I’ve recently had experiences of a French technical director presenting to a European-wide audience of non technical specialists. After reading his 58 hugely detailed slides to his audience, he asked for questions, and was surprised when there were none. I wasn’t, since most of the few brave souls who’d lasted the presentation were asleep.
But his mis-reading of the situation was knocked into a cocked hat a couple of weeks ago, when at a strategic conference for one of my clients, dominated by sober financial presentations to a sombre audience of senior financiers, one chap opened his presentation with a download of David Brent’s dance from BBC’s The Office. Wrong time, wrong audience, an uncomfortable silence followed by a speaker totally thrown off his presentation’s course.
I was asked to pitch for some work from a manufacturing organisation a little while ago. They showed me their current communication tools – mainly highly detailed technical and financial ‘memos’ that were posted on notice boards around the location, plus a quarterly magazine.
As part of Leapfrog’s background research, I talked to the on-site shop manager about what papers he sold each day. Over a week, it averaged out at 24 copies of the Mirror, 17 of The Sun, 19 of the Daily Mail, 11 of the Express nine of The Star, three Daily Telegraphs, two Guardians and a single Independent.
The sales gave a fair indication that the workforce chose to get their news from tabloid red tops, yet the company insisted on presenting its information as if it was straight from the pink pages of the financial broadsheets.
While the intent of the management team was to be open and honest in their dealings with workers at all levels, they adopted a single approach where the ‘one size’ that had to ‘fit all’, was fit for the board room, but lost its fitness for purpose when the message moved beyond the plush carpet of the executive corridor.
I presented this view back to the board. Its members listened intently, nodded sagely and then gave the work to a marketing copywriter with the brief to make the next raft of memos more ‘human’.
I wonder if there will be any humans left on the receiving end soon to hear the messages that the company – now subject to a hostile takeover – is pumping out.
Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes is essential as a communicator if you want to win them over or carry them with you. This can be a minefield if you’re working with internal audiences, especially when the messages you’re managing will almost certainly have an impact outside your organisation. But there are a few simple rules to remember:
- One size fits all doesn’t work
- Pitch your communication at the receiver – it’s not about satisfying your boss, or making someone up the chain look good
- Know your audiences and the style and tone of communication that works with them
Make the communication relevant to their needs
- Involve line management – most people want to hear important business news from their manager, and share it with their peers
- Create feedback opportunities – and complete the loop by answering questions – and publicising the fact that they have been answered and that issues have been acted on.
The upshot of those bullets is that there’s more work involved than meets the eye in getting a message through to your workforce – especially when you may be obsessed for the need of managing corporate reputation and ensuring shareholder needs are met. In satisfying the latter, you can damage the former, and what grates most is that awful dichotomy when you’re telling the investors and analysts that all’s well, while lining employees up for their redundancy notices.
There’s no easy way round hard messages – but getting the style and tone right, as well as the content, can reduce the backlash and even enhance your organisation’s reputation.