We all know that the industrialized world is awash in information today; many have observed that this information overload puts a heavy burden on would-be communicators to get the attention of their audiences. Whether it’s a distracted spouse, a teenager playing a video game, a team worried about impending layoffs, a board that finds your report on sales initiatives tedious, an audience that’s looking forward to lunch, or a press corps that’s heard it all before, grabbing people in order to communicate with them has become a tall order.

That means the process of connection is difficult and fraught with opportunities to lose, and yet it is more essential than ever before.

How do you do it effectively?

You focus on the audience’s concerns.

Connected communication deals with the audience’s concerns. If people are overwhelmed with too much information, they respond by filtering in several ways. It’s nothing personal; it’s just how people cope with overload.

People listen to ideas that are new, surprising, or world-altering within their own frame of reference. In other words, if you want to tell the world about your better mousetrap, the first group of people who are going to be interested are the folks who are plagued with mice. Those who are more worried about insects will give you a pass. If your idea turns out not to be different in any way, you’ll quickly lose the interest of your audience; they will begin to filter you out. In order to keep from being overwhelmed by information, we filter by novelty, but only in the areas that we have decided we care about.

People listen to ideas from trusted sources. Another way in which we filter is to cut down on the number of sources we will listen to. This makes communicating with new audiences particularly challenging. Why should they pay attention to you? They already have their go-to people identified. One relative is good on cars, a sister is good on fashion, someone at work knows the powers that be, and so on.

It’s hard to crack into that lineup if you’re not proven. To become a trusted source mostly takes time and an introduction from an already trusted source. It’s the Tupperware party effect: we get an invitation from a friend, and once we’re in the door, our resistance drops. But we never would have gone if someone we knew hadn’t invited us.

People listen to ideas from sources that are (objectively) well-known or often available to them . Another way we vet ideas is to consider the reputation of the source if it isn’t a trusted one already. And here we use conventional means: we judge the level of authority, celebrity, or even notoriety by all the usual measures. It often takes frequent repetition of the message from the source for us to finally hear it if it is not already trusted.

We all have different ideas of objective sources, but the differences usually aren’t particularly wide or surprising.

You may like to get your new from CBS; I may prefer Fox or the BBC. Goodreads may be your source for new book recommendations; I may read the New York Times Book Review. Only relatively small numbers of people go to fringe sources for this kind of information.

Expertise is another matter. Generally the more you know about a particular field of inquiry, the more specialized your sources are. You are far more likely to distrust the standard sources if you have deep knowledge of a subject.

People listen to ideas that fulfill a deep need. If our need seems great enough, we’ll break every other rule in order to find a solution, even turning to ideas that seem outré to us, and sources that we have not completely vetted. Use Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to help make this clear. If we ’ re trying to satisfy needs that are way down the hierarchy (like safety), then we’ll be more likely to listen to solutions that respond to that level of need for us. And we’ll be more open to solutions generally because deep needs are felt more urgently than the higher ones like self-actualization in Maslow ’ s terms.

When my aunt was dying of cancer, she and my uncle turned to all kinds of risky cancer treatment programs, even going to Mexico at one point for what can only be described as a charlatan. They eagerly scanned the medical news and every source they could think of for hope, new options, and experimental treatments. It was a tragic but understandable response to a desperate need.

Our new online course on how to prepare a great presentation, Presentation Prep: 10 Steps to Persuasive Storytelling, debuting in mid-June, goes into much more depth about how to craft presentations that connect powerfully with your audience in these ways.  You can sign up to be among the first to receive the course when it goes live here.


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