Sometimes, the hardest thing to do while trying to convey an idea or a point in any form of communication is finding the best route to get our audience from point A to point B. After we’ve figured out what it is we want to communicate, how do we get them there?
I recently traveled from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to Charlotte, North Carolina for a coaching conference. I was routinely frustrated by my trusty pre-printed routes from an online road mapping service in which I was sent down a road or path that, instead of leading me to my correct destination, led me headlong into a construction zone or a roadblock. These maps were supposed to help me find my destination with relative ease, but instead had become a burden to my goal. I had to pay close attention to all the detour signs placed in hard to spot locations along the sides of roads that the local highway department placed hurriedly with no regard for out-of-state visitors traveling in rental cars. It wasn’t until I reached the conference and met some locals that I had a satisfying driving experience. How did that experience differ? Simple. I asked them where the local coffee shop was and instead of telling me which way to go or drawing a map, they offered to drive their car in the lead while I followed them to my destination. Finally, a relaxing ride. I knew I was following someone who knew where to go.
Have you ever had this happen to you? You equip yourself with the necessary maps and guidance systems to get you to your destination, but after arriving on the scene you run into an unexpected obstacle that the maps and guidance systems didn’t prepare you for. You end up fumbling around with the maps and anxiously navigating the roads in a new location with the hopes that you’ll find what you’re looking for but just can’t seem to make heads or tails out of this foreign territory. Feeling lost, you pull over at the next gas station and ask a local for directions. Relieved that they know where you are headed you begin the arduous task of understanding and remembering what the step-by-step instructions are that, in their estimation, will help you arrive at your stated location. But alas, as you make the last turn onto the street that they were so sure was going to be where your destination was located you discover that they have steered you in the wrong direction. Frustrated, confused, and ready to give up you pull over to a slow stop on the side of the road. Just then, a local couple driving up behind you senses that you are lost and offers to help you find your destination by leading the way. How do you feel? Grateful? Relieved? Appreciative?
How about in communication? Have you ever experienced the feeling of being lost in the middle of a speech or book that you were hearing or reading? You wanted so desperately for this information to catalyze change in your life, but you just couldn’t understand how the point the author or speaker was conveying mattered to your life and no matter how hard you tried you just couldn’t see how to apply their content to your context. How did you feel? Anxious? Nervous? Disappointed? Discouraged? Frustrated? That’s how I felt following those maps to nowhere in North Carolina. And unfortunately, that’s how many of those who listen to us speak or read our writing can feel if we try to impose a map on them instead of inviting them to follow us.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to be a conference speaker for two sessions over a weekend. I had both the Friday night and Saturday afternoon slots for 90 minutes each. I regularly hand out feedback forms at the end of my time in a conference for the audience to complete and return so that I may grow from the experience. When I received the forms and was able to read them I found a gaping discrepancy in the way the audience viewed my session on Friday night and my session on Saturday afternoon. How could this be? They got the same guy, right? Sure, I had different content, but my delivery was the same – I thought.
After some reflection, I remembered that in the Friday night session I had spent the first fifteen of the full ninety minutes telling the audience my story while showing them pictures of my personal journey of transformation before sharing with them the ways they could accomplish the same results. On Saturday afternoon, however, my time was cut short by forty minutes before I even began due to some time keeping issues with the other speakers that morning. As a result of my time deficit, I opted to give my audience all of the content without any of the context. I had given them the map to get somewhere without the orientation to properly apply the directions. How did they feel? In a word, lost. In fact, in this case, it was even worse. Those who had seen me speak on that Friday were already familiar with me as a person since I had made an adequate connection with them in that session, but those that had not seen me at all and walked in on the Saturday session thought me an arrogant fool. How dare I share such challenging content about changing their lives without first qualifying myself as the person they would want to follow into this new way of thinking! And you know what, they were right. I had failed to connect before I challenged. And I knew better too because I have been following a simple process for delivering an audience to their intended destination for years with great success that I would love to share with you.
While it may be true for some of us communicators that the hardest part is picking a point that we desire to communicate in an article, speech, book chapter, or class lecture and sticking to it – after we pick a point, then we must find a satisfying way of communicating that content. Many years ago I read a book by author and speaker Andy Stanley entitled Communicating For A Change in which he gave a great method for building teachings around the communicator’s relationship with the audience rather than the content itself. His ideas changed the way I viewed my speaking and writing and have helped me achieve my goal of helping others discover and develop their true potential.
The method centers around five words, each of which represents a section of the message you are trying to communicate. They are:
ME | WE | POINT | YOU | WE
With this approach the communicator introduces a topic by sharing a difficulty he or she has faced or is currently facing (ME). From there you seek to find common ground with your audience around the same dilemma or similar circumstances (WE). Then you transition to the delivery of your content so that you can point the audience to the solution of the tension or question you have introduced (POINT). Then you challenge your audience to act on what they have just read or heard (YOU). And finally, you close with several inspirational statements or an inspirational story about what could happen in our lives, our communities, our world, if everybody embraced this particular truth (WE). As you can see, each of the five checkpoints plays a specific and important role in delivering your audience to their intended destination.
