Representational Systems: Top 10 Methods to Reach ALL Audiences

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done—or so the saying goes. As an author/speaker and a business owner, that goes double for me.

It’s often tough to strike a balance between finding the message and being the messenger. But finding that balance can be an unexpected gift bestowed at the last minute.

I went to a Costco early Monday morning, right before a major holiday. My wife sent me on this errand to pick up seafood to make an exotic meal called paella, a traditional Spanish dish. This year our annual holiday meal was a departure from the traditional turkey dinner, and I was looking forward to sharing this meal with friends & family.

I found myself driving endlessly through the parking lot of this huge club store looking for somewhere to park 20 minutes after the store opened. I was a bit exasperated because I arrived “early” to beat the rush. I finally decided to wait for someone loading their trunk, then literally pulled into the only available spot in the massive parking lot.

After parking, I thought sarcastically, “Holidays can be such a joy,” as I ducked through the driving rain from the far end of the parking lot. I struggled to maintain control, both in the physical and emotional sense.

I urgently wanted to get back to the office to work on some pressing issues that had landed on my desk that morning. One contract, in particular, offered some intriguing opportunities to do foreign rights licensing for a book we publish. The trouble was, I had to create a complex document and turn it around faster than I’d ever done before. Landing this deal meant stretching my professional skills, which put a crimp in my “holiday spirit.”

“No rest for the weary,” I mumbled under my breath as I grabbed some king crab legs from the guy in the hairnet working the seafood counter. “Poor guy,” I thought, then spun my cart back into the crowded aisle like a 320-horsepowered sports car on an open freeway. I suddenly stopped short. A silver-haired woman had inserted herself between me and my target in the wine aisle, a magnum of Spanish Rioja. Narrowly avoiding a collision, I left my cart and stepped around her, only to find her hand on the same bottle of wine that was on my shopping list.

Our eyes met. “You go ahead,” she said, her voice warm and confident. “I’ve got all the time in the world,” she told me, “and surely I have enough to spare for you.” Her eyes twinkled, and she gave me such a mischievous look.

She was onto me.

It was one of those strange moments when one of life’s greatest lessons blossoms in the mind. It was a stop-and-smell-the-roses moment, squared. I felt like I’d been tapped on the shoulder by Time itself and rapped on the knuckles by my loving grandmother while trying to sneak a slice of turkey off the carving table. I smiled back and wished her a happy holiday.

Getting the Message Through the Right Messenger

Standing there in the aisle of the warehouse store I had learned a deep lesson from a source I didn’t expect. Here was this woman who clearly had more days behind her than ahead of her, yet she was willing to take in the moment and take her time. Not only was she willing to be generous with her time for me, a complete stranger, but there was also something within her that made me want to model her lesson. Where I’d assumed she was just another stumbling block for me to overcome as I dashed through a series of chores, she was instead a wise teacher.

The irony of this moment is that I’ve been receiving this lesson in many ways over the years, starting in grade school, but it never quite sunk in. I’d heard it from family members while growing up. One of my favorite college professors fed it to me as a student, and even the pastor of my church promoted the concept on that Sunday just before this hectic holiday I was frantically trying to get through.

The message finally came to me in a way I was able to receive—from a wise stranger at the huge club store. I accepted the message she was sending because she delivered it in a way that I was prepared to grasp. In effect, she got through to me because she tapped the right representational system for me.

How Representational Systems Equate to Professional Speaking & Writing

We all have one sense that is stronger than the rest—sight, sound, touch and so forth. This profoundly affects how we communicate. No matter what language we use to talk with each other, our communication is most effective when we use the specific representational system which is easiest for us to digest information.

Someone who relates strongly through their hearing is going to have an easier time learning if they listen to the lesson. Not only that, but they will respond best to speech that uses auditory terminology, such as “I hear what you’re saying,” or “That sounds good to me.”

A visual learner responds better to visual media and visually oriented speech, such as “I see your point,” or “That looks good to me.” A kinetic learner responds to the way an experience feels as well as the way the lesson appeals to the sense of touch or movement. This type of person responds to speech that uses imagery involving motion, emotion and the sense of touch.

Find the representational system that you relate to best. This is a powerful tool as someone tasked with influencing others. You can use this in your writing, publishing, speaking, and one-on-one communication. Understand how you are wired, and you will see the ways your audience is attracted to your message. Use several representational systems to reach many different types of people.

You can also use several publishing derivatives or media to tap a variety of audiences. Don’t just write books or give speeches. Why limit yourself? Engage in talk shows, published articles, do book signings at your local bookstore, create instructional videos, and even host experiential workshops. You can hone your communication skills to a fine point and connect with your audience in a whole new way.

Use a variety of senses to sculpt your work, then use a variety of media to package your message to the world.

They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, just as this wise woman appeared to me. Yet I also say when the teacher is ready, the student will appear, just as you have appeared in this sphere to read this material. Now as you model lessons for others, it’s time to ask this question: Your story is ready. How are you going to tell the world?

For those of you who love Top 10 lists, here are the top 10 ways to package messages for speakers and authors and reach multiple representational systems of your fans:

  1. Book Derivatives
  2. Physical book, eBook, Enhanced eBook
  3. Audio programs
  4. Audiobook or a series of audio recordings or podcasts
  5. Teleseminars
  6. Conference calls
  7. DVDs and Video
  8. Physical discs and/or online delivery
  9. Subscription / Membership Program
  10. Video, eBook, DVD or content on your website
  11. Webinars
  12. Seminars
  13. Live events, retreats, adventure trips, conferences, workshops
  14. Coaching / Consulting
  15. Work with people individually as a coach, or with a company to implement a system
  16. Licensed Merchandise
  17. Promotional products embedded with quotes, tips, and memorable phrases; mugs, shirts, pens
  18. Apps
  19. Create an interactive mobile app to keep the attention of your audience who is on-the-go

Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing. Bryan works with best-selling authors in the role of publisher and marketer, including the late Zig Ziglar, Chris Widener and John C. Maxwell. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book that condenses knowledge on website conversion from 7-years running an online ad agency. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes running high impact marketing campaigns for Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.