Yes, but what do you mean?

The internet isn’t working. Again. And I’m trying to show my kids an inspiring clip I’d seen earlier on YouTube. As we sit there watching nothing happen, I said, “there seems to be something wrong with the WiFi”. In response to which, my 4 year old son Sam* asked, “What does that mean, Dad?”

“Well, it means that the movie is taking a long time to download.”

“What does that mean?”

“Um... it means the movie isn’t coming onto the computer... it’s stuck... in the air.” (Okay, not my best teaching moment.)

Sam persists. “But what does that mean?”

Feeling like I’ve run out of anything intelligent to say, I ask him, “Sorry mate, what doesn’t make sense?”

“Well, can we watch the movie or not??”

The simplicity of the moment smacked me in the face. There I was, trying to offer Sam the best technical explanation of the issue, when all he wanted to know was what it meant for him. How often do we get caught in the same trap? Explaining things from our perspective – showing off as much technical knowledge as possible - rather than through the filter of what it means for your audience.

I’m reminded of times in a previous role, when I would regularly call on the services of an external IT consultant to help with network glitches. I used to feel profoundly frustrated when my calls for help were met with an avalanche of technical guff about what was going on, when all I really wanted to know was when I could get my task done.

The next time you're looking to get people to buy into a message or an idea, reflect on how your audience is likely to hear that idea – through the lens of their own needs and drivers, fears and concerns. Get that right, and you’re well placed to talk their language.


* Regular readers may note that Sam seems to provide endless inspiration for these blog posts. There’s a lesson in that for all of us. 


Image: Cindee Snider Re