Once again this year I’m inspired by the top 10 best and worst communicators of 2012 list (compiled by my good friends at Decker Communications) to reflect on communication lessons from the year we’ve just survived.
First, though, I must commend Decker for a great list, and one that is far more politically balanced than last year’s – a real achievement in an election year! Of course, the list is US- and business-focused, with only 2 world villains, Assad of Syria and the miserable captain of the Costa Concordia, making the worst half of the list (and well deserved, too).
As such, the list omits mention of some bright Olympic stars, characters and moments from other countries, such as the inimitable Mayor of London Boris Johnson on the plus side, and Prime Minister David Cameron on the minus side. But anyone watching from the US might be pardoned for thinking that only one country participated in the 2012 Olympics, so biased was NBC’s coverage. I’d be tempted to add that network to the worst 10 side of Decker’s list.
Which brings me to the first of my communication lessons from 2012.
1. Communication is global and instant; there’s no excuse any longer for not getting to know the rest of the world – just as it knows you. Of course, communication always has been global. But now that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have made it democratic and instant, the further implication is that people everywhere now have the power to change the world – so you’d better start paying closer attention and trying to understand what they’re thinking and why they’re thinking it. Once there’s a new government in Syria, for example, what will it look like, and who will be running that country? If you don’t understand how events are unfolding there, you’re going to be caught by surprise.
2. Narrowcast is replacing broadcast. One of the unintended consequences of the ubiquity of digital information is that we have to tailor how it comes to us so that we’re not overwhelmed. As a result, you watch Fox News and I get my news from the NPR iPad app, and as a result, we get a completely different set of data about the world. We could live next to each other and experience alternate universes. That’s bizarre, alarming, and really interesting. Keep your eye on this one. Where will we end up? Democracy survives not only on debate and voting and so on, but also on a shared set of values and experiences. What happens when those go away?
3. Attention spans? Attention nanoseconds, more like. The relentless downward pressure on attention spans is getting more and more intense. Add to that the fact that we’re watching and gleaning more and more information on our phones, which have only a tiny piece of real estate to dedicate to anything, and you’ll see that you have to learn to become drastically better and faster at telling the world about yourself, your message, your cause. Say it fast or don’t bother. Sorry.
4. Don’t talk about you, talk about me. I’ve written a number of times this year about the lost art of listening. With the shrinking attention span, we’re losing the ability to hear other people’s stories and focusing more and more on our own. What’s in it for them? is an important question to ask of all your communications – more ruthlessly than ever – because no one will listen just for the joy of listening.
5. It should be obvious by now, but please, no more BS. If you try to hoodwink us, or any of your constituencies, you may get away with it initially, but you won’t for long. So try authenticity. As a wise person once said to me, always tell the truth and you won’t have to remember everything you said. And the need for authenticity extends to marketing, corporate communication campaigns, and all other forms of group public utterances. We won’t be fooled, so just don’t try it.
It wasn’t a year for much in the way of good news, but if there’s a silver communications lining, it is the spread of ubiquitous communications on behalf of democracy. What was novel in 2010 with the Arab Spring is now routine. And that’s a life-saver in the long run. Here’s to 2013 and better times.