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Zoom in, Zoom Out (or, why effective communications is always about the same two things)

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

In planning a communication of any subject or format, two things will reliably fascinate any audience: the big picture and their place in it. Any form of communication, even traditionally formal items, will resonate far better by sticking to these two things, rather than getting lost in the vague, stuffy, or abstract.

Good communications is about telling stories, and good stories are always about how people change their world or are changed by it. Focusing on mid-range facts, frameworks and processes risks the audience getting mentally lost in a gloopy swamp, from which they'll never return. The solution? Get in close and focus on the individual. Pan back and show how they impact the big picture or are affected by it. I like to call this: “Zoom in, Zoom out - and avoid the blurry middle”.

A company’s strategy or annual results, for example, are traditionally presented in quite a dry way, generally in written format or perhaps a chart-laden animation. What should be striking highlights of the year gone by can end up feeling anonymous, impersonal and remote. Far better to show success through the shiny eyes of the people who made it happen - like in this example:

This people-centric approach is simple and intuitive. Yet it remains oddly rare in most workplaces. A major reason is that we as communicators can sometimes overly-respect those with a higher, more central or more credentialed place in the organisation. HR knows how to write about employee programs; Strategy knows best how to articulate the business; IT is the authority on tech. Their rightful confidence in their own remit can often lead to communicators submitting to comms campaigns that centre on the blurry middle, rather than transforming them into stories that count.

Communicators can respect these teams most not by simply amplifying their message but applying our craft to help them achieve their goals. That starts by asking, who are the people involved and affected by this initiative, and in what ways can we show how their worlds will change as a result? Doing this may not always be possible if our customers insist on doing things their way. But anticipating and overcoming that resistance is part of what we do. Getting good at this leads to better comms. It can also make a world of difference.

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