My dear friends Matt and Kat are just about to launch their brilliant new book The Forgotten Forest on Kickstarter. It’s a lovely story and the illustrations are stunning but what’s most impressive about their company Oh Zoe is the degree to which they allow the customers to personalise their products. Our daughter has been lucky enough to receive a copy from the first print run and when she opened the pages her eyes lit up. Not only did the heroine have her name but she had her hair colour, her eye colour, had the same birthday and lived in the same village, with numerous other magical details woven throughout the text and illustrations. The result was pure unadulterated delight. It’s the most excited I’ve ever seen her about a book. The team at Oh Zoe have been fastidious about giving their readers as many personalisation options as possible. So, regardless of gender, race, disability, family circumstances or hair style any child that receives one of their books will see themselves reflected in its pages.
In the world of business we can learn a lot from this approach. Whether we’re talking to customers or colleagues the more time we take to put our audience in the spotlight the more effective we will become. People like to feel heard, they like to feel special, they like to feel understood. If you want to increase your influence try customising your communication to resonate with your audience. If you’re speaking to someone in finance, focus on the numbers. If you’re speaking to someone in HR, focus on the people. It’s not rocket science but it’s amazing how few people do it. Most of us put the focus on ourselves. We broadcast our own narrative and expect the other parties to listen. In reality being in listening mode twice as much as you are in speaking mode is a good ratio to aim for. If you do this you’ll begin to hear what’s really important to the person you are speaking to and you can then tailor your communication to meet their needs.
This technique is one you can deploy in the moment but you can also use it to plan in advance too. People are constantly leaving clues about their communication preferences. The length and tone of their sentences. The phrases they use to sign off in emails - do they say “Very best wishes” or simply “Regards”? Their profile information on LinkedIn. The design and content of their PowerPoint slides. Their posts on social media. The newspaper they read on their daily commute. All of these things give us information about the way they like to communicate with others and how they like to be communicated with. Once we’ve gathered this information all we need to do is to play it back. To demonstrate that we understand them and that we can step into their shoes. There’s nothing manipulative about this approach, in fact I believe the opposite is true. When you communicate in this way you are showing huge respect for the other party and putting their needs above your own. Just like my daughter when we were reading The Forgotten Forest, the person you’re communicating with will feel special and heard.
So, next time you’re having a conversation think about how you can customise your content to put the person that you’re talking with firmly in the spotlight. If you do, I guarantee you’ll create a deeper connection and will be much more likely to get the outcome that you are looking for.