The Telephone Game

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The telephone game is fun, especially as a kid or with kids. It’s the one where everyone sits in a circle and one person would pick a word or phrase then “pass it on” by whispering it to someone next to them. The fun was seeing how much the message changed when the phrase reached the end of the circle.

The telephone game is not as fun in business. You share what you do or what a product or company does, and people aren’t able to decipher and explain it to someone else.

I came across an example of this recently when I read an article about the NBA’s new sponsorship approach of allowing teams to have logos on their jerseys. Last week, the Warriors (I’m a big fan) held a press conference and revealed that they’ll be sporting the logo of a company called Rakuten.

I wasn’t familiar with Rakuten, so I was interested in what this logo would be on the Warriors’ jerseys. The issue was that a writer who was there to hear the announcement, couldn’t explain what Rakuten does in his article the next day. Instead, he shared “even after a 40-minute presentation, I’m still not totally sure what Rakuten does.” We call that a missed opportunity.

Rakuten doesn’t care about who was in that newsroom—they care about the reader (the consumer, you and me)—and if you can’t penetrate through that layer, you’re missing the mark. We saw this in the past when cloud computing first started to come out several years back.

Jargon, abstractions and corporate talk are as strong today as they’ve ever been. The need to stay plain-spoken, simple and clear is so important in every aspect of business—and life. To influence or get buy-in from anyone, they have to understand what is being described or what is being asked. We have long been supporters of approaching messaging differently to help people get it and the power of SHARPs is the best way to stand out in the noise—especially analogies to help your audience to picture it or understand.

The next opportunity you get (speech, call or meeting), challenge yourself to use an analogy to help people get it. It will make it more fun for you to share and will increase odds of any sort of buy-in.

We did research on Rakuten, and it appears they’re “like the Amazon of Japan”—let’s hope they start to shift their messaging now that they’re part of these World Champion’s jerseys!

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