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5 lessons in communication from a one-year-old

June 19, 2017

I spend a big part of my day talking to my daughter, Ayva. She’s at the language-learning age, so I encourage her to talk and to repeat what I’m saying, while hoping that her first word isn’t ‘fuck’.


Which it very well could be.


Our conversations are forcing me to look at communication differently: from the perspective of someone who is just learning how to.


By going back to basics, Ayva’s teaching me:

  • how to be a better, more effective communicator and

  • how to package my message so that it’s easy to comprehend


Here are a few communication lessons I’ve learnt from my one-year-old that I believe can strengthen any content:


1. Simple messages are more effective



This sounds obvious but toddlers are busy, preoccupied little people. Yes, they want to talk. But they also want to taste dog food and walk across a room without face-planting a wall.


Your audience is juggling a hundred balls at once. If you’re going to throw another one into the mix, keep it light. Content should be easy to consume and easy to understand, especially when there’s so many other things competing for our attention.


Also, don’t assume that your audience knows what you’re talking about. Some will but if your message is too complicated, you could frustrate them. It’s a fine balancing act between saying something simply and not insulting your readers’ intelligence.


2. If you want a message to stick, say it often



I say ‘okay’ a lot. I also say ‘fuck’ a lot. For now, Ayva seems to only have picked up the former. But it probably won’t be long until she starts dropping the F-bomb at granny’s house.


Depending on who you ask, the golden rule varies between seven and 20. That’s how many times you have to repeat your message before your audience retains it.


We speak about the “three key messages” in public relations. It’s what you want your audience to remember when they think about your brand.


By smartly building your key messages into all your content – and structuring your content around those messages – it won’t be long until your audience starts repeating you.


Which means you probably shouldn’t saying ‘fuck’ too much.


3. Know when to keep quiet and when to have meaningful conversations



Experts say that if you want to boost a baby’s language development, you should speak to them all day. I couldn’t tolerate the sound of my voice all day and I’m pretty sure Ayva couldn’t, either.


But we chat a lot about what we’re doing, what she sees in the garden, how to treat our pets. It’s meaningful conversation – and not just talk for the sake of it.


I also know when not to talk to her. Squishing a banana through your fingers or unravelling a toilet roll takes serious concentration. And there’s nothing more annoying than someone trying to chitchat when you’re busy with something else.


If you’re not talking to your audience, they’re not learning from you and you’re not learning from them.


Regular content and conversations keep your brand top of mind. But the wrong content, at the wrong time, is noisy and irritating. Talk about things your audience is interested in but make sure it aligns to your business strategy.


4. Toddlers think in pictures, just like any other person



We’re teaching Ayva sign language. She doesn’t know how to say “milk” yet but she knows the sign for it. Now she’s able to communicate at least one of her needs to us, without either of us getting frustrated because we don’t understand each other.


It’s not surprising, seeing as humans have been visual communicators since we were able to draw on cave walls. Today, emoticons are a universal language that everyone understands.


Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. So, if you want your content to have the maximum impact, give people something to look at: Pictures, videos, infographics.


Here are more interesting stats on visual content marketing in 2017.


5. Don’t be shy to tell your audience what to do



Ayva loves to dance to the QI theme song. We know it’s dance time when she points at the TV.


We’re also trying to teach her sequences. If she wants to hear her favourite song, the TV needs to be turned on. To turn the TV on, she needs to find the remote and give it to us.


Despite us doing this a hundred times (see point 2), we still need to tell her what to do and guide her actions.


Don’t assume that because you produce great content that your audience will do anything with it.


Sure, they might dance to the QI theme song all day, but they also might not think to tell their friends about how awesome the song is.


Tell them to tell their friends and they probably will.


To recap:

  • Keep content simple and easy to consume

  • Repeat yourself until your message sticks

  • Have regular, meaningful conversations; don’t just talk for the sake of it

  • Use images to convey your message more effectively

  • Tell your audience what you want them to do


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