The Preacher, The Farmer and Dynamic Communication

Dynamic communication is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to develop three basic communication skills.  You must become a great conversationalist.  You must write clearly and succinctly.  You must present well to groups of two or 200.

Roland Barth was on the faculty when I was a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  I once heard him tell a funny story about the farmer and the preacher.  Norm Kamikow, Editor in Chief of Chief Learning Officer Magazine repeated it in the September 2008 issue of CLO. It goes something like this…

“One bitter cold Sunday, an old farmer trudged for miles through a blizzard to reach the small mountain church he attended.  No one else showed up, except the preacher.

“Looking around the empty pews, the clergyman leaned over the pulpit and suggested to his lone congregant that it hardly seemed worth proceeding with the service with such a low turnout. 

"Perhaps we’d do better is we returned to our nice, warm homes and had a hot drink,’ he said in a tone that blatantly encouraged the old farmer to agree.

“The old farmer looked at the preacher and said, ‘I’m just a simple farmer, but when I go to feed my herd, if only one cow shows up, I sure don’t let her go hungry.’

“The preacher felt embarrassed and a bit guilty, so he conducted the entire service – hymns, readings announcements and a sermon.  The whole thing lasted over an hour.

“After the service, he said to the farmer, ‘I hope that met your needs.’

“The farmer said, ‘I’m just a simple farmer, but when I go to feed my herd, if only one cow turns up, I sure don’t force her to eat everything I brought for the lot of them.’"

I love this story.  Both Professor Barth and Norm Kamikow use it to make an important point about communication – in conversation, writing or presenting.  It’s important to adjust what information you deliver and how you deliver it based on who’s on the receiving end.

My good friend Steve Roesler calls this audience analysis.  Steve says that effective communication begins with understanding who your audience is, why he or she is engaging you, what information he or she may want, and how he or she prefers receiving it.

That’s some common sense!  I’ve seen many people become so enthusiastic about the information they have to share that they miss the fact that they are providing too much or too little to the other person, or that they have pitched it at the wrong level.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are dynamic communicators.  Dynamic communicators communicate well in conversation, writing and presentations.  Understanding your audience is key to communicating successfully with them.  The next time you find yourself in conversation, or are writing something, or are planning a presentation, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Ask yourself, “What does he or she want and need from me?”  Answer that question, and then give him or her what he or she needs and you’ll be on your way to becoming a dynamic communicator.

That’s my take on the farmer and preacher story.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts on these ideas.  As always, thanks for reading – and writing.


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