A barrier to effective communication, the Perfect Message Fallacy is the misguided attempt to create one message that offers something to everyone. Despite the best effort put into the messaging, it results in no value for anyone. A message easily ignored.

The gap between expectation and experience, much like the illusion of communication, leaves people confused, frustrated, and disconnected. It happens as much with internal communication as with external marketing and sales. It afflicts a lot of communicators regardless of their experience or the medium of delivery.

The attempt to craft the perfect message to speed efforts forward has the opposite effect: confusion that prevents people from understanding. Lack of understanding prevents action. For vendors, this means a longer sales cycle and a smaller deal. For internal teams, this results in rejected requests, diminished funding, and delayed projects and programs.

The quest for the perfect message

The daunting task of crafting a message to varied, multiple audiences leads communicators into a trap. Overwhelmed by the idea of creating tailored versions of the same message, they decide to create one message to meet the needs of everyone.

Packing in as much information as possible forces out context and other connective tissue. The focus turns from delivering a distilled message that resonates with the specific audience to spewing forth as much data and detail as possible.

It creates an information buffet and places all responsibility with the audience to choose what suits them. The expectation is that each person will consume precisely what they need out of the stream of information flowing by.

It doesn’t work as expected.

The experience of the perfect message

Panning for gold is a fun experience when exploring Alaska on vacation (truly, it is). For an audience with deadlines, stress, and a mound of work waiting for their attention, sifting through a mountain of irrelevant information to find a nugget of value is a task easily ignored.

While the experience promised value, the deluge of unfocused information caused the audience to tune out. Without the context to connect to something that matters to them, the best use of their time is to focus on other tasks.

Presenters attempting a “perfect message” often remark that the audience showed more interest in their smartphones, tablets, and laptops than the information shared. Chalked up as the challenge of engaging people today, it’s actually a sign of common communication and the perfect message fallacy.

Why the perfect message isn’t

Effective communication is a process, not a product. The process includes creating the right message, delivering it the right way, and navigating to mutual understanding.

The process requires the communicator to take responsibility for making the right decisions based on the audience. Each audience is likely to value different things, or to experience them in different ways. That requires the ability and effort to capture and distill essential information for each audience.

It is possible to have a set of key points for all audiences. However, the ability to deliver the right message and foster mutual understanding depends on using the right context, stories and examples relevant to the audience.

Avoid the Perfect Message Fallacy

Recognition that creating a perfect message is a fallacy is the first step. Taking time to distill key points helps to focus the effort. Capture the right elements, distill them, and present them to the right audience.

Establish a connection — the right connection — to present the information people care about, in the way they naturally absorb the information. Take people out of the buffet and treat them to a tailor-made feast of insight they are sure to enjoy.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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