I'm sure you've heard the expression "keep it real." The expression advises you to be honest with others and yourself. However, it also provide the key to how all great communicators influence and inspire others.

Great communicators, without exception, speak and write about real things rather than bloodless abstractions. They literally "keep it real." Let me explain.

Most professionals, especially in business, tend to think, and therefore communicate, using buzzwords and abstract concepts: "profitability," "collaboration," "innovation," and so forth.

While these and similar terms sound impressive and businesslike, they're actually vague and squishy to the point of meaninglessness. That's why mission statements fall so flat:

  • "Our mission is to reliably enhance interdependent and corporate paradigms to meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace."
  • "We authoritatively enhance parallel and mission-critical resources and assertively and globally manage parallel real-time transactions."

Spoken aloud, abstractions wash over an audience like a wave of lukewarm water. Written down, they're visual yada-yada-yada. You can read documents full of abstractions for hours and know nothing more than when you started.

People who write and talk in abstractions (and such folk are depressingly common in the business world) are invariably boring. They're also clueless because the fuzziness of abstract terminology makes it difficult to think clearly.

My favorite example of the rat-hole of abstract thinking is the marketing team for a CRM company that spent several hundred person-hours arguing whether to call themselves a "sales enablement platform." What a waste of time!

Great communicators, by contrast, literally "keep it real," by constantly referring to real things, real emotions and real experiences. They are specific and therefore more convincing. For example:

Abstract:

  1. "We have the best service in our industry."
  2. "We're a highly innovative company."
  3. "I have extensive experience in management consulting."
  4. "From Research to Practice: Maximizing the Potential of Summer Learning."

Specific:

  1. "When you call a competitor, they put you on hold. When you call us, a human being answers within 60 seconds."
  2. "Fact: our engineers file twice as many patents as the average company in the machinist industry."
  3. "Let me tell you a story about a company I worked with. They were in much the same situation that you're in today..."
  4. "How Your Kid Can Learn More at Summer School."

By comparing the examples above, you can also see why audiences intuitively mistrust abstractions. They know, at some level, that speakers and writers use abstractions because they don't have a real story to tell.

In summary, you can become a better communicator... (Oops! Sorry!)

In summary, your readers and listeners will heed and believe what you speak and write if you avoid abstract generalizations and instead draw on the real world and your actual experiences.

In other words: "keep it real!"

Published on: Oct 27, 2016
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