The Power of the Whisper

In college, I had a professor who, to get the attention of class and quiet the room, would whisper.  After a few moments, every student would cease their talking and strain to listen to what the professor was softly saying.

It was an effective way to gain the attention of the audience.  It worked because whispering suggests that what is being said is both important and exclusive.  It is only meant for a few ears, which makes it scarce communication and, thus, valuable.  So, we strain in an attempt to listen.

However, whispering is also counterintuitive as a method to gain attention in a noisy space.   In most similar circumstances, we raise our voice in an attempt to speak above the noise, not whisper below it.

In advancement, we are often charged with “getting our message out.”  And typically, that means we strategize on ways to produce more direct mail, magazine stories, press releases, and social media conversation.  In other words, we typically aim to raise our voice to speak above the vast amounts noise already in the direct mail, social media, and digital systems.  It’s the bullhorn approach – be louder than the next organization.

But what would it look like if we whispered in an attempt to gain more attention?  Here are 3 characteristics of whispered messaging that would encourage people to listen more closely and engage more fully in conversation with our institutions:

  1. Exclusivity – Communicate with as many in your database as possible as “institutional insiders.”  Identify every receiver of your message as part of a special, exclusive group – affinity groups, donor levels, boards, advisory councils, etc.  Point out that they are receiving the communication based on their status as part of an important group within your institution.
  2. Update Them. . . On Thoughts – Most institutions will send out updates and progress reports on what is occurring in the life of the institution – new enrollment numbers or increases in clients served, new major gifts received, progress on capital projects, etc.  But when we share what we are thinking about those updates or other aspects of life (especially when the CEO does the sharing) we frame the message as much more conversational, important, and less “tell and sell.”
  3. Communicate – Communication, true communication, is a multi-faceted interaction.  It is not simply “getting our message out.” It is asking well-framed questions, listening, responding, creating, and engaging people.  Don’t always ask for money in your communications, but do always ask for something.  Ask for their advice.  Ask for their feedback.  Ask for their time to help with a project.  Ask for their engagement.

Whispering our messages means that we make them exclusive and important.  We can always use the bullhorn approach.  And while many may hear us – along with all of the other noise – they probably won’t strain to listen.


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