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"How do you know communication is working?"

I was at a restaurant recently, helping a church communications team develop a communications strategy. One of the church's pastors asked an excellent question that nearly caused a spit-take from me.

"How do you know communication is working?"

It's a basic question, with profound implications. How does one know if they've effectively communicated something? As communicators, how are we successful? I stammered, "Well, in context of social media you measure your effectiveness by engagement... clicks, like, comments, responses... that's your win."

The Pastor continued on, pressing for a much different answer: "Don't just think social media. In general, how do you know when you've succeeded communicating something?"

I replied, with due respect (making sure I swallowed the Sprite I was drinking): "In communication, you've succeeded when the person you're communicating to can tell you what you communicated."

This probably isn't an earth-shattering concept for us as communicators. When we communicate does our audience understand what we are communicating enough to say it back? Does it stick in their psyche? Do they understand the concepts as well as the details enough to champion this idea? Did we succeed in planting the idea into their mind? Does the audience understand the why?

If your audience understands, then you've succeeded. Congratulations.

If the audience doesn't understand, then there's a problem.

  1. The problem is the audience! As communicators this is likely our first thought. "It's the audience's fault." And, while convenient, this is rarely the situation.
  2. The problem is the presentation! Essentially, how the idea is being communicated doesn't vibe with the audience. Go back to the drawing board and try again. Try simpler words, different mediums or communication channels! 
  3. inception13The problem is the concept! The concept needs to be simple enough to explain. (If you've seen Christopher Nolan's Inception, you understand this.) Is the concept understandable? Or is it overly complex?

Remember, it's rarely just one of the above problems. More likely it's a little bit of multiple pieces.

Our job as communicators is to separate our communication from the other noise out there. Are we succeeding?

Questions?

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