In a world of virtual communications, competition for attention is fierce, and it’s not easy to figure out how to be heard. Fame or notoriety can help, but how do the truly successful communicators get attention and keep it? I call them Noisebreakers because they use critical skills to break through to their audience and distinguish themselves from those whose communications get lost in the noise. A Noisebreaker is either a thought leader, taking the conversation in a novel direction that drives change, or they are an expert, communicating effectively with their provocative wisdom. How do they do it? Here are some of the ways.
If a message can’t be conveyed in a sentence, it probably won’t get through the noise. While Noisebreakers often have more than one message, each of their points can be stated succinctly, which makes them more likely to be remembered.
Brené Brown has made a name for herself on the issue of vulnerability and shame. Hearing her speak, reading her books or following her social media, we know that vulnerability is not weakness, and it is critical to creating authentic connections. Her stories are relatable, messy, and inspiring. Her latest foray into driving compelling clarity can be found in her podcast Unlocking Us. In her Netflix show, she shared how she almost did not do her TED talk on the power of vulnerability. Thank goodness she did, it clearly resonated with over 50 million views. Her ability to leverage research and storytelling to provide compelling clarity on her message has fundamentally changed how we think about being vulnerable.
Simon Sinek also has a clear message – understand your “why” because people aren’t inspired by your “what” they are inspired by your “why.” These Noisebreakers have distilled their thinking into clear, concise messages. His TEDxPugetSound talk, How great leaders inspire action, has been seen over 50 million times since 2009.
A Call To Action
A Noisebreaker thinks of their communications as a dialogue – engaging with their audience and expecting a response. That response need not be directed at the Noisebreaker. In fact, it may encourage the listener to focus elsewhere. The existence of an actionable take-away in the message creates a relationship of accountability between the Noisebreaker and their audience. “If my words inspire you, then you should act.”
Through his manifesto, the Gospel of Wealth, Dale Carnegie exhorted fellow members of the most wealthy elite to give their fortunes away to good causes. His message is emulated today by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates in the Giving Pledge. These Noisebreakers shared a philosophy about philanthropy that they underscored with a specific call to action.
You would have trouble naming a successful public speaker who hasn’t also published a book. Noisebreakers understand that a message works better when it is delivered in multiple media. Brené Brown is not alone in promoting her messages this way.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is another example of a public figure who has mastered multiple forums – she uses social media, her microphone on Capitol Hill, and her public appearances to convey her stance on the political issues of the day. Like her or hate her, she is an indelible part of the contemporary political landscape in part because she makes herself accessible by anyone interested.
Steve Jobs didn’t just revolutionize the computer industry’s approach to the user experience, he also understood the need to introduce Apple’s stylistic philosophy as well as its technological developments in an annual, public unveiling. It simply isn’t enough to pick one forum and stick to it. To break through the noise, the message needs to be conveyed in various forms.
Know Your Audience
All the brilliance and enthusiasm in the world can get lost in translation. Connection requires some points of commonality, which can only happen when the communicator knows their audience and speaks to them. Imagine the brilliance of the performer in Roberta Flack’s song “Killing Me Softly,” who made her feel as if he’d “read her letters and played each one out loud.”
In the real world, Senator Mitch McConnell knows what motivates his base, and he speaks to their interests when he promotes a particular agenda. A Noisebreaker does more than convey their message; they do so in language that engages with their audience by speaking in terms and concepts that appeal to them directly.
Amplify and Elevate
For a thought leader to create impact around their paradigm, they have to reach their followers. For an expert to achieve influence, they have to establish themselves with their audience. The Noisebreaker in both these contexts needs to break out of the pack by raising the level of discourse and using available resources to be heard.
Reese Witherspoon wants to advance women in film. Instead of simply speaking to the issue, she founded a women-backed film company, modeling the behavior, and leveraging her fame to get the message out.
In my own work on having difficult conversations, I break with the common wisdom that difficult topics like politics and religion should be avoided. Instead, I focus on how to have these conversations through multiple case studies that model the approach I am trying to advocate.
As we mourn her death, Ruth Bader Ginsberg stands out as life-long a Noisebreaker. Her messages promoting gender equality and civil rights were articulated in clear, compelling language that she shared through her work as an attorney and Supreme Court Justice, through speaking engagements and in her writing. She had the ability to adapt her tone and her arguments to the men holding power and to the people she fought tirelessly to empower. For example, while an attorney, one of her cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court concerned the rights of a husband to certain government benefits that had been allocated solely to wives. Leading from the front, with a message of change and equity, she garnered the respect of her adversaries and became idolized by many.
This website and this blog will be dedicated to Noisebreakers: who they are, how to become one and more will be discussed. I look forward to your thoughts on the topic, so feel free to reach out with questions or comments.
© 2020 Jennifer Dalton
Jen Dalton is a personal brand specialist with entrepreneurship in her DNA. She helps business owners and executives define how they show up as leaders, make the most of their strengths and tend to their legacy, growth and visibility. The author of two books, frequent speaker, podcaster and “Purpose Sherpa,” Jen is a critical resource for any person or company that wants to define their brand and differentiate themselves in authentic, credible, and relevant ways to the market.