Episode 574 of Marketing Smarts makes it clear that a lack of communication skills can cost you a lot more than just personal relationships.
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"Companies can pour an enormous amount of time, effort, money, creativity into creating something, and then fall flat at the moment of truth, which is getting the point across to people," says podcast guest Steve Woodruff. "That's not only true of companies, that's true of individuals in career interviews and any circumstance."
And getting that point across, as it turns out, is much more than just putting words into the world. You have to stratify your ideas and share them in a brain-friendly way—design them, that is.
"Every single one of us, professionally and even in our personal life, we are all communication designers," Steve says. "We are designing with words some way to transmit ideas."
So what does that mean, to "design words"?
He continues: "We think that because we put something out, said something, spoke something, mailed something, we think we've communicated; but no, we can never assume we've communicated just because words went forth," he explains.
"Only when you're ready to see that and say 'I actually have to do more than dump words, I have to design words,' then you're ready to become effective."
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George B. Thomas: I hope you're ready, because communication is key. Communication needs to be crystal clear, especially when you're a B2B marketer trying to help market a product or service so that your sales team can generate revenue. Today we might even go past that because we're talking about navigating the power of crystal clear B2B communication by getting to the point. How many times have you been on a page, watched a video, and started to hear Charlie Brown's teacher? They weren't getting to the point.
Ladies and gentlemen, today I am sitting with Steve Woodruff and we are talking about the things that keep him up at night around B2B communication and marketing. We're talking about the hurdles, the success points, all of the things that you need to hear to bring your marketing more to the point, creating it to be crystal clear.
Steve Woodruff is known as the king of clarity. He has 37 years in the front line of sales, marketing, consulting, and entrepreneurship has uniquely equipped Steve to guide others in the principles and practices of clear and effective communication. Steve has deep experience in corporate training and workshop facilitation for a wide variety of companies from startups to top five pharma. Steve is the author of the business book Clarity Wins and the new book The Point.
He's the father of five young men, all now taller and much more handsome than he is, and lives with his wife of 42 years in the historic town of Franklin, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University back when computers still ran on punch cards. In other words, when we get to the words of wisdom, buckle up. Actually, you might want to buckle up right now for this entire episode.
Of course, you know I'm super excited because today we're talking about a conversation—Why am I dilly-dallying? Why don't I just get to the point? You'll understand what that means in a minute—navigating the power of crystal clear B2B communication by getting to the point, and I'm here with Steve Woodruff.
Steve, how are you doing today?
Steve Woodruff: I'm doing great. But I'm already intimidated because you're promising exhilaration here. I have to crank up the energy.
George: There we go. I'll do my best to give that part, you do your best to add value to the community, and I'm sure people will let us know this is the most amazing podcast they've ever heard in their life.
One of the things that I like to do is have a couple of fun little questions. I'm going to ask you for words of wisdom, I'm going to ask you for myths that you'd like to debunk, but I always like to start at the beginning of what the heck keeps Steve up at night. When you think about this idea of crystal clear communication, of people, marketers, businesses getting to the point, it could be a nightmare, it could be a dream, but what keeps Steve up at night?
Steve: I have both a nightmare and a dream about this. The nightmare is that companies can pour an enormous amount of time, effort, money, creativity into creating something, and then fall flat at the moment of truth, which is getting the point across to people. That's not only true of companies, that's true of individuals in career interviews and any circumstance. We can put an enormous amount of effort into this podcast, but if we don't get to the point and get the point across, it's labor in vain.
That is one massive huge nightmare that pervades all of business, really all of life. My dream is the opposite of that, to equip companies and people to be able to say very precisely, quickly, vividly, clearly, exactly what they're trying to get across so that it turns the light on.
George: I love that, vivid and clearly. By the way, turning that light on, I love when I'm in moments of light of my own or I see others like, "I got it." I love that we're doing that. We're going to try to do that with some of the questions that we're going to ask for the rest of the podcast. Before we dive into the good stuff, the deep end of the pool, one of the things that I love to do is level-set because words matter.
