops, which will help you adapt your messages and change them so you can break through the clutter and engage people in conversation. Communication never ends, so you need to repeat the process and to more deeply engage your most important audiences to move them toward your objective.



Do you plan your communications from your audiences' point of view?

Are you clear about your objective and what you want your audience to do?

When was the last time you got feedback on your communications and refine them as a result?

Share your thoughts in comments below.

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