Persuasive communication - Presentations

Your Message Does Not Belong to You Anymore


Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, is not happy that Paul Ryan likes his band. Morello says Ryan “is clueless” about the band and what its lyrics stand for.

I’m even more clueless, because until today I had barely heard of RATM, and had never heard of Morello.

But the most clueless in this scenario is Morello, along with so many other entertainers who get upset when “the wrong people” like their music or when they take meaning form their lyrics that was never intended. Springsteen is embarrassed that Chris Christie is one of his most ardent fans, and while I love Jimmy Buffett and would love to sit down and have a margarita with him, I would be very careful not to discuss politics. (Although we do agree on manatees.)

Here’s a newsflash for musicians—and for everyone else: once the message leaves your lips, it doesn’t belong to you anymore.

Your message does not belong to you anymore. Once your message hits your listeners’ brains, it ricochets wildly around their existing attitudes, models and memories, finally coming to rest who knows where. Communication is about your listener. Every listener is different from you in some way, so there is always a certainty that they will interpret your message at least slightly differently than you intended. Multiply that by thousands of fans, and you have an almost infinite number of varied interpretations.

Would Jesus recognize the interpretation of his message today? Would Lincoln, or Gandhi?

So, what does this mean to you as a communicator?

  • Unlike a rock star, you can make the effort to learn and understand as much as possible about your audience to make sure your message is tailored for the best fit.
  • Unlike a rock star, you have the advantage of being able to pay attention to your listener, to ask questions, or to reframe or rephrase your message as necessary.
  • Unlike a musician, you’re not solely in transmission mode all the time—or are you?
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