Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Velcro Factor: How to Speak in the Language Others Can Hear

You know how to talk. You've been doing it for decades. But are your listeners hearing your intended message?

Learning to speak in the language others can hear is a critical task many of us never master, because it requires putting yourself in the receiver's role and asking if the way you're presenting your information makes sense to this particular audience.

For example: if I began a talk on personal growth by saying, "When I emerged from the womb after my dark night of the soul, I felt reborn, and ready to give my gift to the world," many people might completely comprehend what I was trying to say — but there are many, many more whose eyes would glaze over in confusion.

But what if I started with, "After a long illness during which I began to question the purpose of my life, I began anew with a deeper understanding of who I am and what I'm here to do." Is this clearer? I'm expressing the same thoughts, but for two distinct audiences. Sharing the second introduction with a group more attuned to the first message would be as ineffective as the reverse.

I grew into this awareness of learning to speak in the language others can hear slowly. One terrific though unwitting resource was my brother. When he was deep in the throes of his awakening, I eagerly sent him a book that had been given to me at a pivotal time in my own growth: Louise Hay's classic, You Can Heal Your Life. I've read it hundreds of times over the years and integrated her teachings into my life in numerous ways.

My brother added my offering to "the pile": books he'd already been given by well-meaning friends. Clearly, it didn't speak to him.

Not long afterward, I attended a weekend workshop on personal mastery. The trainer highly recommended a book that imparted spiritual principles through the lens of basketball, Sacred Hoops. I made a mental note to check it out.

As I held the book in my hands and glanced through its pages, I couldn't imagine why I'd want to read it. Basketball doesn't interest me in the slightest. Plus, I was already familiar with much of the content from other sources. Then I realized with a grin and an "Oh, duh!" that I was supposed to send the book to my brother, who loves basketball and, in his forties, continued to play at every opportunity. I bought the book and mailed it special delivery, without a note.

Less than a week later I received a four-page letter (this man is not a letter-writer! And this was before we were all on daily email), saying the package had been waiting when he'd come home from work that Monday evening, "after the worst weekend of my life." He wrote, "I can't put it down, I'm already halfway through it and I wish it was 1,000 pages long." I nearly wept with joy and gratitude that I'd been guided to send him exactly what he needed, at exactly the right time. All I had to do was get my own preconceptions out of the way, and speak in his language — in this case, basketball.

Actress and playwright Elizabeth Fuller calls this awareness, "The Velcro Factor": being so specific with her examples in a performance that audience members can recognize themselves in what she and partner Conrad Bishop share. Thus, the message "sticks."

Sending my brother Sacred Hoops was a Velcro Factor experience for me. Choose what you use, learn to discern. Communicate in the language your audience can hear.

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