If it’s business, make it personal

“It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business” is a famous line from the 1972 film ‘The Godfather’.

We have all been raised on the myth of ‘it’s business not personal’.  To succeed as business communicators, it’s time to challenge that.  So if you want your messages to stick let’s go against the grain.  But how, how can we make boring business communication personal?

A few years ago we did some work with the chair of a global multinational and his message was ‘spend company money as if it is your own’ i.e. be careful how you spend company money.  This sounds just like another trite company line about cost cutting.  We asked him how he was going with this message and he replied ‘Not very well, but I’m going to keep banging on about this till it hits home’.  We asked him why.  He replied ‘When I was a child, my parents were by no means poor, but neither were we wealthy.  My parents worked very hard for their money and they always told me and my two brothers, you work hard for your money but you get to spend it only once so spend it wisely’.  We discovered he had never shared this with his team and invited him to do so the next time he was presenting this message.  He began with the story and then linked it to the message by saying that is why ‘Spending company money as if it is our own’ resonates with me.  He was surprised at the connection this personalisation created and how the behaviour around spending company money changed.  People realized he was genuine about the message and not just pushing yet another company line.

To make your messages personal think about the personal stories you can share in a purposeful and authentic way to make your communication come alive.

Sadly, most business communication suffers from predictability and sanitization.  But there is hope.  To stand out and be heard above the clutter, consider how you can make it personal…and pack a punch.


Bitter with baggage seeks same AKA How to fulfill your audience’s needs

One of the most popular personal ads (yes this is going back to the olden days when people placed personal ads) in the New York times simply read ‘Bitter with baggage seeks same’.  The ad struck a chord and brought a huge response from people all  across the world, not just those who were reading the ads to find love.  Whoever placed the ad, understood that most people looking in the personals were over duplicity and deceit, that personal ads were notorious for.

What a perfect place to start when crafting your messages to start by considering your audience’s needs and what really motivates them.

The most significant piece of work in this area  is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  What I have found interesting though is Tony Robbins take on Maslow in his TED Talk titled ‘Why we do what we do‘.

Robbins say people need first of all certainty, certainty that they can avoid pain or at least be comfortable.  But you can almost see what is coming next!  Humans are contrary so our second need is for uncertainty, variety indeed surprise.  Our third human need is for significance, to feel special, unique, different.  Our fourth need is connection and love but as Robbins says ‘Most people will settle for connection’.

As communicators we have to ask how does our communication satisfy these needs?    None of us need help with certainty, in fact most of our communication has so much certainty that it is rendered predictable and boring.

Our challenge  is how can we harness the power of the other needs like uncertainty, significance & connection?  Is that even possible in one piece of communication?  This is how one of our clients did it.  Her organisation was notorious for leaders who always said they wanted more development, but when any development day was organised would claim they were too time poor to attend.  She had a look at the communication that went out inviting leaders to training days.  Predictably it was of the most ‘certain’, boring variety.  The subject headings alone would be enough to entice most people to hit the delete key.

This is how she communicated the next invitation to leaders:

Subject heading: A man was …

…struggling in the woods to saw down a tree. An old farmer came by, watched for a while, then quietly said, “What are you doing?”

“Can’t you see?” the man impatiently replied, “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted,” said the farmer. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours, and I’m beat,” replied the man.“This is hard work.”

“That saw looks pretty dull,” said the farmer. “Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen it? I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Are you ready to sharpen your saw?  Here are the details of our next session:

And the email went on to provide details of the training as well as the attribution for the story (Dr Stephen Covey ‘7 Habits of highly effective people”).  Our client had a 100% attendance at the next training program.  No leader could say they didn’t have the time to sharpen their saw.  The communication had surprise, significance (your development is important) and created a connection.    How are you going to cater to these needs to create your Bitter with baggage communication success story?