"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Communicating the Message Effectively

Copyright © 2008 Dorian Scott Cole.

Why is it that some people can speak all day and no one remembers a word, while others can speak a few words and everyone remembers long after? This gets to the heart of why I write, and why I write plays.

Everyone has their own style, and using some other person's style is like being a fish on dry land. We won't go there. But the person who keeps honing his skill becomes more professional to the point of knowing what he is doing. That person is called an "expert" because he is effective time after time.

We are all students of communications. We try, we fail, we try, we succeed, we try, we learn.

God, on the other hand, can speak through the jawbone of an ass. When the spirit moves within people, they listen. Even the most boring material can be effective at the right moment. But most of the time we are doing something less dramatic: simply trying to acquaint people with the Word of God. A lot depends on the skill of the teacher. While God can speak through a boring pile of rocks, the rest of us have to work at it.

The most effective communication has four important qualities:

  • It is credible: authoritative and believable.
  • It is relevant to people's needs.
  • It helps people overcome their objections.
  • It uses words, visuals, and drama that are experiential.

In the above list, how many times did I say "dynamic speaker, charismatic speaker, memorable speaker, captivating speaker, dramatic speaker, concrete words, action words...?" None. While these things can be very helpful, the root of these things, and of effective communications, is actually in the above four qualities.

Be credible: authoritative and believable

How much do we believe what we are saying? There is a major difference between people who are speaking from their own experience and people who are reciting from a book. The first part of credibility comes from the speaker. We can be the best speakers in the world, but if we lack credibility, it's irrelevant.

The second part of credibility comes from the source. Studies in communications indicate that the credentials of the speaker and the credentials of the material determine how credible and influential a message is. The Bible is the most authoritative book on Earth. But how it is applied makes all of the difference. As people listen, they compare with their own experience. If the message has a hollow ring to it, it just passes by and is quickly forgotten. Credibility is enhanced by the next two qualities.

Be relevant to people's needs

The price of rice has gone up. To most of us, this is an insignificant message. Oh, well, it will cost us a few pennies more to buy rice, if we even buy rice. But to millions of people around the world who live on subsistence wages, it is a major problem and the news is so relevant - it is devastating.

It seems obvious, but if we don't speak to people's needs, then our message is just dust in the wind. The Bible contains messages that come from hundreds to thousands of years of practical experience in living with and struggling with God and the human experience. It's proven. To be memorable, the message has to help us in our struggles.

Help people overcome their objections

Why do people seem unmotivated? Why are they hard to move? Mostly because they have objections to what they are hearing.

None of us can provide the motivation for another person. But most people really do want to contribute time and effort, to do good things, and to be part of something. They really do. But they are stopped in their tracks by fear from past experience and fear of the unknown. These fears are called objections.

We don't have to be psychologists (I learned from majoring in psychology) and try to analyze every person with whom we speak. Most people will simply tell us their objections if we ask and listen. The problem is, we don't listen. As soon as we hear the first words of the objection, we begin to counter, to argue. Whatever the objection is, it is usually a symbol of a lot more. We have to ask probing questions: Why do they feel they way they do? What experiences and conversations led them to have that attitude? People will usually tell us, if we let them, and if they don't feel threatened that we are going to coerce them into doing something that they don't want to do.  

What are objections?

  • I'm not good enough, skilled enough, experienced enough to do that.
  • My friend did that and he says it was awful and he will never do it again.
  • That doesn't fit our image.
  • We have never done that before.
  • I just don't believe it will work.
  • I'm too busy, and it will swamp me - it isn't a high enough priority.

How do we counter objections?

Not by arguing, coercing, speaking forcefully and dramatically, and manipulating.

We counter objections by training people, being supportive, accompanying, breaking responsibilities down into small tasks, teamwork, examples, sharing personal experience, providing stepping stone experiences, getting people involved in small ways, etc. It is terribly frustrating to keep telling people what they should be doing, and watching them do the opposite. Communicating is a two-way street that builds bit by bit. Climbing a mountain of fear is easily conquered by climbing a thousand molehills. People will respond to challenges when they are ready.

Use words, visuals, and drama that are experiential

A word is a symbol. The more experience we have related to the word, the more we understand the word. If I say the word "radio" to you, it probably just means something that you turn on to listen to music. For me, having been an announcer, a communications technician, and a listener, the word "radio" is a whole world of things. In this word and knowledge oriented society that we built in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we tend to overlook that experience is the foundation of knowledge. Our world knows things because of "been there, done that." Experience burns its lessons into our minds.

It helps that most experience is usually anchored with a degree of emotion and human need. We are beginning to understand just how important this relationship is. At the extreme, traumatic experiences with too much emotion cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Beta blockers (a class of medication used primarily for hypertension) can interfere in the relationship between experience and emotion, lowering the strength of the connection.

The emotional component is very important to experience and attitude. What we do (behavior, reaction) is determined more by the emotional component of our attitude than any other factor. Trying to argue with an attitude is like heating steel - it only gets harder (tempered) with each heating. But effective communications changes attitudes - it resolves the objections.  

Dry words, devoid of experience and emotion, communicate little. But experience communicates well. Words that convey experience communicate well. Pictures that convey experience communicate well. Drama that conveys experience communicates well.

Most of us already have many experiences worth sharing as examples. Every person in this world has experiences that are worth sharing, and they often make these publicly available for others to use as illustrations. Experiences erode disbelief.  A heap of experiences can help disbelief disappear.

What about drama? Studies by those who would like to prove that movies have a negative effect on society have for decades shown that movies don't influence anyone to do anything. So why did I study college acting, research move script analysis, study top directors, study the role of words and experience in communications, study attitude change, study visual communications, write research papers and theories on visual semiotics, and write books and Internet publications on writing screenplays that are used as teaching aids in public schools and colleges? Because drama is a very effective means of communications if used for the right things.

Drama is one of the best tools for making teaching and speaking points memorable. It engages people and gives the speaker's words an experiential anchor. Drama portrays the human experience in all of its range from comedy to tragedy. It enables people to listen to things without fear and without being on guard. It enables people to listen to things without disbelief. It enables people to listen to things without it becoming too personal. Drama doesn't influence people to do anything but listen, and it can incorporate all of the communication qualities listed on this page. So I write plays. (Pssst. You can use them. ;-)

Yours in Christ,

- Scott



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