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Communication: Why the Story Is Everything

The days of the sage on the stage are over. So what's the best way to get your point across?
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It doesn’t matter what you have to say, or how well you say it, if nobody’s listening. The days of the sage on the stage are over, and the one-way street called, “I talk, you listen,” has given way to a complex cloverleaf of conversation.

The most successful communicators will be the ones who help audiences learn and do things by themselves. Exploration rather than exposition will drive the future. Active involvement and engagement, rather than partial and passive participation, will be the hallmarks of successful new educational offerings -- in the office, in the field, and in the classroom.

Not that it’ll be easy getting there. We’re competing for scarce attention and muddled mindshare in a world where everyone’s exposed to an ever-expanding mass of indiscriminate messages; where we’re surrounded by a shallow and sleazy celebrity-driven culture that thrives on garbage, gossip and cheap thrills; and where it’s almost impossible to catch your breath or collect your thoughts. 

There’s a persistent fear that new, younger audiences are so over-stimulated, stressed-out and scattered that they can’t sit still for a second. It’s as if they’re all sitting on tacks. It’s hard to concentrate in that position, especially if you never learned how to concentrate in the first place.

We encourage this constant motion and frenzy by pretending to believe in the myth of multi-tasking. But in trying to multi-task, you essentially learn to do a lot of things poorly. Worse, you eventually get completely comfortable with the mere illusion that you’re doing something important. Instead of submerging yourself in anything substantive, you spend your time skimming. 

The most important thing that today’s multi-taskers forget to do--and eventually lose the ability to do--is focus, pay attention and “go deep.”  To be in the moment and to enjoy being there. To give themselves wholly to an experience and let it transport them to a different place. And perhaps let them discover and learn something as they progress. 

There is, however, some good news: Good communication has always been about the story you have to tell. That hasn’t changed. It’s just that the strategy and delivery methods have to accommodate this new audience and the environments our technologies are creating.  To make your story stick, you’ve got to make it shared and special. Or, as they say at Facebook, you need to make them care and you need to make them share.

Creating compelling, immersive, interactive, collaborative, cross-disciplinary, and community- (or team-) based combinations of content and context is the only way forward. We need to build all types of vehicles that will let us construct our own experiences and learning; that create the enticing environments where such adventures can take place; that proffer important questions and challenges; and that ultimately give us the wheel, stand back, and let us make our own way through the mysteries of discovery that will define the new forms of communication and education. 

IMAGE: gilriegojr/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 26, 2013

HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist

Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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