Communication is a fundamental tool to get in touch with people and a key competence for any type of activity. Stories have always been the main way people have related to each other.
This article shows us the principles for effective and genuine communication, and teaches us the techniques for applying these principles, in order to be able to create stories with which our public can relate.
Human stories that connect human leaders to a human audience
When it comes to communication strategy, the term PR always seems to be a crucial point. Communicating effectively with your audience can be a factor that determines the success, or failure, of our strategy.
But what exactly does communicating with the public mean? It is not enough to advertise the latest product or promotion. It is not simply a matter of publishing information. We have to create a relationship with our audience.
Centuries ago, man discovered that the most effective way to communicate with other human beings is through stories . A good story can capture our attention and create a lasting relationship.
With new technologies, especially artificial intelligence, our way of communicating is changing. The timing of publication of the information is almost immediate and in a few seconds a post, a video or an image can travel around the world.
If we want to continue communicating effectively, we must remember what it means to tell stories. We must try not to lose the human element, the one that has always linked us to stories and allows us to create solid and lasting relationships.
How to find your story (The principles)
Finding a story to tell is not easy. If we look at our work, we often see nothing but numbers and statistics. But there is always a human story to tell. To find it, it is good to keep in mind the crucial points of a good PR strategy:
- Objective – To know what we want to achieve, and why.
- Audience – Know who our audience is and what we want them to think.
- History – Create an engaging story that manages to change their attitude.
- Tactics – Choose how to spread our story (social media, conferences, podcasts …).
- Measure – Evaluate the impact of our story against our initial goal.
To make our communication more effective, we can use seven principles:
The most useful question we can ask ourselves in business is “What do I believe in?”. We have to find something to believe in, something that is important to us. Not the money, not the interests of the shareholders. Something we believe in that makes us human.
Starting from what we believe in, we must build our communication. It must make sense to us, it must be our passion. Without passion, there will be no authenticity to our message, and there are no formulas or tricks to remedy this lack.
Together with passion, constancy is needed. We must be constantly present, continue to be there, in the front row. We have to make our audience understand that we are there for them, always.
This will help us understand, and express, why of what we do.
Sometimes we find ourselves having to communicate complex messages, with the risk of getting lost along the way. We must have a clear vision of the message we want to convey. The concept of clarity is similar to that of simplicity, but we must not confuse them: simplicity risks taking away from our communication, clarity instead focuses on it, removing what is superfluous.
A great way to achieve this is to focus all our attention on one thing in particular, avoiding multitasking.
Those who deal with communication often use the “rule of 3”, that is, three points to insert on a slide, or in the title of a press release. But it is much more effective to choose only one thing to communicate and focus on it.
One of the most common errors in communication is to be either too general, or too specific. The best communication has a swinging pace, which alternates moments of “macro” with moments of “micro”, in order to give the audience moments of breath and concentration. Human stories are as important as great ideas.
Numbers and statistics, however useful and relevant, do not create a story. If we want to communicate effectively, we must transmit an opinion, communicate a point of view.
It is not enough to present a list of data, objectives and results, we must find the common thread, the story they tell. We must weave a story with which to capture those who listen to us.
There are several themes on which we can express ourselves, some more suitable, others to avoid. If we want to be able to express an opinion without alienating our audience, we can focus on market trends, consumer trends, technology.
The opinions expressed by the leaders form the “vision” of the future that an organization transmits, and therefore they influence a lot on public perception. When an executive gives an interview, or attends a conference, opinions are always the ones that are cited and discussed.
It is therefore important to remember that, for managers, personal opinion coincides with that of the company, even if the intent is not that. And it is not enough to specify “This is only my personal opinion”, the world will see no distinction.
A good communicator must have energy and enthusiasm. In the fast-paced world of business, it is precisely the characters with the most energy and charisma that attract the attention of the public. In addition to drawing on our personal energy reserves and finding ways to increase our energy load, we must surround ourselves with people who are able to share our strength.
This is far from easy and requires continuous effort. We cannot use the success of past events, the only thing that matters is the energy we invest today.
Each story can be approached with two attitudes: positive or negative. The human being has developed, during his evolution, a tendency to respond to negative messages (the dangers that our ancestors faced in nature). This can lead us to turn to the negative side of communication, as it is more easily noticed. But let’s not lose sight of the long-term goal of creating a lasting relationship. To do this, it is essential to stay on the path of “positive” communication.
