My father recently told me a story about an attorney whose work disappointed him. This lawyer knew all the facts for the case but was having a hard time communicating them to my father, his colleagues and to the judge. My father said to this lawyer, “You’ve got all of the facts, and you have all the pieces, but the way you’re communicating to people makes it almost impossible that they’ll be interested in what you want them to know. It’s as if you know the words, but don’t know the music. ”
As he told me this story, I realized his point applies perfectly to business. So, what does it mean to know the words but not know the music?
It means to provide facts without a plan for how the customer will understand those facts. It means to think that the content of what needs to be delivered is more important than the way it is delivered. It means to be more focused on what you’re saying than how it sounds to your customer.
Knowing the words but not the music is like believing that the information of a communication is what really counts. In reality, the actual information is only a small part of what makes people believe in and be persuaded by what you say.
Research shows that the words you say are very little of what people perceive. How you say things and the body languageyou use actually have a bigger effect on your communication than the words you use.
Showing you know the music means that you go beyond your mere words, and that the way you communicate your words recognizes how people listen and understand. Showing you know the music has much to do with the way you say things and when you say them.
The way you say things is the melody. Your expressions, tone and vocabulary communicate what you are saying. What can you do to bring excitement and interest to your words, the way a melody can add life to a group of musical notes?
When you say things is the rhythm, and it’s all about timing. The order in which you bring information to your customer’s attention, when you bring things in and the pauses you leave all have a powerful effect on what the customer actually hears.
Although the attorney above had the facts, the facts were buried in his legal brief, and it was impossible to find those facts unless you were to dig for them… and the judge would not likely dig for them. Similarly, your customer does not want to dig for facts. If you present words with no music, there’s a good chance that your customer won’t notice what you want her to notice.
Facts are very sterile, and they don’t sing for customers. Sterile facts poison many business presentations. I’m frequently hired to speak at company meetings, and I always try to hear some of the other speakers, who are usually company executives. What I inevitably see are dry facts crammed onto identical PowerPoint templates, and I hear people reading their slides in a dry, boring way. They are, of course, reading the words, but not singing the music. They’re not making their presentations palatable; they’re not making them interesting. They are going through the motions, reading the words but not making it clear they know the music.
When you go beyond the words and really know the music, you’re not just conveying information but creating an experience that makes it easy and inviting to hear your information and to understand it.
Words can be very boring and predictable. How often are you listening to someone, and you know exactly what they are saying a full minute before they finish talking? But the same words set to music can be very compelling. When someone is singing, it’s much easier to give your attention, because music adds so much more surprise and variety.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to literally sing your communications! But what you do need to do is take a cue from music, and ensure that the way you communicate information, along with the timing by which you communicate it, adds interest, excitement, passion and color, the way a well-performed composition makes a page of sheet music come alive.