“We’re all in a race for relevance.” – journalist Eleanor Clift
When you were growing up, did your parents or teachers tell you to “Use your words?”
If so, it was their way of encouraging you to express what you were feeling, whether that was “I am angry” or “I am afraid that when you go away on a trip you won’t come back.”
That advice to “Use your words” served an important purpose back then. It taught us to put language to our emotions and experiences, and to voice how we were feeling instead of just acting it out.
However, if we “use OUR words” to articulate what we want or feel when trying to connect with people, our communications may fall on uninterested ears.
For example, telling an agent how badly WE want a book deal won’t motivate them to want to represent us.
Telling a corporate donor how much OUR non-profit needs their donation won’t motivate them to write a check.
Telling an interviewer, “I need this job” won’t persuade them to hire you.
EVERY author wants a book deal. Every non-profit needs funding. Every interviewee wants the job.
That doesn’t make us different, it makes us just another in a long line of people who focus on what we want rather than why this will be a win for the other person.
This was eloquently articulated by Elon Musk, the visionary founder of Space X and Tesla. When I found out Musk would be speaking at the National Press Club, I called my son Tom, who works for NASA, to ask if there was anything he’d like me to ask him.
Tom said, “A lot of my friends who worked on the shuttle have been laid off. Many of them are applying to work at Space X.” Tom said, only half kidding, “Ask Elon Musk’s advice on the best way to get an interview.
Sure enough, in the Q & A following his talk, Musk asked for questions. I raised my hand and posed Tom’s question, “What’s your advice to job seekers?”
Musk said something brilliant, in one sentence. “Don’t tell me about the positions you’ve held .. tell me about the problems you’ve solved.”
Now, that’s relevant!
In my book Got Your Attention? I provide a W5 Form and suggest that you invest the time to think it through and fill it out before every communication.
YES. If you want to produce desired results, this is the single best thing you can do in advance to put yourself in your intended decision-makers’ shoes and crystallize exactly what you can say that will be meaningful and relevant for them.
Some of the questions on the W5 Form include: Who are your decision-makers? What do they care about? What matters to them that you have in common? What problems are they facing that you have already solved elsewhere or could solve?
How could you language your communication so it uses THEIR words? How could you introduce yourself by mentioning an interest you share? What is “insider terminology” you could use that would indicate you’ve done your homework and are familiar with their industry?
All of this could fast-forward a mutually-meaningful connection that gives all parties involved a win.
That’s exactly what happened with Casey, a twenty-something family friend. Casey was applying to the Peace Corps and asked for my help with his application essay. I said, “Casey, let’s bring up their website and review their criteria.”
He said “Why is that important?”
“Because they’re giving you the answers to the test! Look at their job description. It tells you exactly what they’re looking for. Address every single one of those criteria by giving an example of how you’ve done it, using their language.”
That’s what Casey did, and guess who got accepted to the Peace Corps and ended up working with school children in Guatemala, and loving every minute of it? That’s right, Casey.
How about you? What’s an important communication you have coming up? An interview? Sales presentation? Staff meeting? Training workshop? Instead of focusing on YOUR wants and needs – could you focus on what matters to your decision-makers and bring that up first?
You’ll discover that customizing your communication and leading with your audience’s priorities dramatically increases relevance, and dramatically increases the likelihood everyone gets what they want.