Communication has the most impact when it is verbal, visual and in person on a topic important to all participants.
This summer, to my surprise, I encountered a stellar example on a tour of the Sept. 11 memorial in New York. Like many, I had seen on television the second skyjacked plane crash into 2 World Trade Center. As a CNN correspondent, I had worked in the original 1 World Trade Center, already collapsed, so I was glued to the TV for two weeks. I thought I knew the whole story, but I didn’t. The tour company promising a guide “with a personal connection” certainly delivered.
Ron, the guide in question, had been six blocks away watching when the second tower collapsed around 9 a.m. He was passionate, but not overly so, showing my fellow tourists and I photographs as he talked. He fielded our questions well, and we absorbed his informed testimony. Studies show the maximum time an adult can give a topic or task 100 percent attention is usually only 1½ hours. Ron filled two hours – most touchingly when he said, “It was the first day of school, so many dropping off their kids were late to work and, thus, survived.” As a mom who had sat in many carpool lines, I thought that fact was relatable, effective.
When Ron ended, I asked him, “How do you relive this regularly?” He responded: “I can only do it once a week. Otherwise, it’s too much.” I understood. After that, touring the museum alone was less intense.
Afterward, outside, where the reflecting pools rim the footprints of the two former towers, the visual hit hard – the overall impression being of a building falling, with pearl-like streams of water dropping into infinity representing each person who died. Then, each victim’s name is inscribed not in alphabetical order but, through incredible research, in a group with the people each worked and died with.
I will never forget that guide, covering his shivering at times, recounting that day 18 years ago now. Ron really wanted us to understand the ongoing need for all of us to be vigilant. That is the word I remember most. Home base messages are best short, like that.
In 20 years of coaching individuals to express their goals in interviews, résumés and cover letters/essays, I have never met a better communicator. Ron could have lost his message or composure at any time, but didn’t. His critical blend of information and emotion was clear. A perfect example for all of us seeking to communicate well. [ LN dingbat]
Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia.