July 17, 2019 John

Questions to Ask of Your Messaging

Have you ever told what you were certain was an amazing story to an audience that was so unmoved that even the crickets didn’t know how to respond?

Among the many personal creative pursuits I’ve followed over the years, there was a time I thought standup comedy looked easy.  So trust me, I’ve learned the hard way more than once the real pain that comes from an audience that doesn’t appreciate your insights the way you thought they should. Fortunately, I was able to learn from those experiences. There is much to be learned from so many confused, irritated blank stares, and ultimately I learned the most from teaching others how to avoid them.

In addition to my real job as owner of Cates Collaborative, I’ve had the opportunity to teach the extremely accessible form of live storytelling to hundreds of people who had previously never stepped foot on stage. I truly love watching students who think they have nothing to say develop a voice over a short amount of time, and confidently deliver a compelling tale to an audience. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the growth of people once terrified to speak in public exiting the stage to the sound of earned cheers has never failed to inspire me.

My process is never about performance. I don’t give notes on posture or stage presence. Rather, I help storytellers build their content around authenticity. I help instill confidence in the material to drive their delivery.

And no surprise, the same elements that make personal stories effective and compelling do the same for our professional communications.

Over time, I’ve developed and learned some basic tenets that cover all areas of performance, creativity, and communication in general:

As you create and refine your content — whether it’s for stage, screen, social media page, website, or lecture hall — ask yourself the following questions about the PURPOSE of your approach at every stage of your creative development process.

“Am I giving, or am I taking?”

In my many years as a solo performer, writer, and creative director, I have learned that the answer to this question was a major determining factor in how a story was received. I found it was often as much or even more about the intention than the content. Give the audience something they can learn from what you are saying instead of just taking credit for saying it.

“Am I trying to get my audience to feel something for me or feel something about themselves through my insights?”

Whether you’re talking about yourself, your brand, or your product, it’s no surprise that the latter is what truly engages human beings.

“How does my story include the audience?”

Your business communication, advertising campaign, presentation, or client pitch can’t make that all-important emotional connection if you’re just asking an audience to care about what you want from them without showing them you care about what they might need from you.

Remember that just having an audience is already a gift. You are already in their debt before they start listening to you, click play on your video, or visit your website. They’ve given you their interest, their time, or even a precious slot on their busy calendar.  Tell a story that entertains, educates and shows your appreciation in a way that makes them happy they gave you something before you ask for more.

I ask these questions of myself, my creative teams, and even my clients on an almost daily basis when writing and directing internal messaging and advertising campaigns.  It’s a constant reminder that we are asking a lot of potential customers in the form of their attention and we should come prepared to reward them with our efforts before we can ever expect them hand over hard-earned money.

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