Most of the time when bloggers and analysts write about communication, they tend to focus on how stilted it is. We in business tend to communicate through long winded documents which at the end don't really tell us anything, or through PowerPoints which drone on and on in mind-numbing bullet-pointed detail. Is there any wonder a bunch of consultants (who are some of the most guilty parties when it comes to business jargon) could write a book entitled "Why Business People Speak like Idiots"?
This topic came to a head for me last night at a Robert Earl Keen concert. For the few of you who know REK, you know he's a sardonic, funny storyteller who has been just on the cusp of stardom for years. But rather than water down his music to fit Nashville stereotypes, he's remained true to his Texas roots. His music is too country to be played on rock n roll radio stations, and too roots/roadhouse to be played on country stations. If you've never heard Robert Earl Keen, all you need to do is purchase "The Party Never Ends" at Amazon. That's a collection of some of his best works. Go on, do it now. The rest of this piece will wait.
What's a not-quite famous Texas musician got to do with business communication? Quite literally, everything. You see, the only people who attend REK concerts are the converted. It's not easy to find his music on the radio, so he tours constantly. Every show I've ever been to has been jam packed with people. Most of the folks who follow REK know his songs by heart - in fact at most concerts the audience is doing most of the singing. That's when it hit me - here's a guy so good at communicating that his audience does it for him.
What's his secret? In his songs he tells stories that are interesting and evocative in plain everyday language. He doesn't attempt to dress up what doesn't need to be in the story. His choruses are simple but have a great message or hook to them. Of course it helps he has a great band behind him so the music is great too.
REK is a great communicator because he keeps things simple, tells a good story along the way, leads you to a conclusion and repeats his main themes. Isn't that what good writing and communication is all about? Even people who've never heard his music will be singing along at the end.
Could you put your business communication to music? If you started to give your standard spiel to someone at the office, would they join in enthusiastically and know all the words? If people will pay money to sing along with REK, why can't people you pay to be at work each day remember and play back your corporate goals? If we want people to pay attention to what we say, and we want them to act on our messages, why not make these communications more like a song?
Would that go something like "Increase our market share, provide for employee welfare, better products we make, more money we take, quality is king, reach for that ring." Of course there would need to be a catchy hook and a chorus. Can you hum a few bars of that corporate directive for me?
Learn to communicate like a country music song:
1. Tell a story that's interesting
2. Keep it simple
3. Strip the story down to its roots - tell only what needs to be told
4. Lead people to the conclusion you want them to draw
5. Repeat your most important main themes
6. Speak and write in plain language
If you do these things, you can be a better communicator - or at least well on your way to near country music stardom.