The mechanics of explicit communication at meetings

explicit communication Last week I shared five ways explicit communication improves meetings. If we lived in a world where sharing a clear message guaranteed that every recipient received it and took it to heart—well, our lives would be a lot less complicated.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. So here’s a guide to explicit communication mechanics that increase the likelihood that people receive and act on your messages.

Explicit communication mechanics summary

To maximize the likelihood that people receive and act on a message you send:

  • Determine the best communication channel(s)
  • Choose the best time(s) to communicate
  • Make sure your message is clear
  • Find out whether your message has been received
  • Repeat messages appropriately.

Determine the best communications channel(s)

Think about the best channel(s) to communicate your message. Here are some examples.

  • You have important information to convey to attendees, presenters, or exhibitors before an event. You might use email, bulk texting, in-app messaging, website updates, or even social media.
  • You’re an emcee on stage and you need to remind folks about the time and place of the evening social. You’ll probably speak to your audience. (But perhaps you’ll sing, or use physical comedy!)
  • The meeting schedule changes mid-event. You might use electronic signage, app push messaging, or hallway announcements to let people know.

Before you choose from available channels, consider timing and repeat messaging factors, as described below.

Choose the best time(s) to communicate

A mistake I’ve made more than once is to try to share information at the end of a session while people are starting to leave. Typically I’ll indicate that the session is over and then remember there’s an announcement I forgot to make. Unfortunately, listening to me becomes a low priority when attendees have already turned their attention to standing up and thinking about where they’ll go next.

To maximize explicit communication in such circumstances, what I try to remember to do is:

  • Preparing recipients to receive a message makes it more likely they’ll receive it. So, prepare attendees at the start of the session. (“At the end of this session I have an important announcement about XYZ.“).
  • Make a clear statement right at the end of the session. (“We’re going to wrap up, but first please listen carefully to this important announcement…“)

Part of a communications plan, therefore, includes choosing the best times to prep folks for receiving and then delivering your messages.

Having a plan is important, but not necessarily sufficient. You also need to monitor the real-time environment and be prepared to alter your plan. As a facilitator I sometimes change the processes I’m using to meet uncovered participants’ needs. Or a portion of a session may take more or less time than expected. When such things happen, you may need to change the timing of your communications on the fly.

Make sure your message is clear

Obviously, if people don’t understand your message your communication will fail. Whenever possible, test the clarity of a message in advance. For example, I try to test instructions I’ve developed for new group work processes with a small group before using them with 600 people. And don’t forget that messaging isn’t restricted to verbal communication. I remember a maze-like conference center that had a totally inadequate printed floor plan. Even though I spent the day before the event familiarizing myself with the layout, I still had a hard time figuring out how to get from one room to the next. Not surprisingly, many attendees got lost and were late for sessions during the meeting.

In addition, to make sure your message is clear, check for understanding right after delivering it. Saying “are there any questions?” and giving people enough time to respond before continuing is the least you should do. For maximal communication use Ask, Tell, Ask, where you ask what questions people have, share your answers, and then ask what they understand.

Find out whether your message has been received

One of the best improv exercises I’ve done really brought home the importance of checking whether people have received a message. In 2016, I played the game “You” at a five-day improv retreat held by Mindful Play, Playful Mind. Here’s what I wrote about playing “You”, though, like all improv, you have to experience the game to fully get its point.

What the game vividly illustrates is that you have to get people’s full attention before you send a message, and then check with them to make sure they’ve received it. Make sure you do this!

Repeat messages appropriately

Finally, remember that repeating messages appropriately increases the likelihood people will receive and absorb them. Despite your best efforts, there are countless reasons why folks may miss a message. A potential recipient might be immersed in a side conversation, worrying about a family situation, on a bathroom break, etc. Repeating messages, especially important ones, makes it more likely people will hear or seen and act on them.

How often to repeat a message depends on its importance, the environment, and the level of attention at the moment you share it. There’s no right answer. Some people are great at receiving messages; some need to be hit over the head with a stick. In general, it’s better to repeat a message a little too often (with the risk of annoying some) rather than not enough (with the risk that many won’t receive it.)

If available, use multiple channels for your messages. For example, communicate a schedule change with session announcements, in-app messages, and meeting signage. People will generally understand your desire to get the message out in various ways, and it’s more likely people will receive it successfully.

You can’t please everyone

You can’t please everyone. However well you fashion and deliver your explicit communication, some people won’t get the message or act on it. (It’s sobering that despite media saturation of the message that voting is important, about a third of registered U.S. voters don’t vote.)

Nevertheless, maximizing the likelihood that people will receive and act on your messages at meetings is important. I hope that this post gives you some ideas for improving communications at your meetings.

Do you know other ways to improve explicit communication at meetings? Share them in the comments below!