K Street Newsletter :: Directions

January 2020    |    VOLUME 18, ISSUE 1

Influencing Audiences

We're living in an age of information overload where it's getting progressively harder to separate the signal from the noise. Decision makers need to deal with lengthy reports, endless lists of PowerPoint bullets and the constant barrage of social media. So professional communicators are realizing they need better ways to influence an audience, whether it's an audience of one or an audience of 100. According to this article, storytelling can be an effective way to exert that influence, in terms of presenting ideas or making recommendations.

Numbers and facts are generally presented without an emotional connection, but a good story can bring the data to life. Presenters who tell stories also have an opportunity to build rapport, which makes them seem more likeable and breaks down normal barriers to communication. Finally, a story makes presentation delivery more relaxed, something that boosts a presenter's confidence, particularly in the first few minutes of a pitch. Developing your storytelling skills is well worth the investment. You can apply them to many different activities throughout your career.

 

The Hummingbird Effect

One of the presumed benefits of Knowledge Management is that it would spur innovation. The assumption is that if more people had better access to more information (and experts), ideas would travel more quickly and new cross-connections would be recognized. Steven Johnson is one of our favorite writers in this space, and he examines the mechanisms of innovation in How We Got to Now. He also gets credit for coining this term, which refers to the fact that innovation in one field sometimes triggers innovation in an entirely different domain.

The name derives from the interesting co-evolution of flowers and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds developed the ability to hover so they could sip nectar from flowers, a food delivery system that was intended to attract insects and support pollination. So the mechanisms of plant reproduction led to new wing structures in an entirely different kingdom. The history of ideas evolves in a similar way. The printing press revolutionized the information business by making books affordable, but it also created a new demand for eyeglasses. It's too soon to tell whether KM has actually led to any meaningful innovations, but perhaps someday there will be a good story to tell. In the meantime, you can read a long excerpt from Johnson's book at medium.com. Interesting reading.
 

 

Street Smarts 195: Be authentic.

Storytelling is a valued component in all kinds of communications programs, touching on everything from marketing to organizational change. It's the best way for people to absorb new information and also adds value when they try to recall it. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and that linear structure fits in well with how most people see the world. If you can tell the story of something, you can reasonably claim to understand it.

That's why you should always listen to more stories than you tell. Give your audience an opportunity to tell their own, because a story is the shortest distance between two minds. And authenticity is one of the most important elements in a good story. People want to believe that stories are true, unless they're clearly intended to be flights of fancy. People will put up walls if they catch a whiff of falseness or self-serving manipulation. If it happens more than once, they will shut you out. That destroys the possibility of mutual active listening and there's not much chance of rebuilding it. You can read more storytelling tips in this article.
 

 

Getting Real with Mentoring

Generally speaking, companies recognize the value of supporting and developing junior talent, given its obvious long-term benefits. And folks in executive management may speak enthusiastically about their firm's mentoring program, even if it's largely theoretical. That's unfortunate, because it deludes a company into thinking it's doing something positive without looking closely at its quality, performance or outcomes. Most mentoring programs are  based on single mentor-mentee matches, making them somewhat formal and hierarchical. Evidence suggests that many people prefer what might be called a mentoring constellation: a network of contacts aimed at nurturing individual careers.

It's also true that a mentoring program won't succeed without a mentoring culture in the background. This article suggests replacing traditional structures with "mentors of the moment." The idea is to encourage people in the upper ranks to be alert for daily interactions that will help junior colleagues advance. If you can make that happen, on your team or in your entire organization, mentoring becomes something that's mutually rewarding without requiring a lot of formal structure and administrative overhead. Studies show that even relatively brief interactions can support positive development relationships.
 

Creativity Culture

In a world that is increasingly driven by digital forces (technology, mobility, data mining and AI), human creativity seems to be fading from its pre-eminent position in marketing and communications. In fact, this article suggests that creativity is the "oxygen" for communications. It helps us understand and collaborate with customers, make sensible branding decisions and close real deals. We're all creative to some degree; we need to draw on that creativity to push through boundaries and lay a foundation for future growth. The bots aren't going to do that for us. Data can be a great aid to judgment but is meaningless without context. Creativity is the key to positioning data in a context that makes sense.

When deployed against well-defined strategic opportunities, a culture that supports experimentation and creative approaches can make a big difference. It's important for all kinds of companies to recognize and encourage the essential role played by human creativity and do whatever they can to increase its supply.

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