Communicate Better

Sydney J. Harris

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

This quote, by the former journalist Sydney J. Harris, explains all that you need to understand about what it means to communicate better.

But our would-be communicators, today, frequently conflate “transmission” with “communication,” assuming that once the message has been sent, communication has taken place. Infodite knows the truth. In fact, our first principle states that “the success of communication is not measured by transmission, but by reception.” But in order to receive any message, the recipient must undergo three processes.

Communicate Better:

Consumer research is informative. But be wary of surveys. They track beliefs, not behaviors.

1. Attention

Did you know that the conscious brain discards 99.995% of the data it receives through the senses (source: Encyclopedia Brittanica)? People are bombarded by an overload of information. If only for self-preservation, we filter and restrict information that is inappropriate, uninteresting, and irrelevant. This means that you can expect most of your message will either 1) be discarded or 2) be processed in the subconscious areas of the brain.

A good communicator’s job is to ensure that the message can get through the brain’s built-in filters. We call this “piercing the bubble”.

2. Comprehension

Any message that is cryptic, confusing, vague, or unfocused will fail. The audience is not interested in solving your puzzle. All good communicators, from politicians to filmmakers to journalists have long realized that the communicator needs to tell their audience what they need to know, then tell them, then remind them that they told them.

3. Retention

Even if a message has been received and understood, it will only be retained (and acted upon) if it contains relevant, interesting, and useful information. It must also be authentic. Even messages created for rhetorical effect need to be framed in authentic context.


Putting it to Work

These first principles are the foundation for what it means to communicate better. They are the basics. No matter what you will ever say, your message will succeed based on its ability to elicit attention, comprehension and retention. Always refer back to these principles.