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The Key to Engagement

"Engagement" has become an overused and misunderstood term. Engagement is not just about marketing, and the secret to real engagement lies deep within yourself.

As a communication coach, I often work with people to improve their messages and the way they deliver them (whatever the medium – written, verbal or visual) so they can be more effective in their jobs. However, if you really want to influence people (and make no mistake, that is the goal of a good deal of our communication, in both our work and our private lives), there are three underlying realities that you must take to heart.

The first is that you will never get your message across – and you certainly won't be able to influence anyone – if you don't have their attention. Period. And guess what: A person's attention is not something that is yours by right; it is something you earn – by being genuine, relevant and focused.

Second: It's much easier to influence someone when you understand their point of view. How else can you be sure your message is relevant to that individual or group? Doing this requires that you pay attention – in the same way you hope that the other person will pay attention to you – and that you put in the leg work to understand their interests, perspective and concerns.

Third – and this is based on a lot of solid research – people learn best, and the learning persists longest, when they are engaged with the material, whatever it might be. And the more senses they use in the process, the better.

The world of social computing has done a lot to focus our attention on this issue of engagement. This is a good thing. But successful engagement starts long before you go online. All of the things we've learned about online engagement apply to the rest of our interactions as well. Consider the following, from a 2009 blog post, and think about it in the context not just of your company's customers but your fellow employees, your family – whatever communities or individuals are meaningful to you.

When we are engaging others, we are not pushing content (products, services, advertisements), but rather we are conversing, asking for opinions, involving others in problem solving, idea and content development.

Engagement should be embraced by all leaders and all contributors in an organization – not just the marketing department. But real engagement requires humility and the willingness to be vulnerable, and too many of today's leaders have been trained in authority and certitude first. (If you've any doubt how powerful – and how difficult – it is to be vulnerable, watch this excellent TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability by researcher, story teller and social scientist Brene Brown.)

It's a very good thing that online marketing has put such a focus on engagement – it's changed forever the way consumers interact with companies, greatly improving the relationship in the process. Now let's take it into the rest of the organization and into our offline interactions. Our communications and our effectiveness will be better for it.

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