Talk is cheap, conversation is priceless

How we talk, write, stand, sit or hold our hands and arms plays a huge part in how effective we are in helping others understand what we have to say, much less keep their attention long enough to finish the message.

If they don’t get it all, at best you may as well have said nothing. Worst case, the other person could misinterpret your message and think or react the opposite of what you want.

Imagine that you make a trip to an Eastern European country.

You arrive by boat and step onto the dock with your bags in your hands.

A young Lithuanian man standing on the dock looks at your feet and says something to his friend. By the way his voice rises at the end, you’re sure he either asked a question or made a joke about your legs. Too bad he isn’t speaking your language. If he was, you would know that he was telling his friend that a camera fell out of the unzipped side pocket of your bag.

If you don’t understand the man, you might keep walking without paying attention. Once the man realized you didn’t understand, he would take another step to let you know what he was saying. He might make eye contact with you, repeat his comment and point at the camera.

As with the Lithuanian man, your business communications – from marketing messages and press releases to ads to fill staff openings – will be ineffective if they don’t use the right language and the right context, much less speak to the right person.

What is the right language?

The man’s effort to make eye contact and point is no different than speaking in a language you understand. By establishing eye contact and pointing, he brings context to the conversation – a context you care about.

The language and context you bring to conversations with your prospects and customers is equally important. The right language provokes your audience to think, act, react, remain attentive, follow your instructions (or advice) and believe in your message.

Or not.

Robert Collier famously suggested that writers “join the conversation already going on in the prospect’s mind”. Collier wasn’t encouraging you to be creepy and spy on your prospects and customers. He’s encouraging you to get to know and understand them, including their needs, desires and fears.

The right language…like the empathy that the video gets across so well… requires listening, paying attention and understanding what’s going on behind the face they put on.

Until you make the effort to learn, listen and observe these things, how can you begin to join their conversation? How can you engage with them in a conversation they care about? How can you understand what they lose sleep over? How else can what you say begin to address what’s critical to their decision-making process?

All of these things help you use the right language and the right message, whether you’re on the phone, writing an email or composing text for a billboard.

You wouldn’t walk up to a few people who are actively chatting at a gathering, interrupt them and start talking loudly about something they don’t care about – yet that’s exactly what most marketing does.

It helps me to imagine that I’m speaking directly with a single person who is exactly the type of person whose needs, desires and fears my message will resonate with in the strongest possible way. Notice that I didn’t say “the group of people my message targets”, or that I said “speaking with” rather than to.

Think about how important the positioning and context of your message must be in order to move from broadcasting like someone yelling at passersby on a random big city street corner, to that of a personal conversation with a trusted advisor.

Hippity Hop

If you overheard just a nibble of a conversation about hops, you might guess that someone was talking about the communications via the internet, frog jumping competitions or rabbits.

On the other hand, they could be talking about craft beers or microbrews. You’d have to listen to more than just one word (hops) to figure out the topic – and that’s the key.

Listen. Observe. Develop empathy and understanding. Join the conversation.

Disclaimer: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.