5 Great Communication Lessons From TV and Movies

Today, sit back and enjoy your popcorn while reading all about great moments of communication in TV and the Movies.

Solid communication skills are vital for building outstanding relationships with all donors and prospects. The fundraising process is actually built on intelligent, purposeful communications that invite interest in the organization, its mission, its goals and its programs. What are the key factors involved in good communications?

Skill Number 1

Here's looking at you... Maintaining eye contact is very powerful in development communications. We make assumptions about people's personalities and reactions through the connection that we make with our eyes. This becomes even more important while people are masked during this pandemic. People who make eye contact are perceived to be more conscientious and sincere, we are more inclined to believe what they say.

The Office was a television series filmed with a single camera, cinema verite style, without a laugh track, like a documentary. It starred Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer and John Krasinsky with a large supporting cast. It capitalized on the sometimes funny and sometimes poignant activities that plague every office at one time or another.

The Office focuses on workers at the fictitious paper company, Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, PA. The filming technique used enables the characters to look directly at the audience at various chosen moments...their gaze allows them to include the audience in many of the jokes to which the other characters may not be privy as well as in the emotions of the moment. This type of approach is very powerful in establishing a connection with the audience and The Office was a major hit for about seven years. The technique was so successful that it was also used for the TV series Parks and Recreation starring Amy Poehler.

The ability to communicate with one's eyes plays an important role in every facet of communication, but it is paramount in a face to face situation when one is requesting funding.

Skill Number 2

Can you see that I am your friend? Make sure you are understood: Creating a base of understanding between fundraising and the audience, whether that audience is 200 people or one person, is simply critical at all levels. Whether the audience understands the initiative or whether the person understands the intent of the proposal stands to make the difference in relationships developed and revenues raised.

Dances With Wolves is a great example of how taking time to build a foundation for good relations produces meaningful relationships. Starring Kevin Costner, the award winning movie used every possible strategy for the main character, John Dunbar, to develop an understanding and relationship with the Sioux and, ultimately, become "one of them." But first, they needed to understand one another. Struggling to learn their language, Dunbar uses food to entice the Sioux, charades as he asks for the whereabouts of the buffalo, trial and error with injecting new words into the conversation.

As every donor and good development officer knows, the real proof is in actions. Dunbar lives with the Sioux, hunts with them, defends them, and ultimately marries a woman from the tribe. He cultivates the relationships with eagerness, joy, humor and a caring attitude. Ultimately becoming an adopted tribe member and given the name, Dances With Wolves, he overcomes the brutal animosity of a quiet, aggressive and powerful warrior, Wind In His Hair.

Dances With Wolves decides to leave the tribe when the army begins to hunt for him, seeing him as a traitor. Wind In His Hair, who desperately wants him to stay with the tribe, shouts from the mountain-top and produces one of the most emotionally powerful, iconic farewells in movie history:

Dances With Wolves!

Dances With Wolves!

I am Wind In His Hair!

Do you see that I am your friend?

Can you see that you will always be my friend?

Skill Number Three

Show me the money! Simplify and stay on message: This is a basic tenet of advertising and it surely works in development. Stay on message and repeat it often. The elevator pitch is so important for this reason. If you can summarize your project simply, understandably and completely within about 3-4 minutes, you will have the ear of many prospects and donors. And, of course, it is key to tailor your message to the individual, make it personal.

Jerry McGuire is a movie that teaches this lesson to the main character of the same name.

Tom Cruise plays a slick sports agent who pens a heartfelt company memo that promptly gets him fired. The memo is a mission statement about perceived dishonesty in sports management and his desire to work with fewer clients to produce a better personal relationship with them. Desperate to hang onto the athletes he represents, Jerry starts his own sports management firm, with a sole client, football player Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Rod is disgruntled and wants a $10 million contract for his family. Jerry concentrates all of his efforts on Rod, who turns out to be very difficult. "Show me the money!" was a line that Rod repeatedly used to drive home to Jerry that his key goal was to secure that contract.

At one particular game, Rod plays well but appears to receive a serious injury, a career ender, when catching a winning touchdown. He suddenly recovers and dances for the wildly cheering crowd--Rod and Jerry embrace. This is no longer just a business relationship, but has become a personal one as well. Jerry announces the new contract he secured for Rod--he had definitely heard him--and the amount exceeded the request. Rod's message was heard through all the emotion of the situation.

Skill Number Four

I will fight for it like it's my own children. Take time to respond to comments and questions and be authentic in the process: donors and prospects will always have questions, they will always want to understand the impact their gift will have on the project. They will want to understand the impact of the project itself and how it fits into the overall mission and strategic plan. Every question becomes important...the goal is to provide as much knowledge and reassurance as possible.

Joy is the story of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two, who was working as an airline reservation agent while seemingly caring for every dysfunctional family member she had. Looking for a way out of this disastrous situation, she invents an innovative, self-wringing mop--the Miracle Mop. From start to finish she moved the product along, overcoming every obstacle, until she secured a presentation on QVC. Unfortunately, the salesman she hired did not present well, did not understand the product thoroughly and it failed miserably.

Joy, played by the gifted Jennifer Lawrence, wrangled another try on QVC and this time she presented the product herself. Thoroughly persuasive, utterly knowledgeable, she could answer any question and also had an intimate knowledge of her audience. And, of course, she won the day.

This is based on a true story and Joy was familiar with every aspect of the mop and in reality sold 18,000 mops in the first 30 minutes of the show. The producers wanted her to wear a short black dress, but just before air time, Joy changed to a pair of slacks and button down shirt--"I have to be who I am." She maintained her authenticity throughout. When her friend told her to really sell the mop, she responded resolutely: "I will fight for it like it's my own children."

I have always believed that being who you are and working with commitment and dedication, answering as many questions as possible, would bring success in development and in life in general. This movie is a great illustration of that lesson. If you believe in something, never give up.

Skill Number Five

Nostalgia is delicate but potent, a twinge in your heart. Body language is important in all forms of communication: It helps break down the barrier of unfamiliarity and form a better connection with the recipient of information. Every action, from the twisting of a wedding ring to touching the face, is revealing. Expressions and microexpressions are the study of human behavior. If you can't hear what people are saying, or you can't understand them (perhaps they are speaking another language or using industry jargon), body language becomes even more critical.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the hit TV Show Mad Men was a tortured soul with so many issues as he related to those around him. But there was never a better pitch man for his company than Don. For anyone who needs to engage an audience and hold their attention, one of the best scenes in TV history appears in the first season of this lengthy series when Don captured the rapt attention of his clients from Kodak. As the lights were lowered for the presentation, every moment featured remarkable use of body language coupled with carefully developed scripting and selected music that captivated the clients and unexpectedly brought one of his colleagues to tears.

Don opened his presentation by talking about nostalgia: "Nostalgia is delicate but potent, a twinge in your heart." In his practiced way, the technology of the "wheel" became the more relatable "carousel." As he spoke his voice was measured, he was unrushed, he used silent pauses to provide emphasis laced with emotion. Relaxed composure, hand in his pocket, he brings his hand to his mouth to convey thoughtfulness. His voice was deep, smoky, seductive to the clients. He blinks his eyes at the end of the presentation and appears to be emotionally depleted.

Throughout the series, outstanding presentations like this were a major feature (including an excellent final episode featuring Coca Cola), but none were as revered as this particular scene.

He launched the idea for the Kodak carousel in a way that did not focus on the technology, but on the emotional bonds it creates. Lessons in this one for anyone who has ever made or has to make any presentation.

Until next time....

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