By Adam Bowers
For the past 14 years, there have been two days each year that I look forward to more than Christmas: the fall and spring premiers of Survivor. The season 29 premier was one of those nights. While most seasons include some kind of twist (this season’s twist has the castaways playing with and against family members), every season essentially begins the same way: the castaways land on the island, exchange awkward “hellos,” attempt to build a shelter and make fire, compete in a challenge, and then decide who will receive the humiliating distinction of being the first person voted out.
After watching 28 seasons of the show, it’s easy to guess who that first person voted out is going to be. The most likely contenders are always contestants who are either obnoxious or threatening in some way. SPOILER ALERT: The person voted off in the episode two nights ago, Nadiya, was a little of both.
The truth is, most of the castaways who get voted out early could greatly benefit from some simple communications counsel. Here are 3 communications lessons from Survivor that could help you not get “voted out” of a job, team or business deal:
The Loudest Voice Doesn’t Always Win
On Survivor, the loudest person nearly always assumes an initial “leadership” role because he or she steam-rolls other competing voices by sheer virtue of volume. He or she assumes this role for about three days, but then is quickly voted out because the tribe mates are tired of hearing him or her talk.
In the real world, this happens too. How often does the loudest person in a meeting dictate the conversation, only to annoy every other person who has something to say, but can’t? How often do companies think they can sell a product or service by sheer volume of ads? The most effective communicators know that the message itself is far more important than the volume at which it is said.
Sometimes, Your Audience Doesn’t Care
The domineering loudmouths who get voted off the island first never see it coming. They can’t believe their fellow castaways didn’t want their advice on how the shelter should be built or where the fire pit should be established. They assume that everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats, just waiting to hear their next piece of sage-like wisdom. They don’t realize that their audience was never interested in their thoughts in the first place.
When crafting a message in the corporate world, it is imperative to know how receptive or primed your audience is for the message. If they aren’t receptive at all, your strategy shouldn’t be to beat them over the head with the message until they happily receive it. Seeing two back-to-back GEICO ads in a commercial break doesn’t make me more likely to make that 15-minute call and switch to GEICO; it just annoys me. In cases where your audience isn’t ready to hear what you’ve got to say, it may be better to start with a conversation that gauges what they are interested in hearing. For example, you might do this by interacting with your followers on social media, listening to their opinions and then adapting your message based on what you hear.
Positioning is Crucial
For Survivor contestants like Nadiya, who get voted out largely because they are considered a threat, their demise is largely due to an inability to position themselves well to their fellow players. In this case, Nadiya might not have been voted out if she had positioned herself as a reality show expert, with the know-how to get her alliance far into the game. Instead, she seemed unconcerned about her tribe’s perceptions and failed to play up her strengths. Obviously, this mistake cost her.
In marketing, positioning is crucial. The foundation of any campaign should involve research to understand where you fit within your market, what your audiences’ needs are, and what messages will be well-received by key stakeholders. Only with the right strategic positioning will you truly thrive in your sector.
Ultimately, Survivor is a show about communication. The players that win understand their audiences, know which messages their fellow contestants want to hear and recognize how to best deliver them. One of the most enjoyable parts about watching the show is witnessing the truly great communicators at work (and also seeing the terrible ones crash, burn and get their torches snuffed).
Photo courtesy of Kristin Dos Santos’ Flickr photostream.