Every good story is based on the “journey” of one or more central characters. But however interesting they may be, we cannot understand the central message without looking at the context. The story we are telling is not just about us, our company and our customers. There is a market, a world of technologies, cultures, political movements. The context is our connection with the rest of the world, without which we risk closing ourselves in a “bubble”.
One technique we can use is to imagine a series of concentric circles:
- Inner circle: it’s us and our business. The daily life of our operations and products.
- Second circle: where we find our direct competitors. Those we compete with for the attention of our customers. How are we different?
- Third circle: it is our market. Here we see trends develop, we see predictions come true. We need to think about how the market changes around us and how we can change it. We have to know it thoroughly.
- Outer circle: the rest of the world. Here technology, politics, culture, rights come into play. Every element that creates the general (global) context of our business.
When we tell our story, starting from the outermost circle will ensure that our audience finds an access point to our story and gives us a point of visibility in the world.
Once this contact is created, we must remember that the customer is at the center of any successful business. It is important to remember to base all our communication around the customer, his desires and needs.
It is important to find the right allies and partners. It is extremely difficult for a single individual or a single company to be able to communicate well. If we can find allies who share part of our path, we will be able to amplify the power of our message.
Every story we tell begins in the past. Our audience wants to know where our journey started, what are the events that led us to where we are now. Often we judge those we face based on their path, we manage to relate to their life experiences. Knowing how to tell your roots, your failures and the obstacles encountered is an excellent strategy to capture those who listen to us, to make us “human” in their eyes.
As a leader, our job is to lead an organization in the present. We must be able to analyze what is happening around us, to make our audience understand that we are here, that we are present. Our focus and energies must be concentrated on this moment, on today .
Finally, a good leader must have a vision of the future and being able to communicate it is a fundamental part of any PR strategy. The way we look to the future is the foundation on which our public establishes trust in us. The future is a moment based on emotions, on the hope of success, on the fear of the unknown and on the trust in those who guide us.
Being charismatic is important, as is knowledge of your product, your company, your market. But just as important is the humility of knowing what is unknown. Each of us has weaknesses, mistakes made in the past, failures. Pretending that this is not the case takes away credibility. We must also accept these aspects of who we are, and use them in our favor. Humility allows us to put ourselves on the same level as our audience, allows us to gain respect and trust.
Telling a story means talking about yourself, but not exclusively. We always remember that we are telling a story not only to someone , but for someone . How can our desires tune into theirs? In what way can our history be, even in part, theirs?
Having a story to tell doesn’t mean talking incessantly over a period of time. It means interacting with those who listen to us, it means listening to those in front of us. Often, stopping to listen is as important as knowing how to speak.
The words we use to tell our story must be able to evoke images in the minds of our audience. We try to imagine our story as a series of images and we transmit those images to our audience.
We can use metaphors and similitudes to make difficult concepts, percentages and statistics more understandable to make more distant numbers from everyday reality more tangible.
If we want our story to have a lasting impact, we can create moments , precise points in our narration that evoke certain images and certain emotions. In the long run, the rest of the story will blur, and what’s left will be these “strong” moments.
How to tell your story (The techniques)
The concepts we have talked about so far are excellent theoretical foundations for our communication. Now let’s see some more “practical” advice to use.
When we are making a public speech, we are the star. At that moment, the spotlight is on us. A good speech must be personal, it must reflect who we are . We use ourselves as a starting point. After that, we choose a central theme, a topic around which to build our presentation. We need to have an idea to convey, something that our audience can grasp, with which they may or may not agree, which can generate discussion and confrontation.
The main points of any speech are undoubtedly the beginning and the end. The central part is often the one that our audience forgets first.
We can use a question, or a joke to open, in order to immediately capture the listener’s attention. In the closing phase, we try to return to the starting point.
Let us remember that our speech is made for those in front of us. We try to find out in advance who we are dealing with, we create a presentation that is suitable for them. The same presentation, in front of two different audiences, could take two completely different forms.
A public speech is, in all respects, an exhibition, a performance. If we took our presentation and asked someone else to do it for us, the result would be profoundly different. Our voice, our rhythm, our body language: these are the elements that shape the final product. Of course, the central message may be well defined, but it is we who determine how it is transmitted.
