Have you ever tried to explain something to someone and completely failed to get your point across? Have you tried to simplify a complicated concept for someone else and gotten nowhere? Supercommunicator's subtitle is "Explaining the complicated so anyone can understand." Since I'm like many people and sometimes run into trouble trying to explain something that I understand so someone else can understand it, I was very interested to see if this book could teach me how to communicate more clearly. Did it live up to my expectations? Let's see.
A simple guide… or maybe not
The author begins by bragging about himself for several pages, which took me a little by surprise. I'm accustomed to authors laying out their credentials in an appendix or an Author's Notes section or even in blurb form on the book jacket. It appears that Mr. Frank J. Pietrucha wants everyone to know about all his accomplishments, as an introduction to his book.
That might work if the introduction were written in clear, simple language—but it's not. Here's some sample text: "My job is to make sure my clients' concepts are articulated in a way that brings meaning to their ideas and turns the complicated into something understandable." As someone who once wrote software manuals, translating programmer-speak into everyday English, I would have said "Sometimes concepts that make perfect sense to my clients are too full of jargon for others to grasp. My job is to make sure everyone can understand what my clients are talking about." The last part of the introductory chapter was where I probably would have stopped reading the book if I had not been asked to review it. See what you think: "Ideally, most of my suggestions would be embraced by a world ready to communicate complicated content more effectively. But in actuality, some organizations cling to the formality and stilted ways of yesteryears. Your judgment is necessary to determine the applicability of content in this book to your situation. It may be worthwhile for you to be a maverick and forge a new communication style for your company—yet, if you go too far it could mean professional trouble. When possible, I do my best to point out what approaches to use for which audiences, but do be mindful of these matters on your own."
Woulda, coulda, shoulda
The table of contents for Supercommunicator looks promising and it includes subjects like: how digital technology is changing communication, multimedia, advice for content experts (we were hoping to find some good tips for bloggers like us), how to simplify your content, visuals for presentations, personalization, etc. Unfortunately the book just doesn't live up to its promises. There's a section on digital technology and multimedia, and finding the right media to best deliver your content. But the writing is anything but simple: "New multimedia tools facilitate a bidirectional dialogue that engages as they inform." Riiiiiiiiiight. There's a section called Know Thy Audience that begins with a story about Mr. Pietrucha's experiences in Chile, interviewing a top executive who launched into an explanation of new technology that Mr. Pietrucha could not understand. But instead of speaking up and saying that he didn't understand, Mr. Pietrucha felt that it was up to the executive to "read the expressions on my face" and figure out that he had long since gotten lost. Would a "supercommunicator" really expect the other person to be a face (or mind) reader instead of, oh, communicating the difficulty? The section also talks at length about market research and why it can help bridge the gap between what an organization thinks its target audience will be interested in, and what the audience is actually interested in. There are also good suggestions for low cost ways to do some market surveys on your own. And then the section ends with this: "Armed with the right information about your target audience, you can deliver highly focused content in your communication product." Your communication product? What's that? A brochure? A PowerPoint presentation? A smartphone? The section called Know Thy Subject contains this clunker: "With all I have to say about the importance of knowing thy subject, you may be surprised to learn that I don't have a formal background in science, technology, law, financial services, or just about any other subject—other than communications that I've been hired to communicate." What exactly are "communications that I've been hired to communicate"?
Let's make the long story short
I could go on talking about the rest of the book, but honestly, If I haven't conveyed my opinion of Supercommunicator by now, I surely will have failed in my job as an everyday communicator. 🙂 Want to see how to explain things in clear language that anyone can understand? Go to your local public library and check out any of Isaac Asimov's collections of essays. I would especially recommend The Tragedy of the Moon, which contains an essay called "The Ancient and the Ultimate." It's all about books.
The book falls flat from the get-go and it doesn't pick itself up later on. It's full of overwritten paragraphs, self-promotion and confusing jargon. It was downright painful to read, perhaps because I have spent so many years reading books by REAL super-communicators.