You are the message

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I’ve just finished reading a book that was written in the 1980s and like big hair or grindingly depressing economic news much of the advice contained in its yellowing pages seems to be back in vogue.

Roger Ailes wrote You are the message in 1989 and although it’s primarily about speaking in front of an audience, there’s a wealth of communications & PR advice that’s still relevant today.

In fact, Ailes himself defines an ‘audience’ as anyone more than yourself. It could be two colleagues in a meeting or a million people watching on TV.

So much of this advice can now be translated into modern communications work whether it’s developing strategic messages, issues management, media relations, giving interesting presentations or simply holding better meetings where all parties understand each other.

One thing that really strikes me is the importance he puts on two way communications and transparency – way before the advent of all seeing social media. This quote almost feels prophetic:

“The leaders of the next ten years will no longer be able to maintain low profiles. They will need to function comfortably in a communications arena very similar to that of today’s politicians. This arena will be wide open to public scrutiny and will require the winning of goodwill.”

The book does come with a couple of caveats though because a lot of the cultural references and personalities he uses as examples of good/bad communicators died before I was born. The attitudes to women in the workplace are also a bit Mad Men but if you can put that to one side there’s some great learning.

Here’s a few snapshots:

· People make up their minds about you in the first 7 seconds. That time is vital in any communications.

· “The best communicators NEVER changed their style of delivery from one situation to another”

· The trick in good communications is to be ‘consistently you at your best in all situations’

· Don’t change yourself to suit the environment but become comfortable with yourself wherever you are. You are the message.

· In any communication you should listen more than talk. In fact the ratio should be at least 60:40.

· Always plan exactly what you will say at the very start & very end of any communication – especially presentations or speeches.

· The best communicator is the human communicator.

· The audience generally wants you to succeed, not fall flat on your face.

· All good communication starts with good conversation.

· In any mass communication there are 4 rules. You must be: prepared, comfortable, committed and interesting.

· Decide on a central theme or strategy for your communications work. If you can’t write it on the back of a business card it’s too complicated.

UPDATE: Since reading the book I’ve seen that the author is now president of Fox News which makes for a perverse end to this post.

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6 thoughts on “You are the message

  1. Interesting comment “The best communicators NEVER changed their style of delivery from one situation to another” and if I’m honest surprised me

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  2. Don’t change yourself to suit the environment. I like this – it reminds us to have faith in who we are. I work in financial services delivering Plain English workshops. I don’t follow convention in my appearance or the things I say; I am and always will be a bit quirky. But I have learnt that people appreciate this. It makes a refreshing change!

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    1. Thanks Rebecca. I do think there’s a lot of pressure to conform or behave in a certain in way that often leads to poor communication. Authenticity is much more effective

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