Don’t Let Anyone Hijack Your Message

I was listening to a fascinating interview between Terry Gross of NPR’s FreshAir, and Trevor Noah, the new man at the helm of the Daily Show.  Trevor has an interesting background, and is very wise, very funny, and he easily stepped in to lead the Daily show when John Stewart stepped aside.  While the majority of the interview was on several other topics, the end dealt with ‘don’t let anyone hijack your message’.

The interview was mainly about his efforts on The Daily Show,  stand up comedy, his bi-racial parents and growing up in South Africa,  and he talked about people taking things out of context.  Whether in social media, in his stand up comedy routine, or on the show, he learned how people take things out of context, and use it against him or to support what someone else believes.

don't let people hijack your message

In the last 5 minutes of the interview, he talked about what he does to not let people hijack his message for their own purpose.

What an interesting concept:

Don’t let anyone hijack your message.

But what really does that mean within the concept of speakers and speaking?

As many Bureau members know, I emphasize ‘speaking to your audience’:  targeting an initial audience, and creating your presentation and online presence to capture that group.  I’ve talked about creating personas, those ‘target people’ you really want to reach, as a means of getting started, building a following, and creating success from which to build momentum. This works especially well, if, as an Emerging Speaker, you are building a strong digital presence to increase exposure and opportunity.

We’ve had speakers present their messages to those identified target audiences, receive feedback about misunderstandings the audience had. inevitably the Speaker would defend themselves by saying: ‘you’re not the person I am trying to reach’.  I am amazed at how many times this occurs. While that ‘may’ be true, wouldn’t you want to capture as many people as possible with your message? Wouldn’t you want that person to still recommend you to someone who is your target?

As a Speaker, especially an Emerging Speaker, you may want to solely target a specific ‘crowd’, or type of people, or an audience to improve your success ratio. While smart, and admirable, it is highly likely that you will be speaking to a crowd of people which contain many types of people. (especially if you are starting out by giving free speeches) And, even within your target, it is guaranteed, that not everyone there might hear or understand your stories, your analogies, and your message in exactly the same way.  What is said, and how, may offend someone, be taken out of context by another, be confusing to yet another, but be well understood and received by others.

It is important for you as an Emerging Speaker to learn how to not let anyone hijack your message and spread a misinterpreted version of what you meant.

Trevor went on to say that he amends his message, based on what he knows about his audience. But deeper than that, he analyzes his message, his jokes, etc. to look and see what might be open for misinterpretation. He looks to make something less confusing, and amends his delivery as well as the message to alleviate someone reading into something, misinterpreting something, or taking something out of context.

The same applies to all Speakers. While you may use language, points, analogies, metaphors, stories specific to your audience, become wiser and understand not everyone in the audience may connect with what you put together.

  • Look for where there could be gaps in understanding and provide the clarity.
  • Look for messages that may be unclear, or subject to misinterpretation. Audiences are becoming more and more diverse, whether in age, gender identification, race, culture…any number of factors, and Speakers who step up and amend their messages will come across as more ‘professional’.
  • Look for vagueness, and provide richer context. Just because you know and get something doesn’t mean others do.
  • Look for where/how something you might say might offend a person of another gender, race, age bracket, religion, and communicate your message in a clearer or better way.

If you’ve presented at an Emerging Speakers meeting before, you’ve no doubt heard at least one person who did not quite get the message you were trying to convey.

Granted, your ‘shtick’ might be a certain delivery style, a certain message setup, and that’s ok.  I am not recommending you to be 100% politically correct, watered down, or antiseptic. I am recommending you be smart about delivering your message, and being considerate of the people in the audience while you are trying to build your Speaking career.  It’s about making amendments to your message and delivery, so you can stay in the game, build momentum.

Even famous comedians do it.  And we can all think of several examples of all kinds of famous people who have paid the price because they didn’t amend the message and their career / brand took a major hit. You don’t want to be one of them.

Be an Emerging Speaker that gets referred and rehired.

  • Take an open minded, additional look at the content of your speech before presenting.
  • Ask about the audience that will be in attendance, understand who may be there.
  • Make some amendments to your analogies, metaphors, quotes, pop culture or biblical references, stories. (and all that sometimes means is to add clarification, to supply some context, to add an example or reference point, to provide a backstory, or to change some of the wording.)

Have you ever received feedback where someone didn’t quite understand what you were trying to say, or angrily commented on something you said?  What did you do about it?  Share in the comments below.

(To listen to this full interview, check it out here on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and Trevor Noah.)



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