Effective Communication

Yesterday we talked about influence. One of the primary keys to influence is good communication. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can’t communicate them in a way that will connect with your audience and bring about change.  In this post, we are going to look at three ways to communicate  more effectively.

1. Be visual

I once ran an IT department for a non-profit with about 200 employees.  In the work room we had a large color and a large b&w printer.  The cost on the color printer was about $0.15 per page.  The cost of the b&w was $0.015 per page.  I kept trying to ask people to use the b&w unless they had a compelling reason to print color.  When you are printing 50,000 toe 100,000 pages per month the $0.015 vs $0.15 made a big difference on the budget.  A few casual visits to the work room made it clear that no one was listening. A good percentage of the paper being printed on the color printer was b&w or had unnecessary color.

I had my assistant get me 165 pennies to prepare for a meeting where I was going to try once again.  I took 10 sheets of paper, put them on the table and said, “Here is how much this costs to print on the b&w printer.”  Then I dropped 15 pennies on the table.  “Here is how much it costs to print these same 10 sheets on the color printer.”  I then dropped 150 pennies on the table, making as much noise as possible and letting them roll all over the place and onto the floor.

After that, people started being more careful.  Behavior didn’t change overnight, but there was a noticeable drop in the usage on the color printer.  Dropping the pennies on the table made an impression–something I hadn’t been able to do before using just my words. Showing is nearly always more effective than saying.

2. Tell stories

Stories engage us. They turn words into images and thoughts into emotions. Story telling is a powerful part of effective communication. As we start getting into the swing of things for the next election, watch how stories are used.  Coming out and saying that 75% of the population was helped by program X is almost meaningless compared to trotting out a husband, wife and two kids and telling their story as an example.

We are not wired to respond on a deep emotional level to raw facts and figures, but we do respond deeply to the emotion, failures and success of other people.

3. What people hear vs. what you say

After Obama won the election, the news crews were talking to people who were very excited about his success.  One person interviewed was a woman who made the statement that now she wouldn’t have to worry about putting gas in her car. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about her mortgage. I didn’t watch everything Obama said, but I don’t think he made any promises to pay mortgages or give away free gas. I do know he did a pretty good job of conveying a message of hope, but what that lady heard and what Obama said were not at all the same thing. Here is the video:

While this may be a bit of an extreme example, it is vitally important to remember that what you say isn’t the important thing.  What matters is what people hear.  In many cases those to things can be miles apart. All of us hear things through our own set of biases, assumptions and personalities. When you are communicating it is easy to be so focused on what you say, that you overlook what people will hear.

(This isn’t meant to be any type of political statement. It is just the best illustration of my point.)

So, in summary, if you want to be a better communicator, be visual, tell stories, and concentrate on what people hear.

Some of my friends are involved in putting on a series of communication workshops starting in Vail this October. That is what got me thinking about  this post in the first place.  If you are interested in their event,  checkout the Dynamic Communicator’s Workshops.


  1. Ji says

    It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can(‘t) ;) communicate them in a way that will connect with your audience and bring about change.

  2. says

    I loved your story of the pennies! What a great example of our a creative visual can actually have more impact than words. In fact, even in you sharing that example, you painted a picture, shared a story and helped us hear the message you delivered. Nicely done. :)

  3. says


    As you showed in your pennies example, sometimes you need to be creative, in order to make people listen to you.

    Great article by the way … I might need this tips myself too :)


  4. says

    To be able to communicate in a creative way is a great technique. If you do not know how to convey your ideas or messages to people out there, then there is no meaning however intelligent or big your ideas are. One must learn to be a good communicator inorder to reach out to the people in a good way.

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