5 questions to ask before you communicate

Steve Kryger

As I strive for clear and effective communication at church, I'm struck by the vast amount that needs to be communicated. For example:

  • Upcoming events (social, training, outreach, prayer meetings, camps, etc)
  • Opportunities to serve
  • Urgent needs for people to serve
  • Parish Council updates
  • Building project updates
  • Finance committee updates
  • Ministry updates
  • Updates on church life (e.g. new babies, room for rent)
  • Vision (where are we going)
  • Prayer points
  • Encouragements (to spur people on - e.g. the weekly newsletter)

The list goes on! The vast amount of information requiring communication has got me thinking about a couple of key questions:

  • What are the best means to communicate this information (e.g. which channels, how frequently)?
  • How can we ensure that when it is communicated, it's communicated as effectively as possible?
  • How do you manage stakeholders who have high expectations about how their information will be communicated?

I hope to deal with questions 1 and 3 at a later date. In response to the second question, I suggest 5 questions that should be asked before you get up to make an announcement, or provide an update in the weekly newsletter - or whenever else you need to communicate.

1. What do I want to communicate?

A preacher should be able to summarise their sermon in one sentence – sometimes thought of as the ‘big idea’. This then focuses their attention to ensure that all points are consistent with, and working towards communicating this big idea. Why is this important, and why does it apply to other forms of communication? If you can’t simply summarise what you want to communicate, adding more words won’t make your message – whatever it may be – any clearer. It will simply prolong the confusion. Know in a nutshell what you want to communicate.

2. Why should the recipient care?

It’s a blunt question but it shouldn’t be taken for granted that the recipient is even remotely interested in what we’ve got to say (regardless of how important we think the message is!). We are all deluged with information. Our brains need to sort what is relevant, and quickly disengaged from whatever is irrelevant. So, whenever we receive any form of communication, we’re very quick to (subconsciously) consider – is this worth taking in? Therefore, in any communication, it should be clear up front (not by the end) why the recipient should read/listen/watch – they’re thinking “what’s in it for me?”. I considered this recently as I spoke to the students recently at Wycliffe Christian School about internet safety. When my first point was 'everything you do online is tracked and recorded', they realised that this was a topic they couldn't ignore. Make it clear early on, why the recipient should care.

3. Am I boring?

We’ve all sat through boring presentations. Not only are these experiences a waste of our time, they do damage to the topic being discussed. Why? If I give a mind-numbing presentation on the need for new sports oval (for example), the next time I get up to speak about it, people will instantly remember their last experience, and it will be even more difficult to engage them. That doesn't help the cause of the new sports oval. Most people aren't boring (especially when it comes to topics they are passionate about). But some people are definitely better communicators than others. Perhaps you don’t think you’re boring. This is a good time to double-check. Ask others for their opinion – "when I communicate about topic X, are you engaged, or do you secretly hope that I’ll finish quickly?!" If you’re not the best person to communicate (even though you might be the highest in the chain), for the sake of the cause - find someone more effective.

4. What has the potential to provide confusion?

I attended a presentation at AdTech last year by a senior executive of a global online advertising organization. For the duration of his hour-long presentation, I had very little idea of what he was talking about. This was a general interest presentation - in fact, it was a keynote address! It was riddled with jargon and assumed knowledge. To be honest, I think the speaker just wanted to sound intelligent. The result - most people used his address to catch up on sleep. Good communication isn’t about seeking to make yourself look smarter than everyone else. It’s about clearly transferring information, ideas and passion from one person, to others. If it's not clear, it's not effective communication.

5. What do I want the recipient to do?

If it's not news, it should have a clear call to action. It should be clear to the recipient what they should do next.

Maybe it's give.

Pray.

Come.

Sign-up.

Invite.

Consider.

Give thanks.

Sell everything you have and give to the poor.

Whatever it is - make it clear how people should respond. If it's not clear, you can't blame people for not responding.  

I'm working hard to take these beyond theory. It's not easy, but it is necessary if I want our communication to improve. For more on this topic, see the Harvard Business Review's Communication Insight Center.