I hear what you say – or do you?

Today we’re featuring a guest blog post from Andrew Thorp, a speaker and communications skills coach and co-founder of MojoLife in Manchester. At Skout we believe the best PR results come from spending time finding, crafting and articulating a client’s best stories. This is very much Andrew’s ethos too, but in terms of general business communication, as you’ll see below.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a business networking event and had a memorable experience. It was in a private room in a busy restaurant and the noise from the downstairs bar filled the space and gave it a nice energy. I was introduced to someone who asked me what I did. I replied, “I tell stories.” Now that normally gets a reaction – it’s an unusual thing to hear – but on this occasion he seemed unmoved. I was a tad disappointed but I thought, “Hey ho, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, move on!” So the conversation went elsewhere until someone he knew came across. The chap I’d be speaking to introduced me to his friend. “This is Andrew – he sells storage.”

This reminded me of the reason I set up a concept called Speakeasy couple of years ago. It’s a mechanism for getting feedback from the audience when you present a pitch or an idea. That’s a rare thing of course. People don’t really feel it’s their place to inform you they didn’t ‘get’ what you were talking about, or that you’d scratched the side of your head all the time while presenting!

The psychologists refer to encoding and decoding. When you present an idea you’re the ‘encoder’ but the audience ‘decodes’ it through their filters – these might be past experiences, prejudices, expectations, or just plain-old hearing problems! The result is what you think you said is often not what the audience takes in.

So I suppose the simple message is that it’s important to ask for feedback if you want to be a better communicator. That takes a little courage, but it pays off in the end. But it also requires that we get better at GIVING feedback. It’s a tricky thing to do well and again this can be learned as a skill.

One final point – I’m always encouraging people to develop their own ‘story vault’ so they can use them in conversations and presentations. These ‘mini-stories’ are a terrific tool for building rapport and injecting some fun and personality into your communication. But a lot of people say they don’t have any. I don’t believe that – rather, it’s just a case of recognising them when they occur. Comedians who use observational humour are masters of this. There are things happening to you every day (and things you see happening to others) that could form the basis of a great story. The trick is to recognise them, craft them into a story that makes a point and get good at telling them.

Happy story-telling (or should I say storage-selling?).

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