Effective Communication: Here’s How

When I started as a newsletter writer and publisher, I thought good writing and design were the criteria of a successful publication.

But, as I became more involved with my clients, and their expectations, I realized I’d been wrong. The quality of writing might be good, bad, or indifferent; they didn’t really care. But, to them, effective communication meant something else entirely: Getting the right responses from their readers.

And, the more I thought about that, the more I realized that all effective communication involves the right kinds or the right numbers of responses.

When we communicate, we want something to happen. We want a particular result or results. And, when we communicate with results in mind, we’re working toward effective communication.

Good writing and speaking do help us get a response, of course, because they help get the message across. Here’s the thing, and it’s the single most important point in my book, A Manager’s Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results, a newsletter that doesn’t get read cannot get a response from readers.

So, writing, designing, speaking, and all those other creative activities matter. But, in the end, responses are what count, and effective communication means getting the responses we want.

This applies to all kinds of effective communication, and not just campaigns aimed at customers or prospects. Managers who send messages to employees, for example, want employees to respond in a particular way. In some cases, they want employees to act or think differently, in other cases they simply want to reinforce what the employees already do.

For a couple of employee newsletters I published, effective communication meant greater awareness of health and safety issues. If the newsletter communicated effectively, then it should have helped reduce the number of plant accidents and helped employees lead healthier lifestyles.

One more point: Effective communication cannot be achieved without articulated objectives. As the old adage goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.” Or, as the inimitable Yogi Berra put it, “If you don’t know where you are going… You might end up someplace else.”

With that, let’s create a quick and easy checklist that takes us through seven basic steps required for effective communication:

1. Can you identify your goal, identify what you want a listener or reader to do? Do you want more sales, reduced employee turnover, renewals by members? Be specific about your objectives, and if you can attach time and dollar values to them so much the better.

2. Can you articulate, in terms of your objectives, what you want listeners or readers to do? What action should they take? What thoughts do you want in their minds? Do you want to reinforce existing thinking or behaviors?

3. Understand why they would respond to your message. It’s all very well for you to have objectives and to send messages, but you’ll also have to offer something to them, something they value. Think of commercial broadcasting, in which you get free entertainment in exchange for listening to (and sometimes responding to) commercials.

4. What message content will motivate them to act? What subjects will prompt them to act? For effective communication, look for topics that engage and motivate readers or listeners.

5. How will you present that content? There are several editorial choices that affect effective communication: entertaining, informing, consulting, challenging, and solving problems.

6. How often will you have to repeat the message? In many cases, you’ll need multiple contacts to get the response you want. Sales people, for example, generally figure on an average of seven contacts before a prospect becomes a client or potential client.

7. If you quantified your objectives, does the return from meeting the objective exceed the cost of communicating? In a marketing context, for example, how many sales would you have to make to pay the cost of your advertising campaign?

In summary, aim for effective communication by following these seven steps. They move us in the right direction because they force us to think about reader and listener responses. And, when we focus on responses, we’re much more likely to get the results we want.