“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

While that makes for one of the greatest movie quotes, it’s certainly not the kind of business we strive for. I don’t know about you, but the businesses I work with would much rather make an offer their customer wouldn’t want to refuse.

While Don Corleone has a deep understanding of what’s worst for his audience, they strive for a deep understanding of what’s best for their audience. Don Corleone’s offer is made out of a position of power while their offer is made out of a position of relevance. While he uses force, they rely on resonance.

The crucial difference is free will. Telling a story that resonates so strongly that people will want to come along eliminates the need of force. Ultimately, if your work really does make a difference, then resonance might even be the stronger force.

What’s at stake?

If I didn’t follow your advice what would happen? Where would I be missing out?

Because why would I listen if nothing’s at stake?

Easy to copy! Or is it?

This is easy: to copy the looks of a great presentation.

This is hard: to copy the passion that went into crafting the story, the empathy that was needed to make it relevant, the effort that was required to refine the details so that everything felt just right.

Yet, if you manage to get the latter right, there’s no need to copy the looks, anymore. You’ll inevitably come up with your own distinct look. One that is true to yourself, is right for your audience, and just nails it.

Talking to a crowd of one

A speech is one person talking to a crowd. Right?

Yet, an interesting shift happens when you switch your thinking from “crowd” to “people”.

When working with leaders on their communication this is one of the most profound differences that boosts their comfort level in public settings.

Try it. What would you say if you didn’t speak to a crowd but to just a few people. Or even just one person? A specific one? Jennifer?

Most people speak differently to crowds than they do to people. They skip the superficial part, the abstract language, the generic examples, and the egocentric “look how awesome we are” pieces.

And skipping that makes them use language and gestures that feel much more true to themselves. Suddenly, it’s them talking, not the marketing department. It’s a person speaking to another person, not a company speaking to a “target group”.

Here’s one simple step towards this: When preparing your next speech, imagine one specific person in the audience. What’s her name? Why is she granting you the time? Where is she coming from? And then imagine how you speak to just her.

What are sales pitches for?

“We are awesome!”

That, in essence, is the summary of 99% of all sales pitches.

Yet, that’s not what decision makers care for. At all.

Decision makers care for how awesome they are. And whether buying your product will make them even more awesome. To make them see how is the actual job of a sales pitch.

Make it about them, not you.

The real experts

Asked about which kind of feedback he values apart from the audience feedback, stand up comedian Jerry Seinfeld answers:

“There is no other feedback that means anything.”

It’s the only feedback that matters. It’s 100% accurate. No expert will ever come close to that level of accuracy. And that’s why for Jerry Seinfeld it just doesn’t matter what the experts think. Or his colleagues. If the audience cheered, that’s all he needs to know. It they booed, that’s all he needs to know.

The same is true for communication in general. The ultimate feedback is always the one from your audience, your customers, your team. And one of the healthiest things you can do to improve your communication is to take responsibility for that feedback.

If your team isn’t on fire after the meeting, reflect on what you said and how you said it. And then improve.

And that’s where the experts come in. They are the ones to help you pinpoint why the feedback was what it was. They are the ones who help you find ways to improve that you wouldn’t think of yourself.

But for the feedback on what you actually say and do, it’s always the audience who is the real expert.

Stand out!

That’s what they tell us: Stand out! And so we see more and more people tell their story bigger, faster, and louder. Brighter colours. Fancier titles. Catchier graphics. Bigger. Faster. Louder.

And it works. It gets you attention. People click on clickbaity headlines. People cheer over your hilarious face shots.

Until they don’t. Because when everything stands out, nothing stands out. And attention fades.

That’s why, in the long run, rather than bigger, faster, and louder it’s so much more sustainable to focus on relevant, timely, and irresistible.

The selfish speaker

The selfish speaker is still the standard approach to speaking.

Selfish speakers want us to get them. As opposed to them getting us.

They speak so that we care for what they care about. As opposed to them caring for what we care about.

They care for applause. While we care about change. The irony being that when change happens we are happy to give credit and applause.

Your choice.

Misunderstanding is the norm

We tend to assume that our audience understands what we mean and that misunderstanding is an anomaly in communication. I think it’s much more helpful to assume the opposite.

Misunderstanding is not an anomaly but the norm. More often than not – even when it doesn’t seem so – people have a different understanding of things than us.

When we say “eager” they see something different than we do. When we say “2 billion” it might seem not much to them while it seems much for us.

It helps a lot to keep that in mind when communicating. If in doubt, assume that your audience will misunderstand what you say and increase clarity.

Guaranteed winners

There is no guarantee in sports.

When Roger Federer entered the center court he could never be 100% certain to win the match. No matter how well he prepares, there’s always be the possibility of defeat.

He enters the center court regardless. He plays the match regardless.

Repeat.

There is no guarantee in communication. No matter how well we prepare, our story just might not work for this particular audience. Or there might be a tough question which gets us by surprise.

We enter the stage regardless. We give our talk regardless.

A huge source of misunderstanding is the purpose of preparation. We don’t prepare to eliminate uncertainty. Quite the opposite. We prepare to be able to face uncertainty and give our best despite the scariness of the moment.

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz