At a recent launch of a book written by a respected faculty member of a renowned business school in Africa, I learnt a valuable lesson in communication.

Since I had never attended a book launch, I was looking forward to learning from  the intellectuals and captains of industry who I knew would be present at the event.

After the predictable protocol was observed (with reverence given to notable personalities), I awaited the keynote address that was to be delivered by a  thought leader in whose circles I don’t mingle.

In the book, the author analysed the leadership of the alumni association of his business school – which he used as an intriguing case study. I thus expected the keynote to address specific aspects in leadership, in line with the book’s theme.

The talk I listened to however, was baffling, despite the depth of knowledge displayed by the keynote speaker.

And here’s why:

Instead of highlighting how the alumni association’s visionary leadership led to successes, which could be replicated by other business schools in Africa, the entire speech was a lesson in effective political leadership.

Now certain members of the audience might still have appreciated the keynote. However, I believe the speaker, despite his clout, failed to be as convincing as he could have been because his talk was irrelevant to the book’s premise.

Although relevance can increase persuasiveness, I’d concede that it isn’t the only tool required for effectiveness. For purposeful communication, you should prioritise the three beacons of simplicity,  brevity,  and  clarity to get consistent results.

As the book launch progressed, some  industry leaders made public declarations of impressive monetary contributions to support the author’s activities. Then  seasoned executives, all of whom were alumni of the same reputable postgraduate institution as the author, gave short addresses. They fondly extolled the quality education they received, which helped to shape their professional lives.

After the event, I reflected on my experience and realised two things about the role of relevance in getting results:

1) To be actionable, your content must be relevant

It’s not about you, your depth of expertise, or your varied experiences.

If your speech or keynote doesn’t address whatever concerns at hand, your brilliant content won’t be actionable. This means that your polite audience might listen to you because of your credibility, but they won’t care enough to do anything meaningful.

Since every piece of communication should achieve a goal to be effective, getting your audience to accept your ideas is crucial.

One foolproof method to coax action from your audience is to tailor your content to address their needs. You could also tackle the subject matter and clearly communicate the ‘dangers’ of not taking the action you recommend. Nevertheless, ensure that you focus on one central idea—the Big Idea as presentation expert, Nancy Duarte advises—and support that central theme with information that will strengthen its importance. Don’t go overboard with your supporting data however; think only of essential points. Remember that less is more.

In other words, make your communication actionable by being relevant. Your audience will willingly support you.

2) To win your audience, strive for relevance

With steely resolve, I listened attentively for the first 20 minutes of the keynote, before my mind began to drift to inconsequential matters.

Some people fidgeted, while others read messages on their mobile phones.

We became bored.

When the keynote speaker said something humorous, I re-directed my attention to him. However, save from a few fascinating angles to his talk—when he explained the role of intellectuals in effective political leadership and cited a few examples—I wasn’t mentally present.

He ‘lost’ me because his content was unrelated to the theme. I kept waiting for him to skillfully link his meandering discourse to the unique leadership of the business school’s alumni association, as detailed in the book, so that I could understand his train of thought.

But he didn’t.

If you want to connect with your audience, relying solely on your expertise or delivery is not a winning formula.

You must make everything about your content relevant to the topic being considered to get the audience ‘invested’ in your ideas, vision or plans.

Going off on a tangent, and staying there, is certain to get your audience to tune off.

And a disengaged audience does you no favours.


The book launch ended up being a well-attended, successful event.

Nonetheless, it taught me how as well-meaning professionals, we fail to maximise opportunities because of our great-to-know-but-irrelevant content.

A practical solution to guarantee that your purposeful communication converts sceptics, leads to collaboration, and prompts results is simple:

Ensure that relevance is your foundation.

Because relevance makes the difference between actionable and non-actionable content, it’s also a determinant of our influence.

So before you send off that comprehensive report, or step onto the stage to deliver that powerful speech, ensure that whatever you share is relevant.

It’s just easier to inspire action that way.

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N.B:  First image is courtesy of Seaskylab, via Second and fourth images are courtesy of Stuart Miles, via Third image is courtesy of Jscreationzs, via

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