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Sameness is the Death of Communication


“Even if your content is fine, your intentions are right, and your thesis is strong, if your audience isn't engaged, you need to change things up to get people engaged."

-- John C. Maxwell

Imagine for a moment that you're watching a movie or reading a book. What happens when you get bored? Maybe the plot isn't engaging, the characters are unrelatable, or you've already guessed the ending -- whatever the reason, what happens in your mind when you get bored?

Most of us check out by turning off or leaving the movie, putting the book down, or letting our minds wander to other things, even if it doesn't match what's in front of us.

As a communicator, you must keep your audience engaged and excited about what you have to share. Once you've got their attention, you have to keep it.

This chapter teaches the Law of the Change-Up because "sameness is the death of communication."

Steve Martin, stand-up comedian, actor, musician, and writer, is often asked what makes him successful, and his answer is always, "Be so good they can't ignore you." Do you want to be so good in your communication that they can't ignore you? I'm sure the answer is yes because whether you are communicating with one person or hundreds, most of us don't communicate just for our enjoyment; we communicate because we have a message we need to share.

John Maxwell gives us four practical ways to change your communication to stand out from the crowd, capture your audience's attention, and keep them on the edge of their seats.

1. Use Movement and Facial Expressions

Now, we're not talking about nervous movements like swaying, shifting your weight, or fidgeting; these types of movements will only cause distraction and diminish your ability to connect with your audience. Instead, think about intentional movement -- moving to indicate the passage of time or moving closer to your audience to increase intimacy, smiling, making eye contact, and acting out the emotions of your story. These are just a few examples: get creative to grab and keep your audience's attention, but whatever methods you use, make sure they are authentic to who you are.

2. Understand and Practice Good Timing

"Timing is the art of regulating your speech and movement in relation to your audience to produce the best results. That includes using the right words, facial expressions, movements, tone, and interactions; with the best rhythm and speed; at the best time." To get your timing right, consider these three things:

  • What I see determines when I speak - remember from last week, you need to learn to read the room. "Be proactive and alert and adapt to what you see."

  • What I say determines when I speak - set your audience up and build anticipation.

  • What I show determines when I speak - use visuals to help communicate and let them speak louder than your words can.

"Sameness is boring. And Forgettable. It's like having the same food, three meals a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. We human beings crave change." -- John C. Maxwell

4. Practice the Pause

Mark Twain once said, "No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." And John and I couldn't agree more. Often, we think of silence as the opposite of communication, but in reality, intentional silence "gives people the time and space to respond in their minds and hearts. It's where they fill in the blanks and meet what is said with their own thoughts, experiences, and conclusions."

I believe so much in the power of the pause that I will not move us to the next chapter next week but expound on John's words of wisdom focused on using pause and silence in your communication effectively.

5. Create Interaction with Your Audience

The more you involve people, the more you impact them because "interaction turns a speech into an experience. The more variety you bring to your communication, the more they will enjoy the journey as you take them where they need to go with your message." Whether you ask for audience participation, directly ask one or two participants a question, invite them to talk to their neighbor, or repeat things back to you, these are all ways that you can draw your audience into your message rather than just allowing them to passively listen (or not) while you talk.

This week, answer this question:

  • Which communicators do you admire? Find videos of their communications and watch how they apply these four practices.

  • How can you naturally apply these four practices?

  • Which one doesn't come as naturally to you? How can you improve?

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