It’s All About Them: How to take “you” out of the message

@kellydecker back here this week, inspired to write another post.

“It’s not you…it’s me.”

Relationship wise, maybe you’ve been the receiver of that message, or in George Constanza’s case, you invented it. One of my favorite Seinfeld moments below:

We’ve ALL actually been there – in fact, in our business communications, we’re guilty of being on the sender side. And it’s one of the single biggest problems with communications.

When we present (in a meeting, conference call or formal presentation) we think it is about us, and not about them. It’s not as if we consciously try to focus on me, me, me, but it sure comes off that way. It rears its ugly head in many ways. Maybe you’ve got a start-up, or a new product, or you’re trying to convince your exec team to pursue your initiative. You use those opportunities to prove yourself. In the words of Stuart Smalley, “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you.” So there you are with YOUR agenda in mind, why YOU think it’s great, and what it will do for YOU. And you’ve got a presentation that has nothing to do with listener.

A recent HarvardBusiness.org article on framing notes, “Individuals tend to focus on their own particular needs and on matters relating to their specific areas of expertise. In so doing, they may lose sight of the details that matter for the project they are currently working on.” In other words, you’re just too focused on you to worry about them.

Last Saturday I failed miserably doing this with my four-year-old. He came into my room to hang out as I was getting ready for a busy day with the kids. (Let me just take a moment to say that I really value my very rare alone time – those 20 minutes in the morning is one of those few calm, zen-like moments that I have all to myself.) I’m therefore none too happy with the intrusion, and say, “I REALLY want to finish getting ready alone right now, please go wait in the family room.” If I’m him, I’m thinking “That’s nice. What’s in it for me?” I shoulda coulda woulda said, “If you wait in the family room, I can get ready much more quickly so that we can go to the park sooner.” Same thing goes for your next pitch.

Focus on your listener. Now, really focus. Listeners are the centerpiece of our Decker Grid system – whether it’s 1, 15, 54 or 322 people to whom you’re speaking. Before you come up with the big “So what?” of your message, you should do a careful analysis of your listener. Ask a few questions:

  1. Who are they? Why are they here?
  2. How do they feel about you or your subject?
  3. How will they support or challenge your idea?
  4. Are they data or business (initiative) driven?
  5. What’s in it for them (not just as a team or corporation, but individually as well)?

Once you’ve answered these questions, come up with the top three adjectives that describe your listener – things like: resistant, open, hostile, skeptical, friendly, budget-conscious, etc. Now you can think about the big picture, and the approach that you’ll use to move that specific listener from information to influence.

When it comes to communications, remember, “It’s you, it’s not me.”

BTW, Duarte Design does a great audience mapping exercise as part of their work as well – because they get it! It’s mentioned in their blog here.

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