About 10 years ago, we sat through an entire presentation on an arcane software protocol called “OFX.” Befuddling. We had no clue what the acronym meant or what the protocol actually did, which was a big problem because we were charged with explaining it to the company’s customers.
After the meeting we asked an experienced colleague what OFX stood for. She paused, sighed, and then said, “I have no idea. But they use it all the time.” (We subsequently found out it stood for “Open Financial Exchange.” Which makes as much sense today as it did 10 years ago). So consider this a plea for clarity, concreteness, and “low-level” communication. Translate the high-level concept into the meaning to the audience and illustrate it with stories and clear, concrete language that describes why your audience will care.
Be specific, be clear, and please, please, please, make sure that you’re speaking to everyone. We’ve found a few phrases that will help you get on the right path.
The following will help reveal whether you’re getting to the point and telling stories. If you hear these words come out of your mouth, you’re probably on your way to good communication.
- Imagine …: This is the most elegant word in a presenter’s arsenal. “Imagine” immediately puts he audience in the position of, well, imagining. It’s a perfect way to describe how your business vision or new product or service will play out in a customer’s business or life. “Imagine you’re the CIO of a major bank, or maybe an IT developer. You probably care about three big things …”
- What that means is …: What that means to the listener or reader is critical. It’s what they care most about. Translate it so they don’t have to work to figure it out.
- For example …: Some companies have thousands of customers and partners. Chances are, there’s an example out there that best illustrates what you do or how you do it.
- Our customers tell us …: No one cares about you; they care greatly, however, about what you can do for them. This simple phrase is a great way to overcome objections or biases that hinder your point of view.
- Think of it this way …: Analogies are incredibly effective yet underused in the corporate world. This phrase will put you on the path to an analogy. It’s also a useful way to reframe a negative.
- What makes us different …: You’re in a pitched battle with your top competitors. This is no time for ambiguity. What’s the one thing you do that no one else can do? Call it out very clearly.
The magic words can translate almost any kind of nonsense into something that actually makes sense for audiences — that’s why they’re magical.
Dave Yewman and Andy Craig are the founders of Elevator Speech Inc. and authors of the book “Weekend Language: Presenting with More Stories and Less Powerpoint.”