In the business world, not many people care about taking care of these details. To be good public speakers , we need to have a good presence on stage. We can do physical exercises to strengthen the central part of the body, especially the legs and abdomen. This will also help us find a more stable, deeper, and therefore more powerful voice.
If we decide to incorporate visual elements into our presentation, such as slides, or scenographic objects, it is important to remember that these are not the presentation. They must be functional to what we want to transmit, but they cannot be the backbone. We therefore try to limit their use and incorporate them only where they really serve to reinforce the message.
Even those who spend their lives talking in public know that nerves can take over at any moment. Memorizing our speech can be useful, but the moment the nervous makes itself heard, the mind empties itself. It is therefore essential to make general rehearsals, review the points of our presentation that are perhaps not very fluid, prepare for technical difficulties, questions (if any), interruptions and any other unexpected.
Several leaders participate in comic improvisation classes, which can teach us to think on the spot, and never let us get caught unprepared.
Without media, there would be no communication. We live today in a world where the media is everywhere. Thanks to new technologies, anyone has immediate access to a world of content and it is no longer necessary to rely on a promoter or an agency to publish something. This means that anyone is free to enter the market, but also that there is such a saturation of the contents, that we risk that our message gets lost in the vortex of information.
It is therefore important to maintain a good relationship with “big” media. The Internet has certainly changed the balance, but the role of journalists and newspapers has not been canceled. We have yet to earn our place in the newspapers, so maintaining good relations with the press is still very important.
Our public image is not only given by what we publish ourselves, but by all that others publish about us. We try to evaluate in advance the impact of what we say, for example, during an interview.
Speaking of media and journalists, it is important to remember that what we discuss “with microphones off” or “behind the scenes” is also part of our communication. Although the difference between something officially said and a jokingly made comment is clear to us, the media will almost certainly find a way to take advantage of what we say.
For this, it is important to establish what are the boundaries of what we want to discuss. During an interview, the journalist often tries to understand our uncertainties and vulnerabilities and to push us out of our “comfort zone” to steal some sensitive information. We must learn to face uncomfortable questions, without letting ourselves be cornered.
We will have to face moments of crisis. Times when we we the organization’s face. Let’s not forget about our humanity, which allows us to communicate with the public. We recognize the situation, and reassure those who listen to us that that is our priority and that we are doing everything in our power to resolve it in the best possible way.
Inevitably, in the world of digital content, our communication must take place online. Multimedia content is the most effective way to reach our audience.
Filming our public interventions is a great way to re-propose and spread our message, but a static shot from a mobile phone, or from a fixed camera on the edge of the stage, will not give the desired effect, even risking creating a sort of “barrier” .
It is therefore important to study video communication techniques, such as shots, lighting, editing. If it is not something we can personally deal with, this is undoubtedly one of the aspects on which it is worth investing, right from the start.
Another very popular channel is that of podcasts. We can create a fixed appointment for those who want to follow us, in which to discuss new ideas, trends, or any topic that is relevant to our communication strategy. As with video, audio is also an element to be taken care of.
Recording a podcast with the mobile phone microphone is certainly possible, but if we want to give a serious and professional look, we can invest in the purchase of a microphone, and find an environment with acoustic qualities suitable for recording.
Instagram, and social media in general, are visual mediums . Our photos will therefore have to be extremely well designed to capture the public.
Finally, let’s not forget that communication must always be functional to our history. We always start from the story we want to tell and build the rest around it. We use social media to convey the message, but remember to interact with our audience.
Publishing photos and videos will be of little use if we do not interact with those who take the time to send us comments, questions and suggestions (and also criticisms, when they are constructive).
Words are the basic unit with which we build our stories. We always keep in mind the 5 W of the narrative: who (who), what (what), where (where), when (when) and why (why). These elements must always be clear, even if we do not explicitly declare them.
We can rarely say that the first draft of a text is perfect. Any writer knows that the first draft is a “draft” to be reviewed. During the revision, we review the language we used, remove repetitions, ambiguous or too long terms and unclear passages.
Above all, remember that the message we want to convey can reach our audience only if we transmit it with passion. If we put love in what we want to communicate, our story will find its audience.
Where’s the story?
We cannot consider communication as a series of metrics and statistics. Let’s think about the story, let’s think about what we can tell our audience to take it from one point to another. How can we create a story that is important to the listener?
Tell a powerful story. Made by humans. For humans.