From the sublime (Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural for example) to the ridiculous (see the latest viral video of parent taunting child or furry cat being a furry cat) — we celebrate the art of messaging.

In a few weeks we’ll actually perk up during commercial breaks of the Super Bowl to spot this year’s benchmark for advertising’s capacity to entertain.

We reward performances that move us — from theater to big screen. We’ll stand in line and then stand and applaud those whose art transcends the moment.

But no one hands out an award for listening. We barely notice the act.

Yet, listening is where it all begins. Without the attention of an audience, the commercial, YouTube video, even the most eloquent orator are no more effective when it comes to prompting a response than the tree that falls in a desolate forest.

If communication is the objective, the best messaging we can muster is of no consequence unless the right audience decides to listen.

(While we’re on the topic it should be noted that simply creating awareness isn’t the same as prompting action; but that is for another post.)

Extraordinary communication begins with intentional and practiced listening. The act of listening before attempting to create or deliver a message is at the heart of what makes it extraordinary.

Perhaps there is a handful of gifted communicators for whom the art of listening is organic — the product of empathy. And, to be sure, there are moments that are so universally experienced that the slightest reference establishes common ground.

But for most of us most of the time the creaction of a message that generates a desired response requires intent that is manifest in at least three things:

  • A clear understanding of specifically who a given message is intended to motivate;
  • Measurable empathy with respect to experiences of the target audience;
  • An awareness of the inevitable “noise” that will distract or compete for the attention of the audiences, and a plan to deal with it.

If you distribute a message and hope to connect with everyone, be prepared to be disappointed. Discount the value of identifying shared experiences at the risk of completely missing your mark. Underestimate the noise of the marketplace and gain first hand understanding of the fate of countless better mousetraps.

Intentional listening is proactive. It may well require more creativity than award winning messaging. And here are just a few platforms through which the art can be accomplished:

  • Market research
  • Focus groups
  • Client feedback initiatives
  • Collaborative events

No matter the platform, effective communication does not begin with a focus on the message. Those who consistently hit the mark, and inspire a target audience to take action begin with attention keenly fixed on the target market.

And though plaques and statues aren’t passed out, the reward for intentional listening is communication that consistently inspires consequential action.