Communications Expert Noah Zandan on the Art of Making Your Message Count

July 19, 2016 - Article reads in
Noah Zandan presents to team members on the Outer Spaces stage

Is it possible to pick the NCAA winner based on which coach gives the best pep talk, predict the outcome of a presidential race by who tells the better narrative, or determine the best way to say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day? It’s questions like these that inspired Noah Zandan, TED speaker and master of written and spoken communication, to dig deeper into the science behind effective communication.

A top innovator in the rapidly growing field of people analytics and behavioral intelligence, Zandan is the founder and CEO of Quantified Communications, an organization dedicated to studying, measuring and teaching the science behind the art of communication. The company creates algorithms to measure the data behind messages using structure of language. (How many words and phrases are used? What kinds? Is there jargon? Persuasive language? Facial expressions and gestures?) They’ve analyzed thousands of speeches and other content from visionary leaders around the world to find out how they talk and write, and what makes their communication effective. One client, a Fortune 10 CEO, calls the approach his “Fitbit for communications.”

Last week, Zandan joined Dustee Jenkins, senior vice president, communications, on Target’s Outer Spaces stage to share highlights from what he’s learned from studying the world’s top communicators, and met with Target’s Communications team to give them some pointers. (Noah’s experts even weighed in on this article—no pressure, A Bullseye View writers!) Here are a few of his tips, and examples from speakers who inspired them.

Use clear language that sounds like something a real person would say.
"Ditch the jargon—that’s my advice. When you speak in a natural way, people are most likely to understand. My fellow TED speaker Dan Pallotta made a great point on his blog: The way we talk in business, we call a doorknob an 'innovation in residential access.' People do it to sound more businesslike, but professionalism isn’t a synonym for complexity—it comes from tone, not big words. Don’t be afraid or feel pressured to filter or be formal because you’re at work.

My team found that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is one of the best and clearest communicators, both in writing and speaking. She’s in the 90th percentile of almost everything we measure. The great thing about Sheryl is she doesn’t speak over you; she’s clear and that’s why people engage with her."

Communication is personal, so you’ve got to own the message.
"There are leaders behind every brand, real people speaking on behalf of companies. So it’s OK to be raw, human, vulnerable and conversational when sharing a message. The most effective communicators use 57% more first-person nouns like 'I,' 'me' and 'my.' Putting emotion behind your words and using personal examples changes the conversation and helps you connect with your audience.

A strong example is Emma Watson—she’s an actress, but comes across as genuine in real life, as she did in her HeforShe campaign speech at the United Nations. Our studies show she uses 33% more pronouns than the average speaker. Another is basketball star Kevin Durant—check out his NBA MVP acceptance speech. Here’s this macho athlete standing in front of his colleagues, talking to his mom and crying, letting himself be vulnerable. That’s not easy, and it’s why people connect with him."

Be open and authentic when communicating, especially in tough times.
"Most successful leaders speak with authenticity, and that makes the message feel genuine. There are several ways to do this. Tell a really good story. Use masterful imagery. Use analogies to conjure up an image or idea in the audience’s minds. The best way is to put them all together. One of my favorite examples is WestJet’s Christmas video, which combines a touching story and great visuals to bring out emotion.

Another example? The Serial podcast. It’s a powerful story that uses emotional language to draw the listener in. Or then-CEO of JetBlue David Neeleman’s apology after thousands of customers’ planes were delayed during a Valentine’s Day snowstorm. These kinds of communications help the audience relate to an idea or message because it feels human."

Want more inspiration? Hear what more of our Outer Spaces innovation speakers had to tell the Target team. 

Don’t miss out on the latest Target news and behind-the-scenes happenings! Subscribe to our newsletter and get the top stories from A Bullseye View delivered straight to your inbox!