The Red Wheelbarrow of Marketing Communications
so much is impacted
a key skill
couched in core
dovetailed with action
(For those unfamiliar with The Red Wheelbarrow, please click here.)
Marketing writers and corp comm people are forever bellyaching about how hard it is to communicate in the corporate context: the approvals, the lawyers, the general executive aversion to straight talk.
But precisely because most corporate content is so turgid, it’s a piece of cake to make a splash with a corporate audience.
You know who knows this better than anyone? Seminar leaders, who get paid to keep skeptical, numb, half-lobotomized business people off their Blackberries, and intellectually and emotionally engaged in the conference.
I’ve recruited speakers for many corporate confabs over the years, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
A popular workshop leader told me she intentionally tosses off a mild curse word in the first few minutes of her half-day talk, to establish to her audience that she, unlike so many other corporate bullshitters, can be relied upon to keep it real. (See how it works?)
Another seminar leader said he had no problem remembering attendees’ names. “I just call all the guys ‘Champ,’ and all the ladies ‘Honey.’” A scoch past his prime was he—yet his audiences more than forgave him his cornball sexism because his humanity, however ancient, shone through.
And a veteran corporate seminar leader once told me that getting a laugh from a corporate audience is amazingly easy, because corporate culture is universally prudish. All he had to do to get his corporate charges giggling, he said, was to refer to any physical imperfection on his body. His receding hairline, or his growing paunch. “If I point at a scab on my elbow,” he said, “I can bring the house down.”
All day our corporate audiences consume politically correct, business-appropriate abstractions. They’re beset by People Trying to Sound Rational, talking about World-Class Strategic Growth Strategies.
And so all you have to do to capture and hold their attention is to present them with an authentic human being with an ethnicity of some sort and a point of view. And then have that person use (not utilize) everyday language to talk sensibly about real things.
“No ideas,” advised the poet William Carlos Williams, who was also a physician and must have attended some professional conferences of his own, “but in things."
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.