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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

The problem is not communications…

During the past two decades, I have helped dozens of leaders within both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors talk about their work. On the face of it, you might think this would be relatively easy. These leaders are subject matter experts, after all, and talking about their areas of expertise should be no problem. In actuality, however, it is rarely that simple. All too often, those who know the most have the greatest difficulty sharing their knowledge in an effective way.


I’ve worked with many very smart, very talented professionals who did not know how to talk about what they did on a daily basis. Oh, they could discuss the details, the minutiae, but they could not pull back and clearly articulate the bigger picture – the why of what they were doing, and its ultimate impact.


I’ve sat in many a meeting where a struggling program or initiative has been mentioned, and someone will say, “We must have a communications problem.” In my experience, what is deemed a “communications problem” is all too often a clarity problem. It’s impossible to communicate effectively about something that is not clear in the first place.


Fortunately, a communications professional can help. As I see it, my job has less to do with writing – though, of course, writing is a big part of how I spend my time – and more to do with pushing for clarity, as much for the sake of my client or colleague as for myself. My training as a journalist puts me in good stead here. For me, knowing the “why” is just as important to the story as the “how.”


An example might help. Several years ago, I worked with a colleague who had been selected to speak at an industry conference. This colleague – a pipeline engineer – had been asked to deliver a 30-minute overview of a new product. Because my colleague had led the design of this product, he was admittedly – and understandably – in love with its inner workings. He proudly handed me his first draft of a presentation that went into tremendous depth on its design without actually mentioning what need the product was intended to address.


That may sound silly, but it happens all too often. The old adage about the forest and the trees exists for a reason. It’s surprisingly easy for those in the trenches doing the work to lose sight of the bigger picture, and thus to lose the ability to compellingly connect their daily efforts to the larger world. The work of a communications professional is to help them clearly articulate that connectivity in a memorable way. When I handed my colleague my revised draft of his presentation, it spent fully half of the time talking about why this product was needed and how it addressed a critical safety issue before ever mentioning any actual technical specifications.


Bottom line: If you are the subject matter expert, think clearly about the “why” behind your work. If you are the communications professional helping said expert, press them to think clearly about both what they do and why they do it in order to help them deliver an effective message.



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