By: Christopher G. Fox, PhD
“In fact, the more each person can remove his or her ego from the discussion and focus on the subject matter, the more fruitful the conversation will be for all involved.” ―
Start a Conversation to Get the Message Across
As a communication strategist and writer, people often ask me “how do I get my message across?” They want to convince and compel. They want me to help them determine what they want their audience to feel, think, and do in response to a particular communication. Those questions do have value, but when you focus on them to exclusion, you miss the opportunity to turn every communication into a conversation.
What do I mean by conversation? It means more than merely addressing your reader in the second person or using rhetorical questions. It means more than writing in a conversational tone.
Think of it this way. In your reader’s mind, there’s an ongoing dialogue of assent or dissent, of enjoyment or irritation, of imagination. Readers construct understanding from what they read by reacting to it and constantly testing it against their own experience and values. More often than not, it happens at a deeply subconscious level. Although you can’t read every reader’s mind, you can anticipate this back and forth and work with it as you write.
4 Ways that Your Message is Clear
Of course, it can be hard to do because writing often happens in a solitary setting. You can overcome that, however. Below are some techniques that work best for me:
1) Reading aloud.
To help ensure that the way I write reflects the way I speak, I read each post aloud while looking in the mirror. I look myself in the eye, knowing that my authentic belief is behind it. If it is not, I rewrite. Beyond that, reading aloud helps catch unfortunate rhythms, cacophonous clusters of sound, and even syntax errors. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I really do often speak just like this.
2) Anticipating reactions.
I visualize a “panel of three” behind me. One is a sympathetic reader who agrees with my thinking and will approach my topic with openness.
Another takes the opposite tack, an ornery contrarian with a high bar for thinking differently, and whose objections I can anticipate.
Finally, one is a mentor, friend, or family member, someone whom I respect and love, and whose respect and love I want to reciprocate in the way I write. Form your own panel, add more people to it if it helps, and you’ll notice the difference.
3) Debunking myths.
The world of communications and writing is rife with advice. I’m giving some right now! Two pieces of mythical advice that frustrate me most are the council to focus on “key messages” and the direction to write at a particular grade level. I’ll say more about these in a moment, but on general principle, what I mean is that you’ll always be a better writer, with more opportunities to have a conversation with readers, when you free yourself of anxieties and break the rules that don’t matter.
On the subject of messages, yes, they are part of the picture, but they quickly descend into “talking at” your audience. As I suggest above, just because a communicator says something doesn’t mean the audience hears the same thing. In addition to your “panel,” you can research comments and reactions to similar ideas online. Map out responses, and what you would say in a live dialogue. Then direct that engagement and energy back into your writing.
4) Engage at your reader’s level.
As far as grade-level guidelines, let’s take another look at what they imply. I understand the statistics about comprehension and high-minded principles about simple writing and plain English, but honestly, they’re all based on a bullshit premise. If you assume you’re merely talking at your readers, it’s easy enough to start talking down to them. Do you also want them to engage with you at a sixth-grade level? Unless the answer is “yes,” drop the condescension, boost the trust, and write to your readers at the level of discourse that you aspire to have with them.
Trust really is the key to all of this. Turning communication into conversation simply means valuing and trusting your audience, having faith in their ability and willingness to engage. Click To Tweet
In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity directs us to treat people as if they were entirely rational and capable as if they have the best possible intentions, and, simply, as if they are not stupid. Or in the language of psychology, you teach people how to treat you. It applies as much in writing as in life. Write, and live, with courage, love, and light.
Bio: Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D. is a writer and communications strategist living in Los Angeles. He works with executives and subject matter experts to help them build reputations through messages, conversations, stories, and thought leadership.
He is also the creator of Kindness Communication®, which promotes the idea that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate.
Writers, what message do you have to communicate today? One that will help us improve our writing, entertain us with a human interest story, enchant us with a poem, or give us problem-solving for the blogger?
All of these forms of communication are welcome, so consider a guest post today. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not sure if your topic would fit? Then send a proposal or pitch to the same address. Thank you.