The other evening, I attended a photography portfolio review and I was lucky enough to spend some time with the fantastic photographer and visual artist John Clang. Part of the session involved those of us being reviewed talking about our work. The series of photographs I was showing had both intellectual and visual layers that I did my best to express. I realised as I reflected later that with so much to say and show I had got wrapped up in my subject and hadn’t given people a simple path to access the work. It got me thinking about complex messages, mixed messages and even contradictory messages. Like the photo above.
Nobody sets out to give an unclear message (at least I hope not) but we still seem to manage it all the same. Look at the photo, it looks like the current message is DRIVE, but looming very large in the background layer is the message PARK. It makes me think of corporate strategy, of vision and values. The corporate message is DRIVE, but the layer of culture in the background says PARK. Or maybe you’re a leader talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Your mouth says DRIVE but your actions say PARK.
The learning here is to always think about the context in which you are communicating, the people you are communicating with, and to be very sure about what you are trying to get across. Can you express it clearly and simply in a way that is consistent with your context and pitched specifically for the people you are engaging with? All the layers have to line up.
Before you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboard, see if you can answer these questions:
Is what I want to communicate consistent with my other messages and our context at work? If not, how am I going to explain that?
Who am I communicating with? What do they already know? How do they feel about this subject? What frame of mind are they likely to be in?
Can I summarise what I want to say into a couple of simple points that are meaningful to my listener/reader? (You can always expand on that later, but will your main point be clear?)
I’ll be taking my own advice the next time I talk about some photographic work. I will be sure to keep it simple, just talk about why I shot it and let the viewers’ eyes and minds do the rest.