In Leadership Communication, Content Is Not King

Why Content Isn’t KingSOME of my executive clients believe, instinctively, that content is king. They maintain that “useful information” is a crucial driver of effective leadership—that their job is primarily to educate and inform their teams with facts and figures.

As a result of this information-centric mindset, these leaders:

  • Read the content on PowerPoint pages but don’t explain why it matters
  • Convey data points but not the point of the data
  • Define and describe a campaign but don’t champion its potential impact
  • Focus on what they want to say, not on what their team needs to hear

This inclination to inform may come from believing that information is inherently influential, whereas messages of inspiration are shallow and fluffy. But think back to the last time a communication inspired you. Were you inspired by long paragraphs or a memorable point? By content or commitment? By details or dedication? By a book’s table of contents or its blurb?

In each of these examples, the former informs, and the latter inspires.

I’m not saying information isn’t valuable. It is. Information may critically educate and enlighten. It also fills in gaps in understanding and provides essential context and updates. But while information informs, it doesn’t typically inspire.

The Greatest Communicators Pair Knowledge with Inspiration

Executive communication coach and author Laurie Schloff, whose clients include Bain Capital, Fidelity Investments, and Allstate, says that although many of her clients are experts in their fields, their greatest communication successes pair knowledge with inspiration.

“One of my clients tended to focus on facts, research, and statistics about their product’s ingredients, which was interesting to them but overwhelming and boring to their audience of prospective customers,” Laurie told me. “With coaching, these executives shifted the focus of their communications from merely informative descriptions of their product to influential and inspiring messages about the health, well-being, and environmental impact of the product, resulting in a measurable increase in online sales.”

While subject matter experts are qualified to share content, leaders have the official requirement of inspiring a team through clear and succinct expressions of hope, vision, and purpose.

What might pairing information and inspiration look like in your business? Here are a few examples:

“These statistics indicate where we should be focusing our efforts in the fourth quarter.”

  • The information: Statistics
  • The inspiration: The impact of the statistics

“These three tactics will drive us toward our goal of becoming a much more diverse and inclusive organization.”

  • The information: Three tactics
  • The inspiration: The result of adopting the three tactics

“Understanding how we got started gives us the best clues on where we should go next.”

  • The information: The history of our organization
  • The inspiration: The beneficial lessons we can extract from our history

Three Questions to Keep Your Communications on Target

To ensure you’re focusing on inspiration—and not just information—in every communication, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is this communication something my audience needs to know, or merely something I want to say? Always consider the needs and expectations of your audience. Your job is to have your point successfully received, not just recited.
  2. Is this communication “need to know” or simply “neat to know”? Scrutinize your point to make sure it isn’t trivial or tangential to your team’s work. Imagine the point as a motivational poster in their offices or cubicles.
  3. Am I emphasizing the “why”—how this point impacts their professional lives? The “why is this important” isn’t your audience’s job to figure out; it’s your job to explicitly convey. Imagine yourself in their shoes to understand how you want them to receive and apply your point.

Ultimately remember that you’re a leader, not simply a subject matter expert. When you focus on inspiration, not just information, you’ll find yourself engaging and inspiring your teams to follow your lead as well as your content.

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