Is it communication if no one understands it?

We’ve probably all laughed at Web sites that feature misunderstood song lyrics. I discovered one myself this week. The song “Money Grabber” to me was “Party Crasher.” That’s what I get for listening to songs in the car, trying to hear through road noise.

Sometimes our communication makes about as much sense as those mangled song lyrics. If no one understands what we’re trying to say, it’s not really communication, but rather miscommunciation.

How do we as communicators make sure that our message is being understood? I’ve jotted down a few ideas below, both for writers and for speakers.

  1. Jargon, colloquialisms and buzz phrases: They may work when communicating to peers who speak the same language, but your customers shouldn’t need a translator to understand your message. One company I worked for used so many acronyms, abbreviations and techie terms that we developed a glossary database for new employees. That probably won’t work for your customers.
  2. Intentional vagueness: When I first started in Marketing Communications we were coached in euphemisms and non-communication. We would say things like “the software will do <insert function>” to imply to the customer that it will do it now, but in reality it will do it in some future release. That is misleading and dishonest.
  3. Visual presentation: I go to some Web sites where there are so many animations and voices and distractions that I don’t stick around long enough to read the message. I also go to some Web sites, and see some literature, where the color of the font gets lost in the background color or pattern and is very hard to read. Design should enhance the message, not overwhelm it.
  4. Be succinct: Sometimes less is more. I try to look at my writing and remove unnecessary words to make my writing more straightforward and to quickly get to the point. People are busy, and are not likely to keep reading if they have to wait too long for a payoff.
  5. Keyword chaos: Search engine optimization (SEO) is here to stay. It takes a lot of skill to get all those keywords in and still write well. I’m still working at it. Don’t sacrifice your message for higher search engine placement.
  6. For speakers: This is for speakers, singers and other vocal communicators. This gets back to the garbled lyric issue I started with. You can write a brilliant speech, but if you speak too fast, speak too softly, use too many slang terms, do too many nervous sounds (er, um, like) or don’t enunciate people won’t get the brilliant message. If you have to speak to customers or to employees, it can really help to take an effective presentation class or join Toastmasters.

About Pat Wolesky

I consider myself primarily a communicator, and I have 15 years of communication experience which includes product brochures and data sheets, ads, direct mail, press releases, Web content, trade show materials, online newsletters, training materials, and blogs (to name a few). I also have extensive experience in Web content management and knowledge management. Most recently I've been studying Search Engine Marketing, particularly Search Engine Optimization, and in late April of 2011 I completed training through Dakota County Technical College to be a Certified Master of Social Media.

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