Communication Takes Constant Practice

Last weekend I attended the District 23 Toastmasters conference in Santa Fe. The very first session I attended was about building a club, which was perfect because I have been helping to revitalize our little club which nearly flickered out of existence over the winter. The speaker, Jenny, suggested that we get together our "sales pitch" about Toastmasters. "Communication takes constant practice," she started her own, "you have to communicate in everything you do, down to ordering take-out from a fast food window." And even this mundane transaction can go wrong if you communicate poorly!

 

In recent months, aside from practicing public speaking in Toastmasters for the book talks I've been doing, I've also run into some of my shortfalls. After returning from my tour in Massachusetts (which I set up myself and used a similar form email to approach college fellowships offices), I started to set up some events in Santa Fe. I sent out a number of these form emails again, and got one school which was interested. The correspondence went back and forth in the midst of my other work and setting up the book launch party. I was invited to speak, a room was set up, the date was finalized, I made a flyer to advertise my book talk with a large photo of the cover and a "Buy Now" plastered across the front. And I put the event in my press release.

 

The week before my book launch party, I sent off the press release to a newspaper in Santa Fe, listing the upcoming events related to my book. A few days later, I got an email from the said college's public relations person saying they saw that I was doing a book talk and signing at their school which she had no knowledge of. "Oh, I'm sorry for the confusion," I wrote back, "I've been working with _____ on this, I've cc'd her on this email to clear up the miscommunication." I continued about my day, onto my next block of activities. The public relations person wrote back, "That's wonderful, in that case, we look forward to having you." And immediately following was an email (and a voicemail) from the woman I initially coordinated with, "I never said you could do a book talk and signing, we discussed a student lecture. We definitely do not have space or any desire to host a reading and book signing for someone who is not a member of the _______ community. Call me ASAP, I feel like you have manipulated me to get in the front door."   

 

Completely flustered, I called the woman, apologizing profusely for what I thought was a clear communication. She was pissed, saying that I'd used her and that at that point, she was inclined to call the whole thing off because she didn't think very many students would show up anyway. "I am truly sorry," I said, "it was never my intention to mislead you, I am sorry if I got you into trouble. Could I just ask where in our communication I could have improved?" "There just seems to be so much you didn't tell me." She said.

 

After the call, I was in shock. I hate it when people are angry at me and this maelstrom of tumbling events took place in just a few short hours. Trembling and blank, I recounted to my husband and my mom what had happened. After decompressing, I thought back to the communication I thought we had had. Then I went back to the email stream, and back to the email streams of organizing my visits with other colleges. They were identical, and the most recent one even had that flyer clearly showing the book cover, saying, "come to the book talk" and "buy now!" I couldn't understand how I had not communicated that I would be bringing books to sell. Except that I had not immediately stated, "I would be coming to sign and sell books." 

 

In trying to learn from this painful experience and also improve on my new-found role of event organizer, I realize that I need to state the monetary and logistical expectations of the event at the very beginning. Otherwise, the important details get lost, or I forget that each new encounter is with someone who knows nothing about what I'm doing. Setting up repetitive events makes it hard to remember what has and has not been said. 

 

In short, communication takes constant practice and right now I'm trying to incorporate lessons from a mistake I made. Perhaps you've encountered the same issue, I would love feedback on ways to make each new encounter special and unique while also ensuring that the basic information gets across.