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April 07, 2011


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I think you did tell her the right thing.

What I think I would have added is: "What kind of FEEDBACK do you solicit from this audience about this yearly speech?" Because as we all know senior folks don't always take the word of us communicators about what the audience REALLY wants, and how the audience ACTUALLY receives the "this is how we've always done it" speech format.

If she isn't already doing some sort of survey or an online "yes or now" checkbox on the website, or even for gosh's sake a show of hands to the question: "How many of you felt the speech gave you the information you REALLY want to know about the association?" then she probably won't be successful convincing the executive director that change makes sense. Senior people like and respond to research and hard data that proves our recommendations are sound.

If she shows up at the discussion for next year's speech with survey results that show a majority of those in last year's audience want different information from the executive director, he might let her try a new approach in a future speech. Then, of course, she needs to MAKE SURE she does that same survey after the new format speech to prove how successful it actually was.

Good addition, Ridley. I always forget the research, partly because I don't have a lot of faith in an audience knowing what it wants but is not getting.

But there's certainly no reason not to try to squeeze some meaningful feedback from the audience, and if you do get some, I agree it could strengthen the case for doing something different.

We disagree on what the audience knows, but I take your point.

That's why organizations have communicators. In my opinion, a big part of our job is to be out there interacting with members of our audiences, asking questions, understanding challenges, etc. That allows us to combine those insights with the - ideally - access and involvement we have with our senior leaders so that we can create truly effective, insightful, comprehensive measurement questions that deliver the full picture of how "we're" doing and where opportunities to improve exist.

Otherwise, communicators can easily become just as myopic and ineffective as those executives we write those same speeches for year in and year out.

We gotta get data from somewhere. Doesn't it make sense that at least SOME of that feedback should come from the key audiences we communicate with regularly?

Great advice, David. And Kristen, I agree on the research.

If people did this, it would make life so much easier for those of us who are on the stage looking at the audience during these often very boring talks. Sometimes I've had to pinch myself to not yawn with boredom.

You see, in addition to being a change commmunication consultant, I am a professional registered parliamentarian. When I serve in this latter role, I'm often sitting between the Chair of the board and the President of the Association, looking out at the assembly.

And believe me I still remember key phrases from compelling speeches from years ago. I also remember one Planned Parenthood chair impromptu telling people that they needed to sit down for the meeting to begin. But once they did, if they then wanted to speak, they should rise and either go to the "con" mike for "condom" or the "pro" mike for "prophylaxis." He had the audience's full attention for his speech and everything else he said!

Yes but what do you do when you say, "I have some data that show..." and a client replies, "I don't care, this is what I want you to do so do it."

In my career, I have found there are two categories of clients: those who view us as meaningful advisors (about 25-30%) and those who view us as their admin (the remaining 70-75%).

In my workshops, I tell the bedraggled who attend (I can always spot the ones with the uncaring bosses -- their tongues tend to loll outside their mouths, they tend to tear up and wail without warning, they nod vehemently at everything I say and come up during the break asking me to hire them, etc.) "You have done your job to the best of the ability if you've given your client/employer/dictator great advice (i.e. trackable data).

They may take your advice, very likely they wont. You are no longer an effective vendor/employee/serf when you stop giving them good advice and just do what they say.

Data is more for our benefit I think than theirs. We hope they will join our party but those who are more comfortable doing it how it has always been done just dont have what it takes to go there, alas.

Prepare yourselves: It's the voice of the world-weary here.

It may be that this speaker can't make a quickstep from "what I've always done"/feel comfortable with to "what would actually work"/be scary for me, no matter how sensibly presented and well-written.

Perhaps it's different for those hired as consultants, because consultants are brought in when management WANTS change. For those who work daily for an organization, changing someone's established communication mode takes time and trust. If this communicator can make next year's speech is even 30 percent better, then that may be all the victory she gets in the short term. Longer term, she may be able to move things forward bit by bit.

I'm all for the "we are the change we want to see in the world," but let's be realistic about just how much change that's going to be. Blaming the communicator for the vagaries, quirks and whims of management doesn't seem right, especially when management consistently has such strong (shall we call them) "preferences" about communication.

I like Kristen's feedback idea. Maybe if not from the association members, then from those in the organization whom this leader trusts. That kind of feedback might be less threatening and at least give the communicator a chance to improve things somewhat.

Amy, everything you say makes sense. I ain't blaming her for being in her position, but when an already-competent communicator is asking my advice on how to make things 30% better ... well, she's probably asking the wrong guy. I'm a 70%-better guy.

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