Do you like country music? I used to hate it. Every time it came on the radio, I turned the station. At least I used to until my 16-year-old son started listening to it. That’s been a good thing because now I see how much country music and good communication have in common.
Whether it’s at home or at work, good communication is about creating connections. When this happens, you touch a chord that is personal and real. Your audience is there with you, feeling what you feel, thinking what you’re thinking. For just a moment, they have stepped into your shoes. This is when you prevail over everything else and for at least a moment or two, this connection is everything. That’s what country music does by using heartfelt emotion, simplicity and a relatable story.
Let’s break it down.
Tell a story. If you want your audience to relate to your message, tell a story. When you’re done, your audience should say: “That could be me,” or “I’ve been there,” or “I want to be that person.” When the audience emotionally connects with your story and sees your humanity, your message makes more sense and sticks. Have you heard Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me? This was a mega hit about longing to go back to the place she grew up and the memories it holds. “I promise I won’t take nothing but a memory.” Can’t we all relate to the pull of simpler times? The magic of this song is that the story is so vivid you experience it for yourself.
Your story can be serious or funny, but it must be relatable and emotionally honest. If you’re going to use a story as a central part of your communication, you need to know it cold and practice it in front of others you trust. Ask for their feedback to see if it’s having the impact and meaning you’re going for. Your story can be a powerful moment for your audience and by developing it you will accelerate your growth as a communicator. (For an example of how storytelling was used in a blog, read this one. How we can add value and grow with the company.)
Hook ’em. Have you ever had a song you can’t get out of your mind? You want to stop thinking about it, but you can’t. The hook keeps running through your brain. Country music uses great hooks. This communication tool isn’t self-conscious; it doesn’t try to be intellectual. It’s simple and you get it right away. Maybe you’ve heard Roger Miller’s old school, King of the Road? If you haven’t, this is a story of a guy down on his luck but chooses to revel in his freedom and independence. The music is catchy and the line you will remember is just four words – King of the Road. It pulls you right in. The best hooks are easy to say and easy to remember. Brevity is powerful.
What are your “hooks” when communicating? While they may not be as colorful as Roger Miller’s, your hook can be just as effective. What theme or action do you want them to focus on? Summarize it in a few simple, repeatable words and use it over and over. Jim Collins did this when he titled his book Good to Great. It takes effort to find just the right phrase, but when you nail it, it’s yours and it pays.
Simplicity. If it takes a lot of words, complicated slides or too much explaining, you’re lost before you started. In Love Like Crazy, Lee Brice sings, “Be a best friend, tell the truth and overuse I love you.” Don’t these simple phrases just make sense? It’s the basics of life summed up in a few easy phrases. How do you use simplicity to your advantage in the corporate world? Focus on the essentials; pare out extra words and phrases; nix the corporate jargon; talk like a human being. Think about how you like to be communicated with and use that to re-frame your own efforts.
From the heart. Perhaps the biggest draw of country music is the emotional connection of talking straight from the heart. This isn’t for every situation in corporate life, but there are times when a heartfelt message is appropriate and meaningful. Be open to sharing your vulnerable side and show people your humanity and empathy for others. This builds respect and invites people to listen. They see you are human and are treating them the same way. For this example, I like Ring of Fire written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore. You can feel the angst of June and Johnny falling in love. It’s honest, tells a story and it’s clearly from the heart. It still one of best known country songs in the world and it was written in 1963.
Do you want to up your communication skills? Country music may not be your thing, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. Challenge yourself by trying some of these tips. Take something you want to communicate and use one or two of these approaches. See how your communication changes when you simplify, be human or tell a story. Watch how people respond when you and your audience connect.