Turn It Up

Repetition is the key to communication, and the key to communication is repetition.

When I was about 13, my dad taught me how to run the sound system during our church’s Sunday morning services. Our church has a fair number of older members (65+), so my dad gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget.

A lot of people have trouble hearing, so turn the volume up until you think it might be too loud, and then just a bit more.

That was really solid advice, and made setting levels easy. It helped me serve the whole congregation, instead of just myself.  It accounted for the fact that I was young – and my hearing was better than average – so that people with worse hearing would still hear everything clearly. It accounted for the fact that I was paying close attention to the sound – because it was my job to make it sound good – so it would still come through for anyone not concentrating so hard.

Without planning it, my dad gave me the single best piece of advice for communication that I’ve ever heard. And it’s not just useful for the sound tech. It’s relevant for recruiting volunteers, casting vision, and any area where a message needs to reach many people.

 A Lot of People Have Trouble Hearing

There are plenty of reasons someone might miss your message, and many – possibly most – are completely innocent. Let’s look at three.

People aren’t always where the message is. If a pastor makes an announcement from the pulpit on Sunday, many people will hear it. But not everyone is church every Sunday, and if your church has more than one service, announcements might get skipped or forgotten from service to service. Someone might arrive after the announcements part of the service.

Even if Sunday morning is the best time to make your announcement, a single announcement is unlikely to reach all of your congregation.

People don’t always pay attention. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just truth. Things catch our attention, more than one thing is happening at once (especially where two or more are gathered). If you only say something once, even if you spend a fair amount of time on it, it’s not safe to assume everyone present got the message.

Some people respond better to different forms of communication. We’re all wired differently. Consider an event invitation: some people want to read a flyer that covers all the technical details. Others will respond to a visual that appeals to the spirit and purpose of the event. Still others won’t feel any draw to the event until they’ve talked to someone who’s going. To the extent that we can, we want to reach all of them.

Turn Up the Volume

This is a metaphor, not a literal instruction. It doesn’t mean saying it louder or more emphatically. We don’t have to tell people “This is your chance to change the world forever!” when we’re looking for volunteers to wash the church’s windows. But those windows aren’t going to wash themselves – it needs to be clear that volunteers are needed.

There are two ideals here, and they can get in each other’s way, but once balanced, they will have a huge impact: repetition and variety.

The first two problems (not being where the message is and not paying attention) can be addressed by repetition.

  • Make announcements more than one Sunday in a row
  • Make announcements throughout the week.
  • Put it on your website
  • Put it on Facebook
  • Mail something out
  • Call your friends
  • Mow a sign into your front lawn

Be creative and assertive – the bottom line is that people who don’t hear your message definitely won’t respond to it.

Repetition has a weak spot, though. Humans have an incredible capacity for recognizing things we’ve seen before, and sometimes our reaction to them is “Oh, I’ve seen that, I already know what it is,” which leads to nearly automatically dismissing things we think are old.

When you’re repeating your message, it’s important to convey the same content but say it a new way. It might be as simple as rephrasing an invitation the next time you tweet about it, and it might be as drastic as switching from a text post to a music video to mailing people kittens with info cards in their paws.*

Repetition helps ensure that people see the message. Variety helps ensure that people connect with the message. You want both!

Until You Think It’s Too Loud

The biggest challenge of being in a leadership role, trying to promote something, is that you’re going to hit saturation with your message long before your audience does. If you’re planning an event, designing a project, or developing a vision for an organization, you’re going to be up to your neck in the idea. You might be working on it full time, or at least all of the time that you normally commit to the related organization.

Why is that a challenge to communication? Because it’s easy to forget how much you know that your audience doesn’t. You know all the buzzwords. You know all the people involved. You know the reasons behind the decisions, and they don’t. If you only communicate the stuff you need to hear, you’ll say almost nothing at all, and no one else will know what’s important or why they should care.

Make sure people hear everything they need to hear. Make sure you say it enough times that it sinks in. It’s easy to worry that people are going to get sick of hearing about something, but it’s going to take a lot longer than you think; they’re coming into it new, not with all the background that you have.

Just A Bit More

When in doubt, say it again.

You need to make sure that people receive the message, because we all have trouble hearing sometimes.

You need to make sure that people connect with the message, so the volume needs to be turned up.

You need to make sure that people don’t forget the message, so don’t be afraid to keep the volume up high.

Repetition is the key to communication, and the key to communication is repetition.

There’s much, much more to say (and say again), but for now, I hope this helps you turn the volume up. Please let me know your thoughts!

*Please don’t mail kittens.


One thought on “Turn It Up

  1. Eric Dye says:

    Awesome. I love it!

    I think the key to not appearing repetitive, is just as you have laid out: being creative in our communication. How many times have we watched an ad for McDonald’s? Yet you hardly hear anyone saying, “Ah man, how many times must they tell us about their food!?!”

    Great job. You should write for us sometime. ;-)

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