We're talking about communication. I could say something, you could say something, I could mean something entirely different and 20,000 people could hear even something different than both of us and what we're mentioning. So, I want to level-set when I ask the question. When we refer to communication strategies or effective communication strategies, how do we want to characterize this concept of crystal clear communication or getting to the point? Just define that for us as we move forward.
Steve: The point that I try to make with people is every single one of us, professionally and even in our personal life, we are all communication designers. We are designing with words some way to transmit ideas. We're either good at it or we're not good at it, but we are all communication designers.
My goal is to equip people to be effective communication designers. How do I craft words in a way that are brain-friendly, which is something that I explain in my books, and turn that light on quickly so that the point gets across rapidly?
You actually brought up one of the more interesting angles that I bring in my book, which is we can use the same words, but we might not have the same meaning. If we don't define and illustrate what we mean, we can assume that communication has happened when in fact it hasn't at all. That is one of the major reasons that I do what I do, because miscommunication is ubiquitous from either not getting any attention or perhaps sharing words but not sharing the meaning.
George: So interesting. My brain starts to churn when I'm in these interviews and thinking about things. Just because there are words coming out of your mouth doesn't mean that you're communicating. Communicating, I feel like it's a team sport, and there are ways to get people to play the game and ways to not. I want to lean into this next question to see if we can dig a little bit deeper.
When we think of this communication, getting to the point, turning the light on, us being effective communication designers, what are some fundamental aspects of getting to the point that B2B marketers should prioritize or integrate in their messaging and content creation process moving forward after this podcast?
Steve: I would say the biggest strategy that I promote is what I call information stratifying. When we are encountering too much information, when somebody wheels the truck up to our front door and drops the haystack instead of the needle, TMI, too much information is the biggest curse in all of communication. We are not, as communication designers, to dump unstructured information on people. That just shuts the brain off.
Instead, if you visualize a pyramid with three sections, to stratify means at the very top of the pyramid we want to get right to the point immediately. Here's what matters, here is what's relevant, here's what's important, get there in a few seconds because that's how much time we have to win attention. We want to have a distilled point.
Once we win attention with that distilled point, that buys us, that earns us the right to give a little more background, to give a little more bullet points, a little bit more of a story. Then that buys us the right to get into details. But if we don't stratify for people, we lose them because they don't know what's important, they don't know what's in it for them, so they shut down because there's a thousand other things to pay attention to and they're all more interesting than me, or even you, if I might dare say it.
George: You dare say it, that's fine with me. I think I might be losing right now in this podcast battle of the exhilaration portion. I almost fainted when you said are you delivering the haystack or the needle. I put that right down in my notes. Come on B2B marketers, you better listen up. Can I get an Amen on that point? There's a lot of people delivering a lot of hay. It's noisy and they're not getting to the point.
Steve, you just released a book called The Point. Between you and me, because I know nobody is listening right now, what's the point?
Steve: The point of this book is I believe every single person can become an effective communication designer, and that the principles of great communication design are universal because it's human-to-human communication. Whether it's marketing, sales, presentations, leadership, email, PowerPoint, writing a book, every form of communication and every role, it all depends on getting quickly to the point and effectively moving that point across into someone else's mind.
I have over the years developed a formula, and that's what the point of the book is, a formula that I call the Clarity Fuel Formula that has four rules and eight tools, and any human can be a great communicator by applying the same set of rules and the same tools, the same shortcuts, because all of our brains have the same kind of operating system and all of our brains want information in a certain way. Once we understand that, then we can be effective.
George: I need to go off the beaten path for a second. We'll get back to our originally scheduled program here in a hot minute. You just skirted past XYZ tools and XYZ rules. Can you dip into that just a little bit of a tasty tease of if we run out get the book, which I know I am, hopefully the listeners are, what's the rollercoaster ride that those tools and rules are going to take me on?
