Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Getting Your Message Heard: 3 Lessons From the Man on My Train

Getting people to listen to you isn’t always easy—not when you’re a 20-something PR representative, and definitely not when you’re an erratic man on a train with a slight tick and a tendency to yell when you get excited.

I work in public relations in San Francisco, and every day I take the train to work where I attend meetings, send press releases, tweet messages, and pitch reporters with the sole intent of getting my company’s message out. And for over a month now, I’ve been sharing my ride home with a guy who holds signs, starts debates, and makes loud proclamations to a train car full of people in order to get his point across.

Is it bad that he reminds me a little bit of myself? Maybe. But it might also be really good.

Because the thing is, there’s a lot to be learned from this guy’s communication style. And after watching what worked for him (and didn’t work, and sometimes really didn’t work), I’ve realized some important lessons about getting my own messages across.

1. Be Passionate, but Not Scary-Passionate

The guy on my train is by no means conventional, but he does make some valid points. The thing is, when he gets excited about what he’s saying, his point can easily get lost. Often he’ll start pacing, speaking louder or more erratically, and eventually he’ll drift away from his original argument and go off on a long tangent.

I’ve seen so many people do this same thing while trying to defend a point in a meeting (and yeah, I’ve done it too). It’s wonderful to care about what you do, but when you really believe in something, it’s easy to get yourself worked up and, yes, even carried away. Get excited—but don’t get so excited that you lose your focus and, as a result, your credibility.

2. Be Persistent, but Not Creepy

The guy on my train doesn’t give up. He presents his case time and time again, and if nobody seems to be listening, he’ll switch things up. He’ll approach his argument from a different angle, switch signs, or start asking people questions.

What he doesn’t do is follow people home. Or listen to their conversations. And he never invades someone’s personal space. Because that would be weird. And kind of scary.

And so would going to your boss or a client with an idea, and then following him or her into the bathroom to keep talking about it. (And, yeah, once again, I’ve done this too.) Instead of hounding someone to death or hammering the same point home, it’s a much better idea to present things in a new way, or from a different angle or perspective.

3. Want Something Other Than Attention

In this city, there are a lot of people trying to get attention. So what makes the guy on my train stand out? He wants people to care about the same things he does. He’s not talking to people so he can be heard, he’s talking to people so his message can be heard. And it’s an important distinction.

If you really want people to listen to you, then you better give them a reason that’s bigger than you are—and that goes for your company, too. If every press release I wrote was just about how great my company was, nobody would read it. But if I write my releases about how my company has done something to solve a problem we all have to deal with, well that’s a little more interesting, isn’t it?

There are a lot more tips on how to get your message across, of course—know your audience, be clear and concise, don’t use jargon—but that’s the kind of conventional wisdom those of us who work in communications all know and think about every day.

And I guess more than anything, what the guy on my train made me realize is that sometimes, it’s good to remember the unconventional wisdom, too.

Photo courtesy of robotpolisher.