ME orients the audience to the topic. It answers the question, “What is he/she talking about?” By starting with a statement or a story about myself I am able to introduce myself as well as the topic to the audience. In this way, ME is really about establishing common ground with THEM. The necessity of this component of creating catalyzing communication can’t be emphasized enough. Spoken simply, an audience has to buy into the messenger before they buy into the message. There is no passing “go” if you fail to create a genuine connection with your audience. After you have established a bit of trust with your audience it’s time to move on to the next component.
WE assures the audience of the relevance of this topic to their own lives. It allows the communicator to identify with the audience. In this section it is important to take some time applying the tension you began with your story in the ME section to as many areas of life as you can in order to ignite the emotions in as broad an audience as possible. For example, I once spoke at a local men’s conference addressing the issues of fatherlessness. I talked for a few minutes about my family situation growing up and how even though my dad was living in my house he was not present. Then I spent almost double that amount of time poking around at almost every father issue imaginable while supporting the presence of these issues we all have in common with pictures and statistics to give credence to my presentation. What was I doing? Creating tension. In fact, I would encourage you to never transition from the WE section to your POINT section until you feel like you have created so much tension that your audience is dying for you to resolve it. When you open your message with your struggle, then relate it to their struggle, you’re already on the way to the delivering them to their destination.
Now for the POINT. The goal here is to resolve the tension, or at least some of it, by pointing people in the direction of the transformational truth you want to share. It is at this point that so many of us mishandle our audience. Many communicators go so light and skim over their information so fast that they leave their audience wanting for something deeper and more concrete. Other communicators dive down so deep and stay there so long that they lose all the momentum of their presentation. But there is a better option, engaging your audience with your information. Don’t just read it off a bullet-pointed PowerPoint slide or explain it to death in too many words. Instead, engage the audience with your information by illuminating them to the truths you have learned. You can do this any number of ways, and many are effective. I personally prefer delivering the information within the context of the application to their own lives as I share personal stories and experiences. Just remember, this is the POINT. When you’re traveling from point A to point B it’s always best to take the most direct route.
After you’ve illuminated the audience with your information it’s time for application. YOU is where you answer the questions, “So what?” and “Now what?” The question on your audience’s mind that you want to answer in this section is, “How does this apply to me?” I like to challenge my audience to apply it to their lives in a tangible way. Don’t look for long-term commitments here. Just challenge a small change. If you can find one application that everyone can get in alignment with it sets you up for the next and final section.
WE is the final inspirational component to the process. It is an opportunity for us as communicators to rejoin our audience as we did in the beginning when we shared our moments of frustration and frailty. WE is really about painting a verbal picture of what could be and should be. It is in this moment that we call upon our audience to imagine with us what the world would be like if people everywhere embraced our idea. To return to the example of my talk about fatherlessness from earlier, I said to my audience: Imagine what the lives of our children will be like when we become the foundational fathers we have been designed to be. Imagine empowering the next generation of young men to embrace their purpose as the supporter and cultivator of others. What would be the result? A world in which families are functional, crime is lessened, and men stood as beacons of hope instead of testaments to despair. Imagine what WE can do together.
So how can you use this tool in your efforts to deliver your audience to their intended destination? Perhaps it would help if I gave you one complete example of how this process looks.
ME – Sometimes I find myself wanting to give up on my dreams when I arrive at obstacles that seem insurmountable and I feel like a failure.
WE – I imagine you have found yourself in situations where you feel like giving up on everything you’ve worked so hard to manifest in your life as well.
POINT – The life of Nelson Mandela teaches us the about the prevailing power of perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Disappointments, setbacks and mistakes are a part of life, but failure is the choice to give up.
YOU – The next time you are faced with the feeling of failure, ask yourself this question, “If I give up now, am I missing my opportunity to prevail in the future?”
Conclusion: When I give up I fail and miss my chance to prevail.
WE – Imagine what would happen in our lives if we all began to model a prevailing attitude towards our obstacles instead of giving up in the face of adversity.
I hope that example helped you to see how you could apply this wonderful tool to your communications. Here’s a challenge for you: take the five words that represent the components of delivering your audience to their intended destination and write them in the margin of your already written or outlined material where they apply to your current way of writing or outlining. Rearrange the sections so that they follow the ME-WE-POINT-YOU-WE process. If you are missing any of the sections go back and add them. Once you are finished, get some feedback by giving an honest friend one copy of both your original material and the reworked material. Ask them which version of the work they preferred and why. In just a few short minutes you can be on your way to igniting an accelerated path of change in the lives of your readers and listeners.
Imagine what would happen if we all began to offer our transformational truths in a package that always communicated to the hearts of our audience. Can you see it? A community of communicators offering the opportunity for others to adopt their life’s experiences as their own instead of learning how to get from here to there the hard way. An invitation to follow us on a new path of personal discovery instead of leaving our followers confused, dismayed and disillusioned. Imagine creating catalyzing communication and delivering your audience to their intended destination every single time. I can. And now, so can you.