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Want to Become a Great Communicator? Watch TV…Carefully and Critically

One of the best teachers you have lives right in your own home. It's your TV. On it you will see the best and the worst. Hopefully you'll soon know the difference in a heartbeat. You will see and hear soundbites that are powerful, poignant, and persuasive. And you will experience the opposite as well.

If You Learn to Look at Your TV with a Critical Eye, You Can Learn Valuable Lessons on How To AND How To Not Effectively Communicate.

That's why, aside from frequently videotaping yourself (or having someone else do it) you can turn TV watching into a powerful, profitable exercise. I'm not saying watch mindless sitcoms, but newscasts. However, don't just watch for the news or information content.

Watch others to see how they dominate their message, or pitifully blow the opportunity. Watch to see how people who are interviewed rise to the occasion, or waste everyone's time. Watch and note what soundbites are used and how well or poorly they communicate. Focus on the ones that make the strongest point in the fewest words. Those are the home runs.

OK, can you do that for your organization, business, cause? If you can--fabulous. If you can't ...why not? The people who know their cause the best can explain it in the simplist terms. If you can't say what you do in two sentences, then you don't know what you do well enough. While you're working to improve your own message, continue to watch TV...but this time with a completely different goal.

Imitation—Borrow the Good Ideas

Ask yourself, is there anything they say about their subject that I can pirate? If their message resonates, ask why? Take the same structure and put in your words and adapt it to your organization or cause. What are the most effective TV interviewees doing that you aren't? Did they use a phrase, an example, or a mental image or picture that you can adopt for your message?

Paint Great Word Pictures

What similies and metaphors are they voicing that in 20 words or less hit right in the center of their main point? Sometimes their message will sound as oversimplified as a country hick, but you won't forget it either. They are probably not as naive as you think. They may have just mastered TV communication better than 95% of the population.

An example? We once had a very politically savvy mayor who was asked about the necessity of getting a solid, legally-binding contract before moving ahead on a multi-million dollar project. Asked if he didn't trust the parties when they gave their word on completion, his reply was classic. Although sitting at his huge oak desk wearing a more expensive suit than most people could afford, he replied almost like character from the country who was rocking on his front porch, whittling on a stick. "I do trust them, and I take them at their word, but I know I'll just feel a whooooole lot better when all the paperwork is done."

So the assignment is simple: Watch TV in a different way than you might have ever done before. Zero in on all the soundbites, good and bad. Then begin to develop your own ranking system on who shines and who misses completely. Then steal their best tactics and use them for yourself. The exercise could just prove to be one of the best teachers there is.

--Neal Browne, Expert Media Coach

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