Stick Figuring Words To Make Your Message Work

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by Valerie Vandermeer

People get misunderstood all the time.

When your message goes out into the world without you there beside it to read facial expressions and engage in conversation, a lot can get lost in translation.

We all bring perspective to the communication process. Some of this is obvious, like the difference in how a funder and a customer might relate to your business. Some of it is more subtle, like our personal feelings about certain words or tone of expression, or even how industry specific jargon can be misunderstood.

People look at everything you say and do through their own lens. How do you make your message relate to multiple audiences -- and make sure you’re not being misunderstood?

You’ve got to find a way to crawl out of your own skin so you can see and feel what others are looking for from your message -- and what they might be reading into it, too. This “out-of-body” approach isn’t natural for most people. It takes a bit of consistent practice and some imagination to develop the skill.

Begin by identifying the characters in your different audiences. Let’s say you want community partners to understand your business and be motivated to join you to solve a local problem. Silly as this sounds, start by drawing some stick figures to represent a few of those people. Then place “thought bubbles” above their heads and put some simple statements in there about what matters to them. Be sure to begin these with the phrase “I care about . . . “

Drawing it out and using that language helps you to exit your own thinking process and immerse in the perspective of your stakeholders and customers. Take a few days to keep coming back to your drawing and imagine getting deeper into the mindset of your audience. Add or change their thought bubbles as you get insights. Above all, write it in the way they would say it … actually try to imagine hearing their voices. You’ll be amazed at how much you already know.

Now you’ve got an outline of what your audience is looking for and worried about and it’s already written in the kind of language they use to think about these things. Finding those natural, familiar language cues is critical in avoiding missteps in sharing your message.

There’s more to this, but the main idea is to use a process to get out of your own way and into another perspective. That’s how you make your message feel natural and resonant with different audiences. You can use this approach to layer language choices when you have to address multiple audiences at one time. It’s a quick, easy route to making sure your messages are working for you the way you want them to.

Do you know how to drive your business message deep into your audience’s psyche? Take a look here.

Valerie Vandermeer believes social entrepreneurs will drive a massive migration of humanity into new ways of relating and eventually learning to thrive on this planet. Get to know her.

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