What do you do for a living? You’ve fielded this question at cocktail parties dozens of times. Chances are your answer is some combination of your title, the industry you’re in, and your area of expertise.
That’s not what you do, though.
You were hired because you have a particular expertise your organization needs. But if you slow down and carefully observe how a typical day plays out for you, you’ll notice that you spend your time doing one of two things: you’re either actively communicating about your area of expertise, or you’re preparing to do so.
Whether you’re a coder, a lawyer, an accountant, or a CEO, what you do for a living is communications. You owe it to yourself (and to others) to be good at it.
So why does it so often feel like this?:
Why we struggle to communicate
The biggest communications mistake most of us make is assuming that what we’re communicating – the policy change, the product launch, the earnings report – is the most important part of the work. But our emails and reports don’t read themselves, our videos don’t watch themselves, our speeches don’t listen to themselves. People are on the receiving end of our communications. They are the most important part of the work.
The audience comes first
Before you start writing that memo or recording that webcast, take a few minutes to jot down answers to a few key questions. Who are you communicating with? Be specific. Don’t just think to yourself, “Employees.” That’s too broad. Are they nurses, construction workers, coders, C-suite executives? What do they care about? What do they value? How do they typically get communications from you and when? Being mindful about these things will help you craft the right message in the right format.
Don’t target them, help them
One of the gravest sins my profession has committed against the world is making it acceptable to label people as “consumers” or “target audiences.” When we think this way we take all the humanity out of our communications. My challenge to all of you is to look at communications as a means to help your audiences, not to target them. That subtle shift, from “who are we targeting” to “who are we helping” makes a huge difference in the authenticity and, yes, helpfulness of your communications.
As a communicator, which is what you are, your currency is helping people. So before you start sketching out that next video script or writing that report, figure out what your audience cares about and how you’re going to help them. Your communications, and your relationship to your audiences, will be stronger for it.