Steve: The rules are real simple. There are four things that you have to do in order to really make sure you're getting somewhere with people. First, you have to have a point. If you can't articulate in one sentence what the purpose is, the result, the intention, you're never going to communicate. It's amazing, many people talk and don't have a point. So, the first thing that we talk about in the book, and I have strategies for this, is to have a point, and here's how you create your point.
The second thing, and this relies very much on brain science, is you have to get to the point, and you have to do it very quickly because you're up against enormous competition. Your brain and mine and everybody listening, our brains are processing 11,000,000 bits of information per second from all five senses. That's our competition.
When you and I are focusing on one another, or on anything at all, that's 60 bits. That's all we can focus on is 60 bits. Our battle, the battle for attention is I have to win 60 bits against 11,000,000 bits of competition. That means I better be interesting, vivid, and relevant, right to the point, or I lose. People aren't going to wait around to find out.
How many presentations have you sat through where after about two minutes you're twiddling your thumbs, you're looking at your phone, you're thinking I wish this person would get to the point? We've all done it. That person has put an awful lot of time, effort, and expertise into creating that presentation, and then lost the opportunity by not getting to the point.
So, you have to have a point, you have to get to the point, and the third is what we talked about earlier, you have to get your point across to people. In other words, you have to turn the light on and arrive at meaning and understanding so that we are aligned in what we're actually saying, we're not just assuming that the words have the same meaning.
This is something I call the mental meta data problem. Every word, every thought has tags. We hashtag in our minds meaning and experiences and thoughts and feelings. You might say a word, I might nod my head, and we might have two totally different experiences, meanings, impressions about that word. As a communicator, I need to use as many vivid shortcuts as I can to make sure that I'm turning that light on. That's the third thing, getting the point across.
The fourth thing, and this sounds obvious that it's almost silly, is you have to get on the same page. The goal is to get people on the same page. In a meeting, we're not just talking to talk, we're trying to get aligned, we're trying to move to action, we're trying to actually move toward a result. A 30-second television ad for a drug, what's the call to action, what's the result? Talk to your doctor about X.
When we look at any form of communication, from email to advertising to anything, it's the same process. Have a point, get right to the point, get that point across, and let's get everybody on the same page. That's what we're doing when we communicate in any kind of formal way. I'm not talking about yapping across the yard and just informal discussions.
So, those are the four rules. Now, the eight tools are what I call the brain-friendly shortcuts. These are the tools we can use to help get the point across and awaken. They all start with S. In the book, it's statements, snippets, specifics, stories, stakes (what's at stake, the risks), symbols (symbolic language, which is a favorite of mine, you want to use illustrations and metaphors because those help turn the light on). George, you are the Mercedes of podcasters. What have I just said by using that one word? High quality, top, best, luxury, and it's memorable. See how that works? Then side-by-sides, here's this and here's the other things, look at these two comparisons. Then summaries.
Those eight word packages are what human beings have used forever to communicate effectively. I've just simply put it in a recipe book that if you want to be a great communicator, you use those eight brain-friendly shortcuts. The brain likes specifics. The brain loves stories. The brain loves symbolic language. We need summaries. Anybody can learn those things, use those things, and become an effective communication designer.
George: Ladies and gentlemen, we now return you to your scheduled program in progress. I'm just kidding. Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope you had your notepad out. If not, it's the official rewind point of this podcast. You need to list out those four rules. You need to list out those eight tools. More importantly, you're going to want to get the book because you're going to want to know more information about the eight tools and how to effectively implement them in your life.
By the way, I have to come clean. The Marketing Smarts listeners know this, but you don't. Steve, I have a problem. I really love Mythbusters. When it comes on, if it's a marathon, my wife is like bye, I've lost my husband for the day. But I love to ask the question of every guest about what's the myth. So, what is a misconception, something that you would want to debunk around this conversation of getting to the point or having clear communication that you're like, I'm just tired of everybody saying that thing?
Steve: I use a quote that has been often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but that's disputed. Nonetheless, whether he said it or it was somebody else, it's brilliant. "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
We think that because we put something out, said something, spoke something, mailed something, we think we've communicated, but no, we can never assume we've communicated just because words went forth. Only when you're ready to see that and say I actually have to do more than dump words, I have to design words, then you're ready to become effective.
