inCredible Messages Blog

Overcome the Top Communication Mistake

As you know, researchers are continually discovering new things about how human brains work. In his book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, Dr. John Medina focuses only on those findings scientists can reliably replicate.

Medina’s book is well worth reading. His points regarding attention and communication are especially relevant to leadership communication. Consider the following quote (italics mine):

“The most common communication mistakes? Relating too much information with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force feeding, very little digestion.”

I encounter this force-feeding mistake when I work with coaching clients who are preparing to speak at conferences or in boardrooms. In virtually every case, these clients begin with an overwhelming number of points. They have so much to say, and they struggle to say it all. The internal urge to get all our data out is strong, no matter the time parameters or audience members’ attention spans. Unfortunately, conveying data won’t keep a listener engaged or help him or her to remember or respond positively to your message. To get these results, you have to guide your listener in connecting the dots and applying the data.

David Zinczenko is a master at this process. He is the creator the Eat This, Not That! series of books, which help make healthy choices at popular restaurants. A regular talk show guest, Zinczenko is the author of 14 New York Times bestsellers, with more than 10 million books in print. If you haven’t seen Zinczenko in action, try watching him on YouTube.

In one example (, Zinczenko wants to warn viewers against ordering the Double Pan Fried Noodles Combo at PF Chang’s. Zinczenko informs his viewers that this dish has 1820 calories, 84 grams of fat, and over 7000 grams of sodium. Okay, that’s the raw data, but Zinczenko doesn’t expect the data alone to engage or persuade.

To persuade his viewers to avoid this dish, Zinczenko zeros in on the sodium involved. Over 7000 grams of sodium, he explains, is a week’s worth. This is equivalent, he says, of 22 orders of the large size of McDonald’s French fries. To drive the point home, Zinczenko pulls out a prop—a tray filled with the 22 orders of fries.

After a pause for the comparison to register, Zinczenko suggests that viewers order PF Chang’s Beef with Snow Peas, which will save the diners 5000 milligrams or 1 weeks’ worth of sodium.

Consider the power in Zinczenko’s technique. He

  • Makes a recommendation (Avoid the Double Pan Fried Noodles Combo)
  • Provides the raw data that support this recommendation (calories, fat grams, milligrams of sodium)
  • Explains the meaning of that data (this one meal has an entire weeks’ worth of sodium)
  • Provides a comparison to clarify and dramatize his point (this one dish we don’t know well has the sodium of 22 large fries at McDonalds, which we know very well—and would never eat at one sitting)
  • Recommends a practical action step in light of the information he has presented (order the Beef and Snow Peas instead)

Once of the most powerful phrases that Zinczenko and other top-notch communicators use is, “This means . . . .” Rather than simply provide raw data, they guide the listener to connect the dots and draw relevant conclusions. Next time you have data or complicated facts to present, don’t stop until you’ve explained what the raw information means in light of the priorities of your listeners or readers. Follow “this means” with “now what” (a recommendation), and you are communicating like a leader–one that engages your audience and gets results.

Posted by Bonnie Budzowski in Multipurpose Content.


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