What I Learned in College

I spent a few thousand dollars to go to college for four years and earn a Communications degree. I’ll sum up what I learned for you.

Before you open your mouth, write an email, make a flyer, or post on Facebook STOP and ask yourself these questions:

  • Who am I talking to?
  • What do I want them to know?
  • Why am I telling them this?
  • How can I most effectively get them understand what I’m thinking?

Who am I talking to?

A teacher, a client, my mom. Even about the same topic, that’s three different emails. How well do you know them? If you included humor, would it actually be funny or a waste of time?

What do I want them to know?

What do they already know? When was the last time you discussed it with them? You are either informing, entertaining, persuading, or asking. Know which one (it’s usually only one). If your work together is ongoing, state what the next step should be. Every meeting should end with a concise recap of what has been decided: OK so, you do this, I will do that, we will meet again in a week. Make it as simple as possible.

Why am I telling them this?

What is the big picture here? How does this letter move us closer to the goal? You probably won’t include this info in your letter, but lose sight of your why and you lose your enjoyment of doing those things quickly.

How can I most effectively get them understand what I’m thinking?

Would they understand if I used ten syllable technical terms? Can I make this email shorter or would it compromise the message? Would a telephone call be better than an email?

Every poor speech I have heard, every misunderstood homework assignment, every confusing meeting at work could have been solved if the teacher or speaker would have taken a few moments to clarify in their own mind what they were trying to say. If you are giving a 30 minute speech you should be able to hack it down to a sentence or two of what the central message is. And once you know what that message is, do not allow it to get lost in the other 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

This is what communicating is. You have something in your head, the other person does not have it in their head. There are a million ways for you to give it to them. If you don’t know what it is before you open your mouth, the other guy has no shot in understanding what you are trying to tell them.

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