It's that myth, the illusion that communication is automatic when we are competing with an endless array of noise and distractions, with 11,000,000 bits of information, with smartphones that people are checking from 100 to 350 times a day, with screen time up to 7 to 10 hours a day per person. Look what we're competing against. The idea that my email is going to get the point across, it better be good. I have some NFL-level competition every moment of every day.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope that you stop in your tracks right now. I hope that you heard, are you dumping words or are you designing them? The time to strategize, to stop or slow down, to realize everything that Steve is saying about the competition from the bits to the competitors to everything that is happening in life, again, it almost goes back to your haystack and needle, dumping versus designing. It is so good.
Let's give them some practical advice, some strategies, a blueprint, a framework, a little bit more of the tools, rules, and what you talk about in your book. I want us to go into this lane of enhancing their skill and getting to the point for creating clear communication for their audience. I feel like if we can just help them do that, we're making the world a better place.
Steve: Absolutely. That's the point of this book. This book is absolutely chock full of actionable tactics of how to do these things. I don't keep it theoretical or academic, I go right into here's how you do email, here's how you do presentations, here's how you do branding, here's how you do effective leadership.
You can apply these principles to every single form and modality of communication. In fact, the most radical thing about this book is it's actually written for eight billion human beings. We all have one competition, the noise and distraction, we all have one customer, the human brain, and we can all use one formula, one set of rules and tools, to win. This is a book for everybody.
The lowest hanging fruit when I do my workshops with my corporate clients is email. We all do email, we're all fighting the battle of the email inbox. The most important visual real estate is the subject line and the first sentence. If you don't in the subject and the first sentence give me a point of relevance, of interest, of immediacy, of action, you're competing with dozens of other emails flooding into my box.
What do we do with an inbox? We skim and delete. That's the point of opportunity. You can differentiate your message by bringing forward the most relevant thing right into the subject line. That's the most immediate change anybody can make is make your messages quick hit and stratify them, get that distilled essence, that top of the pyramid right in the first visual real estate, and then you can move on to the details later.
George: So good. I don't think I've used this amount of emojis in my show note outline of ideas to take away in my life, maybe ever. One customer, the human brain. Talk about simplifying the complex down. So good.
Based on your experience, because I try to have empathy as the host of the show, I can imagine we've taken them on a journey and they're like let's go, I want to do this, I want to be better. In your experience, what obstacles do humans commonly encounter when striving to streamline or empower their communication in an effective way, what gets in the way?
Steve: It's always the default setting, "I have to say more. I have to include more. I have to give more detail. I have to have an email with three different items instead of one item." In fact, one of the other changes I've made very severely in my own life, I tended to be more comprehensive in my emailing before, I figured you have to let people know everything. Well, the more themes or points you have in an email, the harder it is for anybody to respond.
Now almost all of my emails are very single theme, short, here's what I want, here's what I'm looking for, please give me this answer. The response level is so much different than when somebody has to plow through and try to figure out what are the three points that Steve is giving me and which one matters and I have to go find that. You know what's easier to do? Just delay, wait. That's what kills us, too much information, people shut down. I don't want to shut people down.
When I do a presentation, when I write a book, when I do a blog post, when we do a podcast, I want somebody to feel engaged immediately. I have this one sweet spot, this one moment of truth where I have to make sure that I've got you, and that means I have to give the what's in it for me right away. You know from sales that the what's in it for me is the important thing, tell people the benefits, not the feature, but in fact, it's not just sales, it's all communication.
The brain is asking one question, the operating system of the brain has one front end question, "What's in it for me?" That's why we have to lead with relevance. What the human brain wants, the reticular activating system in particular, which is the master filter that gets us from 11,000,000 down to the 60 bits, the RAS is the focus machine, and what it wants is what's in it for me right now. So, you have to lead your communication with something that grabs people.
