As a communications specialist and trainer, I regularly have cause to explain my playing catch analogy for effective communication. Every time I talk about it, I see people around the room nodding their heads and hear the scribbling of pencils as they make notes to remind themselves. It is a cornerstone of my beliefs about communication, so I love to share it at every opportunity.
I talk about effective communication because I feel strongly that any activity any individual undertakes must be a worthwhile use of their time, especially in busy organisations where everyone already has lots to do. And getting communication right – making a difference, achieving a desired outcome, starting a conversation, changing behaviours, whatever it is – does take time, make no mistake. Of course, the activity that uses up precious time without appearing to have any tangible benefit is always the one that gets pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list, rarely seeing the light of day. Sadly, this is often the lot of communication actions.
So how do you make sure your communication is effective? How do you bring about tangible benefits? (Or intangible ones, for that matter.) My suggestion is to think of effective communication as a game of catch. To be successful in that game, I have to throw the ball AND you have to catch it, and ideally throw it back to me. Then we are playing catch, not just lobbing a ball at each other! So it is with successful communication.
Many times in my career I have heard the cry ‘I don’t understand why they don’t know about my project, I sent the email’. Or ‘They’re complaining they don’t know what actions we took after the staff survey, but we put it in the newsletter’. And so on. But your email means nothing if they didn’t open it; your newsletter piece is pointless if they didn’t have time to read it.
You have to think about how to motivate or engage your audience to catch the ball. That could be through telling a compelling story that they don’t want to miss. Or using an email format that they can view on the bus. Or sending a message from someone they are dying to learn from. There are many options for making that ball as easy to catch as possible, you have to choose the one that’s right for your audience and your message.
If you want some help to make communication in your organisation like a successful game of catch, please get in touch.
Read more from Sarah Browning here about planning comms over the summer period