Why communication is like tennis; and how to excel at both

14th October 2014

“Andy, you are rubbish at this.”

So said my Tennis Coach, Vicky, last week.

She wanted to know what was going through my mind every time I hit the ball. So, had asked me to shout “good”, “bad”, or “Ok” every time I hit it.

Now, I’m not very good at tennis. So, I shouted “Good” if I got it over the net and “Bad” if I didn’t. But she told me:

Your objective is not just to get it over the net. You’re supposed to hit it where I’m not. You aren’t just trying to get it in; you’re trying to win the point.”

To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed I needed this pointing out! In fact, I’ve since found out that everyone else in the world knew this.

But, as soon as I changed my focus, my game improved – almost immediately. I now know what “Good” looks like. So I’m aiming for it. And often achieving it.
And the relevance to communication?

  1. Well, if you had to grade each of your communications as “good”, “bad” or “Ok”, how would you decide which each was? Would it be whether your communication:
  2. Covered all the agenda items?
  3. Finished on time?
  4. Engaged the audience?
  5. Had 100% attendance?
  6. Was better than last week’s?
  7. Wasn’t derailed by detailed discussions about irrelevant issues?

All these are useful, yes. But they aren’t the true measure of good communication.

So, my version of Vicky’s advice:

Your objective is not just to communicate. You’re supposed to trigger actions as a result. You aren’t just trying to say things. You’re trying to cause things.”

And, once your focus changes to this, like my tennis, your communications will improve – almost immediately. You now know what “Good” looks like. So you aim for it. So will often achieve it.

If I’m being brutally honest, even though I’m focusing on the right things now, Federer could probably still beat me. Probably.

But that’s fine. I’m better than I was. And I always aim for success, not perfection. And, now that I’m focusing on the right thing, I keep improving.

What about you? Will your communications be better today than they were yesterday? Well, if you focus on the right thing – their impact, not their content – you’ve got a great chance.

Action point

For your next communication today – whether it be an email, conversation, meeting, conference call or presentation – ask yourself “What do I want people to do after this?” Then ensure your content maximises your chances that they’ll do so.

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