George: I love that so much. I can think of magic moments in life where I've gone out of my comfort zone, been vulnerable, started a talk or session with something, and people are just bought in. So, I love what you're saying here.
I'm the type of guy that likes to see both sides of the coin. I asked you about the hurdles and what's going to get in the way. I also am a firm believer that we need to know where the bullseye, where we're aiming, what's the target, where are we headed.
What the heck does success look like? When we think about this getting to the point, clear communication, leveraging that we've heard today and what we might read in the book in the future, how can we measure success? How do we know we've gone from the you used to be a great communicator to you're a great communicator?
Steve: The measurement of success starts with defining what your point is. You have to begin with the end in mind. The reason why we begin with having a point is if you're going to move from A to B, you have to know what B is. That's the result, that's the thing we're looking for.
Whether it's open rates on an email, whether it's people passing exams after a training course, whether it's kids obeying their parents, this goes down to every single level, we have to know what we're aiming at and then see if we can have a result. But there's no way to measure a result that is vague. You can't measure fog. A lot of times, we're just throwing fog out there and we have no idea if we've succeeded because there is no way to even determine what we were trying to do.
I've never said that before, you can't measure fog. I like that. How do you measure fog?
George: I immediately wrote it down. I'm like wait, stop the press, Steve is talking fire. I immediately wrote you can't measure fog. It's so true. In the world that we live in right now, it is so foggy, noisy, there's just so much going around that it's hard to see in front of you where you want to go. I love this idea of how can you clear the fog, it doesn't need to be there, you shouldn't have to try to measure it because it can't be measured.
I love start with the end. I'm going to super simplify this, but if it was the alphabets, it would be like we are trying to get to Z, but what's my B after A, what's my C after B.
Steve: As you know, people get very frustrated with meetings that should have been an email or endless meetings. If the leader of the meeting took some time and said to themselves and then opened the meeting saying, "What we're going to arrive at after 45 minutes is we're going to come up with an outline of three points, this is our goal," instead of it being this free-for-all. Now you know what you're driving at, now everybody knows the purpose, now we know what success looks like. Success looks like we have written down these three things after 45 minutes. If it's all open-ended, it just becomes fog.
George: So good. Steve, this has been an amazing episode. I have loved this conversation with you. I know the Marketing Smarts listeners have gotten a ton of value. One of the questions that I like to ask at the end of the podcast, because I know we're all on a journey, and you have been on this communication, neuroscience, getting to the point journey, you wrote the book about it, so I always like to ask what are the nuggets that you've learned along the way.
The way that I ask this question is what are the words of wisdom that you would want to share with the Marketing Smarts Podcast listeners that you're like you just need to think about this or you just need to know about that? Steve, what are your words of wisdom?
Steve: I'll give you one. This will probably twist your head a little bit, but I've heard this quoted by more than one person. Dave Ramsey, the finance guru, uses it all the time. He says to be unclear is to be unkind. If we're not clear with our intentions, our expectations, with our words, we are actually being unkind. Clarity is a form of love. Being able to speak the truth or speak whatever with clear words and intentions is love.
I believe that whether it's teachers, preachers, corporate leaders, politicians, this is the way to be considerate to people is to actually speak in such a way that people can understand and know where you're going and what's going on. Many politicians practice obfuscation, which is fogging it up because they don't want to actually be clear, but man, I would love to have more and more leaders who know exactly what they're saying and say it right, say it simply, say it briefly so that we actually know where we're going.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Vin Turk about CTV precision, unleashing the power of ABM to reach the right B2B audiences, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on December 7, 2023
Steve Woodruff, the "King of Clarity." His 37 years on the frontlines of sales, marketing, consulting, and entrepreneurship have uniquely equipped Steve to guide others in the principles and practices of clear and effective communication. Steve has deep experience in corporate training and workshop facilitation for a wide variety of companies, from startups to Top 5 pharma. He is the author of the business book Clarity Wins and his new book, The Point.
LinkedIn: Steve (King of Clarity) Woodruff
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